This article originally appeared in the October 2005 issue.
By Denis Greene
Denis Greene is the executive director of The Church Development Foundation, www.tcdf.org. He is also the author of Successful Church Capital Campaigns.
Once upon a time, in a committee meeting far, far away, a treasurer announced, “We have enough money, the budget is secure.” This, of course, is so rare that it borders on fiction. The trouble is that we all want to do more with limited resources. Our altruistic appetites are larger than our budgets.
Here are seven effective methods to increase your church income starting today. I present them in sequential order from simple to complex. You can skip ahead until you find the techniques that you have not yet implemented.
- Conduct an annual stewardship campaign.
Surprisingly, more than 50% of all churches do not conduct an annual stewardship campaign. In their book Money Matters: Personal Giving in American Churches, authors Dean R. Hoge, Charles Zech, Patrick McNamara and Michael J. Donahue illustrate how different churches using different fundraising procedures get different results. The book explores three models that churches use to address the issue of raising money for church operations.
Model #1: The church has no formal annual campaign inviting people to pledge a certain amount of money or percent of income to the church. In these congregations, members contribute an average of 1.5 percent of their income to support the work of the church.
Model #2: Each year, the church leadership composes a proposed church budget and then asks members to write on a pledge card the dollars per week or per month they plan to give. Then, they turn in the card during an annual church pledge campaign. This model of fundraising resulted in an average member pledge of 2.9 percent of their income or nearly twice the pledge of model #1.
Model #3: This model mirrors more of a stewardship model where members are invited to prayerfully consider how God has gifted them with their time, talents and treasures and to explore in prayer what they feel God is calling them to commit to the church. Members are then invited to write on a pledge card the amount of money they think God is asking of them to pledge. The church then would compose their annual budget based on the total amount of money represented on the pledge cards turned in. When applying a model that is similar to a stewardship model, members’ giving increases to 4.6 percent of their income to their church. In other words, national research indicates that people whose churches repeatedly ask the question, “What percentage of your income is God calling you to give?” raise three times as much as those churches who just take up offerings.
- Retain an envelope service.
An envelope service will mail into each home on your mailing list a set of envelopes each month. It contains at least four envelopes that are pre-printed with the name of your church and the name of the member. Each envelope will have the date of one Sunday on it. Of course, the logic is to serve as a gentle reminder and as an easy way to store the check until you deposit it in the basket on Sunday.
You may wish to add other envelopes to the set. The obvious choices are for the capital needs, Christmas and Easter appeals, missions and specific ministries. One special envelope I would suggest is one that is addressed to the church that has a BRE (business reply envelope) indicia. This requires a special permit from the post office, and the postage costs twice as much when it is used; however, the conscientious member will take it on vacation and drop it in the mail.
Does it work? Well, the sales pitch from the envelope service providers claim a 9% to 27% increase. My personal experience in my church, and a dozen other churches I have observed starting an envelope service during my consulting engagement, indicates a definite YES! Different churches will have different experiences; it might be less than 9%, but in my personal experience, it has never cost more than it brought in.
What will it cost? It will be approximately $5 annually per giving unit. For the life of me, I do not know how they can do it for that price. That is 12 mailings, with at least four pre-printed envelopes in each. You may spend much more if you would like. These companies offer full color and as many extra envelopes for different purposes as you can imagine. A 500-member church may experience a $2,500 cost and a $45,000 benefit.
- Launch EFT for donations.
Electronic fund transfer is the wave of the future. The benefit is ease, simplicity and consistency. EFT will make the giving experience easy and automatic. The benefit to the church is that you will not lose the donation when the donor goes on vacation or misses a Sunday. It costs approximately $1 to set up an account and 25 cents per transaction.
A variation on this theme is to set up automatic credit card monthly contributions. Again, look at it from the donor’s perspective: some people get travel miles or money back from their credit card companies.
Think about your summer dip in attendance and giving. Isn’t about time you did something to address the summertime blues?
