Sunrise, Sunset: Generational Trends in Stewardship

Photo copyright: https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson/
Photo copyright: https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson/

Many of our “solid” congregations noticed a drop-off in giving that was not a result of a drop-off of membership during the past two or three years.  We don’t have much data (the trend is too new) but we do have some anecdotal information that seems to align with greater generational shifts.

The Baby Boomers Are Retiring

With the recovery of the stock market, many baby boomers–who were holding off on retiring–are now ready to retire.  Nationally, the Baby Boomers are the largest source of charity gifts.

The good news is that most hold steady on their pledges and have more time to serve in volunteer roles.  The bad news that many of them are moving away from their congregations to be near their grandchildren, resulting in the congregation losing substantial (1st quartile–see below) donors.

There also seems to be a trend where Boomers are not dipping into their nest eggs for their daily living expenses, but instead use that money to splurge on big ticket items or vacations with their children and grandchildren.  This may mean they might be more likely to give to a capital campaign rather than raise their pledge to the yearly operating budget.

Generation X Can’t Possibly Fill the Gap

Nationally, the 76 million Baby Boom was followed by only 55 million babies born who are known as Generation X.  That means that there are around 1/3 fewer Gen Xers than there are Baby boomers.  We don’t have hard data, but I suspect that the ratio of Gen X (roughly age 40-54) to Baby Boomers (55-70) is even smaller in our congregations, if we reflect national trends.

Gen Xers also did not have the financial advantages of previous generations.  Those who went to college often graduated with high levels of student debt. Limited job opportunities, cost-saving employment practices, the reduction of employer benefits, the volatility of the stock market, and the bursting of the housing bubble have all contributed to a sense of financial insecurity that is not always acknowledged in our congregations.

Also, Gen Xers are known as a generation of hackers and slackers (stay with me!).  Their small numbers kept them from having an impact on “stuck” institutions–including our congregations–so they either gave up on the institution (which labeled them as slackers) or found work-arounds within the system (acting as hackers). Their experiences probably affected their sense of loyalty to the institutions.  (Again, this observation is anecdotal.)

 Millennials Have a Different Mindset About Giving

The number of Millennials is eclipsing the number Baby Boomers.  Their job opportunities are a mixed bag, with some Millennials finding great jobs and others struggling.

They are suspicious of institutions, but–at the same time–they appreciate that institutions can be used “for good.”  And yet–they can be generous givers.  They want to know where the money that they donate is going, and that it is changing lives.  If your congregation’s message and actions reflect solid core values, you can invite Millennials to support your work with integrity.

Healthy Pledge Distribution ChartWhat you can do:

  • If possible, do an analysis of the distribution of pledges by quartile (i.e. look at your total amount pledged, divide it by 4, and see how many of your pledge units are in each quartile.   According to Wayne Clark:

The first 25% of total dollars should be coming from the first 10% of the household donors
The second 25% of total dollars should be coming from 15% of the donors
The third 25%of total dollars should be coming from 35% of the donors
The final 25% of total dollars should be coming from the last 40% of household donors

 If you have less than 30% of your members in the top two quartiles, you may be at risk.

  • Make sure your leaders are transparent, trustworthy and act with integrity.  Your donors want to know that your congregation will be a good steward of their financial gifts.
  • Be crystal clear when it comes to your mission and vision.  Let people know how your congregation makes the world a better places and transform lives.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

Resources:

May Day! Budget Crisis! What To Do

One of your top donors moves to be closer to their grandchildren. Another major donor gets a new job two states away. And then two or three of your oldest members pass away.

When your annual stewardship drive comes along, your finance folks discover that–in spite of an overall growth in membership–these losses in the top quartile of your pledge distribution can really affect your bottom line.

