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Stewardship from the Donor's Perspective

August 1, 2017 jill Blog
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By Tom Norwood

If you are like most churches, you likely send quarterly statements reminding members of their pledge and the balance remaining. Typically, quarterly statements resemble electric company bills more than they do statements of ministry.

Usually they include:

  • Total pledged
  • Pledge Gifts to Date
  • Pledge Balance

Recently I received a statement from my church that said:

“Thank you for your contribution to the ministry of XXXXXX church. No goods and services were received for these donations except for intangible religious benefits.”

Intangible religious benefits? I don’t know about you, but reading that statement does nothing to inspire me to open my checkbook and give generously.

The problem with contribution statements like this is their perspective. They are written from the perspective of the church rather than the perspective of the donor. Statements like this are designed to meet the legal obligations of the church and sent in hopes of encouraging lagging donors to catch up. Contribution statements are often de-motivating to donors and do nothing to increase giving.

Recently, I heard Karla Williams speak on the issue of shared values. Karla, one of the leaders in philanthropy today, suggested that all philanthropy is rooted in shared values. Donors are led to contribute to charitable causes because they value the mission and values of the nonprofit. Significant donations are made because of a deeply held belief in the work of the organization. When donors and nonprofits have shared values, they become partners in carrying out the organization’s mission.

So how does this apply to your congregation? Many give to the church in a transactional way; they give to keep certain programs going such as the nursery or youth group. Often referred to as “the committed,” this group represents 35 percent to 45 percent of members who are active in church activities and collectively give about 33 percent of the church’s operating budget. Another group, “the converted,” makes up about 10 percent to 15 percentof the congregation and contributes up to 65 percent of the church’s budget.

What are the different motivations of these two groups? The committed give to the church (as an institution) while the converted give to God (through the church) out of gratitude for God’s blessings and grace. Because they share the church’s value and beliefs, their giving becomes transformational for them and for their church. As donors move from committed to converted, they become true partners in ministry and mission.

Here are some questions for pastors and church leaders to consider as they turn their attention from their own needs to the needs of those who provide their financial support:

  • What are the values of our donors?
  • What do they say about us?
  • How do they view our community impact?
  • What do they say about our leadership?
  • What are the activities that are most valuable and meaningful to our donors?

After you have discussed those questions as a group, schedule one-on-one sessions with key donors and ask the following questions:

  • Why are you generous to our church?
  • What prompts you to make the gifts you make?
  • How did you decide on the amount?
  • Do you give to other organizations? Who/Why?
  • Do you have a favorite organization? Who/Why?

Meeting with those who support your ministry will result in valuable feedback you can use to more clearly articulate your stewardship message. Remember to consider the donor’s point of view, rather than the church’s perspective. Soon many of your committed donors will become converted.

Rev. Tom Norwood, CFRE, is an ordained Presbyterian Church (USA) minister and vice president of Horizons Stewardship, which offers a full range of services that inspire generosity and grow disciples,