- Plan your next crisis well in advance.
Okay, so that is a bit tongue in cheek. Perhaps this should be titled “Share an emergency and ask for special donations during a low point in your giving cycle.”
In my church, we have a dire emergency about once per month, and most of the time it calls for funds. We tend to not ask for donations because we do not want to burn out the members on giving or look like we are unprepared.
However, the urgent need is what motivates some donors. Yankelovich, Skelly and White recently conducted a national survey on giving patterns and discovered that most donors would increase their giving significantly if asked.
There is one key factor that makes the emergency request different from the annual stewardship campaign. Nike borrowed the concept for its ad campaign “Just Do It.” Figured it out yet? It is the element of NOW. Right now, this moment, I need your help immediately. Get out your checkbook and make a donation this second. It cannot wait.
Here, churches can learn a lesson from secular nonprofits. They raised $168 billion, and 25% of their solicitations were based on the principle of the emergency. Look no further than the recent tsunami or Hurricane Katrina to get a good perspective.
- Preach about stewardship quarterly.
Most pastors are allergic to any talk of money. They only preach about stewardship right before they ask for a pledge. However, the person in the pew probably thinks about money and their financial concerns every single day. We need a regular diet of scriptural wisdom to help us plan our financial lives.
So, pastors, help us.
One of the best ways to change your church culture is to use author Joseph Campbell’s insights into mythology as an organizational development tool. When preaching about stewardship, we need to hear about the heroes of our church’s past. The Catholic church formalized this process by calling them saints
Campbell’s book, The Hero With 1,000 Faces, gives us insight into how each of us embody the essential elements of the hero: the journey through life, facing adversities, giving back to the community. When a pastor reminds me that I am sitting in a pew that someone before me paid for, in a building that was funded by people I may not have even met, I am humbled and reminded that I can have that kind of impact on those who will follow me.
- Be a servant leader.
Robert Greenleaf coined the term ServantLeadership. He wrote about a new way of doing leadership. Rather than General George Patton leading troops into battle on a white horse with a pearl handled pistol, Greenleaf offered up Christ as a good role model for leadership. As I read his works, the images of Sisyphus repeatedly rolling the boulder up the hill and Atlas with the world on his shoulders come to mind.
The central idea of ServantLeadership as I understand it is to facilitate the individual and community towards growth and change. As I consider the Great Commission, and my options on how to implement that; I have to think that facilitation is going to work a lot more effectively that proselytizing.
Specifically, how can this work? By opening the visioning process to all members. The greatest empowerment activity I have ever seen is to ask every member, “What is your vision for our church?” At first they are intimidated by such a huge question, but when they hear others responses, they get it. The person in the pew can open their minds to the big picture, and, when you combine that with a prayer for God’s direct guidance for me and this church, they have something intelligent to contribute. Try it; you will be surprised.
Warren Bennis, a modern-day management guru and author captured the essence ServantLeadership. In his best-selling book On Becoming A Leader, he identifies three critical leadership qualities:
- Leaders are servants of the vision.
- Leaders constantly talk about the vision, publicly and privately.
- Leaders help everyone find their place in the vision.
This year, before your annual stewardship campaign, find a way to ask every single person in your congregation, “What is your vision for our church?”
- Remember the church in your will.
In every Sunday bulletin, in the newsletter, in the Christmas and Easter programs, and in every single publication that you hand out, print the following: “Please, remember the church in your will.”
It seems simple, doesn’t it? However, 70% of the population dies without a will.
When you encourage someone to remember the church in their will, the reader is reminded that they should have a will or estate plan of some kind. If they take action, they will most likely take care of their heirs in a responsible manner.
The good news is that there is never a small gift through a will.
I am confident that these suggestions will work for you. Having served churches in a planning and fundraising capacity for the past 20 years, I have observed many successes.
In closing I will share the single most important element for success, which comes from Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”