Here’s what you can do:

How to meet the budget in a time of distress

by Patricia Infante, UUA Congregational Life Consultant, Central East Region

 

  • Reduce variable and discretionary expenses
  • Raise income from within the congregation
    • Increase pledges, even incrementally
    • Increase pledge units, turn friends into members
    • Special “fill the gap” campaign
    • Large donor matching gift program
    • Legacy Gift program
  • Raise income from sources beyond the congregation
    • Facility rental: generate new
    • Facility rental: renegotiate tenant agreements
    • Sell gift cards (bought at a discount) from local grocers
    • Seek entrepreneurial opportunities
    • Grants, crowdfunding campaigns
  • Ensure you have technology to catch money from all sources
    • Online donation capacity on your website
    • Electronic Check capacity for recurring donations
    • Onsite electronic payment tool (such as Square) for one-time payments or  collections at special events
  • Renegotiate debt
  • Scale back ministries
  • Cut staff benefits
  • Cut staff hours
  • Layoff staff
  • Sell real property
  • Merge or close

Additional Resources:

 

Is Your Congregation Feeling Contractions?

Photo © summerbl4ck (Flickr)
Photo © summerbl4ck (Flickr)
  • Is your congregation’s attendance flat or declining?
  • Are the results from your stewardship campaign disappointing?
  • Are you dipping into an endowment to help cover your operating expenses?
  • Are you thinking about cutting the budget by reducing the working hours of your program staff (e.g. minister, religious educator, music director, membership coordinator)?
  • Are the same leaders and volunteers doing everything that they have been doing for years, perhaps even decades?

These are all signs of a congregation in decline.

There are many forces at play for today’s congregations, many of them outside of the control of congregational leaders.

  1. Fewer people belong to a church. In fact, fewer people feel the need to claim any particular faith tradition.
    The changing context of religion in America has been well-documented by the Pew Forum and other research agencies.
  2. The demographic bubble of the Baby Boomers is not bursting, but it is deflating slowly.
    Boomers are retiring in droves and have more time to volunteer, so they may not be making room for or accommodating the needs of the younger generations. Boomers are moving into a different financial phase of life.
  3. There are not many Gen Xers in our congregations.
    This is partly because there were fewer babies born between 1960 and 1980. When Xers did show up to church, they often got frustrated when the church seemed stuck in old habits. Xers had learned to be adaptable to survive in a contracting economy but those skills weren’t always welcome in our congregations. And that contracting economy has left Xers with more debt and lower wages so they are often not able to give at the levels that the retiring Boomers have been giving.

The Good News

The message that Unitarian Universalism offers is attractive to emerging adults and to those who have found the faith of their childhood hypocritical or just stale. We also have a lot of other UU congregations and leaders who are already imagining or experimenting with ways to renew existing congregations or to plant new faith communities. We have congregations who have grown in spite of the changing context.

What to do:

Although it may be tempting for leaders to go for the technical fixes (like reducing staff hours), the real challenge is adaptive, calling for the church as a whole to struggle with a process of renewal so that it can “give birth” to a new iteration of itself.

  • Start with some deep group spiritual discernment.
    What is your congregation’s “center?” What is your vision of the “Beloved Community?” What are you called to do in the world? How are you in covenant with one another and with the expanse of our interconnectedness with the universe?
  • Practice detachment when it comes to outcomes
    Find a way to ground yourselves during the process so that you make room both for the synergy and surprising possibilities of renewal and for the prospect that the congregation has run its course and the conversation should turn to ending well and leaving a legacy.
  • Find the courage to “Experi-fail” and make it a new part of your congregational culture
    Adaptive challenges require a lot of experiments and learning opportunities for the community as a whole.
  • Become a “learning community
    Learn more about the changing context and what is working for growing congregations. Look to nearby congregations for ideas, possible partnerships or sharing of resources.  Your UUA Regional staff can help connect you, if you don’t already have those relationships.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, UUA Central East Region

Resources:

Turning Point: Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism

Partner and Multisite Congregations

Love Reaches Out resources

UUA Resources on Mission

UU Leadership Institute