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.
Two decades ago, you could be pretty sure that people in your church would carry a checkbook, cash, or at least a spare check or two in their wallet. Today, it’s becoming less and less likely that people carry cash or checkbooks. Yet, the ritual of the offering plate continues, and it is less likely to be filled with spontaneous gifts.
Some congregations have been paying attention to this trend, but has yours? Here are some technical ways to make it easier for people to give to your congregation: (Please note that the services mentioned are not meant to be an endorsement!)
Members and supporting friends may already have their banks set up automatic transfers for their pledge payments. But you can make it easier for them by enrolling in a turnkey electronic payment service such as VANCO.
One small congregation has created special “I give electronically” cards that members and friends who pay electronically can put in the offering basket.
Other congregations have set up PayPal, Square, or similar e-giving accounts, and make tablets available for people to give using their credit or debit cards.
Still other congregations (especially those with online streaming) have subscribed to a “text-to-give” service where participants can use their cell/smart phones to send their financial gifts. Here is a partial listing of popular services:
Crowdfunding apps such as GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo seem to be quick and easy ways to raise money for a project or concern. But they also have significant fees that reduce the amount of funds that actually go to your campaign. There is an alternate UU crowdfunding app called Faithify that has a much smaller financial transaction fee that means that more money goes to your campaign!
-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Central East Region, UUA Congregational Life
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 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.
What 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
The Bountiful Heart: Finding Your Best Stewardship Strategy (online course)
The scholarship fund at the Midwest Leadership School, called “Flame Keepers” was not growing. Sadly, in the summer of 2013 only $10 had been donated to the fund. The volunteer lay staff had all experienced the transformative power of the week-long school and had enthusiastically promoted the fund with skits and songs to help provide that experience for leaders with financial need. This past summer they decided to try something new, based on a lecture about stewardship by visiting faculty member Kathy McGowan. She had said:
People give money to make a difference. People give money to change lives. You need to tell the story of how you are making a difference in the lives of real people.
MLWS Chair Jennifer Thomas reached out to a MWLS graduate, Sayer Johnson, that she had met when she was a student in 2011. Thomas asked for a testimonial that could be shared when they invited the current students to donate to the Flame Keepers fund. This is the result:
MWLS changed my life.
As the week unfolded, I knew I’d never be the same, and I was right. My congregation saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself and they took a chance on me. My congregation was generous with their open hearts. Strangers were generous with their financial support, and because of a Flamekeepers scholarship, I was able to make MWLS a reality.
Two years before stepping foot onto the Beloit campus I was emerging as my authentic self. I was declaring my space as a transgender man. My family and my congregation stood by me, held me up, and eventually challenged me to be here–where you are now–and have this experience at Beloit. My time at MWLS resonates with me still.
My time at MWLS was my first experience with meeting folks who only knew me as Sayer…not by my old name and not as my former self. It was daunting and frightening and overwhelming, but in the end one of the most amazing and soul-inspiring welcomes into my new world as I could have possibly wished for.
Beloit lit a spark… and because of the Flamekeepers, the spark became light. MWLS would NEVER have been possible for me without the generosity of strangers.
Now four years later, I’m still benefiting from my time at MWLS. Upon returning, I was able to facilitate growth in my congregation. I also co-founded a support group for other transgender men in the St. Louis metro area. The impact of MWLS is powerful, intimate and far-reaching.
My story is one of many. And I am grateful.
The response was amazing. People wrote checks. People rounded up their bookstore purchases to donate to the fund. MWLS student and folk musician Darthe Jennings donated all of the proceeds from her CDs sold at the bookstore to the fund. The result? Instead of $10, the fund received over $1000!
Make a difference, then tell the story of how you make a difference.