A Thank You Plan


Saying thank you is often a spontaneous thing. When someone does something for us, especially unasked for or at a cost to themselves, we naturally want to thank them, in words, by doing something for them, or by “paying it forward:” giving in some way to others. Most people don’t give in order to be thanked, but it feels good to know the receiver has noticed them and appreciates what they’ve done.

When we’re together as the Church, it makes a big difference when we plan to say thank you, regularly and in different ways. Cesie Delve Scheurmann, consultant and blogger, 1 offers a potent, three-part plan:

  1. Thank people who give a financial gift for the first time, or who make an unexpected gift at Christmas or at year’s end.
  2. Schedule one day every week, when you’ll write four notes of gratitude. A heartfelt thank you note for someone’s gift of time, talent, and/or treasure will make you feel good, and will please them, too.
  3. Every Sunday, plan to thank your congregation for being generous and for supporting ministries that make a difference. There’s plenty to be thankful for, including for churches that are struggling financially, and Scheurmann gives several examples. Over the course of a year, the message will sink in: “What you give brings joy to and matters in the lives of real people.”

However it’s done, giving thanks becomes a gift in itself. “You will be enriched in every way for your generosity,” Paul tells the Corinthians. Their giving will produce not only thanksgiving from Paul and his ministry partner and “not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Cor. 9:11-12) The “saints” – that’s us, and all who seek to follow Jesus – will thank God for their needs being met, and will give their thanks back, as a gift, to God. So giving thanks keeps multiplying, grace upon grace!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Cesie Delve Scheuermann, “Set Your Generosity Priorities – Part 1,” 1/11/2017, at http://www.umoi.org/blogdetail/inspiring-generosity-7343136


What Makes a Ministry Trustworthy?


When people want to give to a ministry to improve people’s lives, they need to know they can trust that organization to follow-through in the ways they promised. But how can they know your church or other nonprofit organization is doing the right things with the money they have given? The answer includes not only money, but also relationships and showing Jesus’ love.

Using gifts for their stated purposes – Whether people’s gifts are large or small, most donors feel a sense of personal investment, and want reassurance that their donations are making a difference in the way the church said it would. Stories about changed lives and circumstances can make a world of difference, rippling out among ministry supporters in a powerful way. Check out your organization’s listing on www.guidestar.org or www.charitynavigator.org to see how they say it has operated financially in the past.

Financial transparency is essential for any ministry. Church leaders need to discern how much detail some of their members or participants may want to see, and make that information accessible to them. In addition, conduct that is accountable and transparent earns the trust of the ministry’s employees, which creates a positive workplace for them, as well.1 The Internal Revenue Service has certain requirements for what must be publically disclosed, but a church can also create a “best practices” statement that addresses issues and values up front.

It’s also about relationships, not just use of finances. Positive experiences with core transactions can bring givers a sense of confidence in your church’s effectiveness, as well. For example, an article in Nonprofit Quarterly 2 says that the way the church or organization asks for and receives charitable contributions, how it uses its assets to benefit society, and the ways it promises mission commitment into the future all give donors a sense of its legitimacy.

Trust goes beyond relationships, as well. In a study of 16,800 givers called The Generosity Project, a nonprofit ethics organization 3 found that “overall, givers are twice as likely to say they give because they’ve been blessed as to say they give because their gift makes a difference.” In addition, 71 percent of their givers were more likely to consider giving to a ministry if it showed the love of Jesus. And for those donors who were Millennials, they were “ten times more likely to support a ministry that shows the love of Jesus than any other guiding trait of ministry service.”

May your ministries show themselves to be trustworthy in all of these ways!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 = www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/financial-transparency

2 = “The Public’s Trust in Nonprofit Organizations: The Role of Relationship Marketing and Management,” by Herrington J. Bryce, in https://nonprofitquarterly.org

3 = www.ecfa.church

The Commitment Circle


Ever since first learning about the “Commitment Circle” from the Center for Parish Development,1 I’ve been delighted to present it to local church leaders. It helps us understand different levels of involvement in the church at different points of people’s lives, without laying guilt on other people or ourselves for not getting everyone involved.

Based on ongoing research, the Center discovered four primary segments of people in North American churches. The “Creatives” usually constitute about five percent of a congregation. They’re the ones who unite their personal goals with the goals of the church, and they bring their personal creativity to the church planning process. They often chair all the committees and give generously of their time, energy, abilities and money for the church’s ministries.

The “Responsibles” are usually 15 to 20 percent of the people and are very active. They commonly fill the rest of the committee positions. Together with the Creatives, they give about 75 percent of the church’s budget. They identify with the congregation and come to all-church events. The “Responsives” can make up 20 to 30 percent of the congregation. They attend church infrequently, depending upon their family agendas. They give about 25 percent of the church’s income, and may come to an all-church event if you contact them five ways and offer to personally bring them.

The “Dormants” may be very active in other aspects of their lives, but are “asleep” at this time related to the congregation. They might have been Creatives in the past, before they had a falling-out or moved to another state or province. They may be family members of a Creative. They probably come to church only for baptisms, weddings or funerals, or for personal care during a crisis in their lives. Those who visit them need to feel personally called to a one-on-one relationship, building personal trust over a long time.

The good news about being aware of the Commitment Circle is knowing we can work where it’s most fruitful, tailoring our message to people’s different commitment levels, without implying that they’re not as involved in church life as they “should be.” We can expand from our strengths as a faith community, without trying to do everything for everyone. And the best news of all is knowing that positive change is possible, one person, one family at a time. We can change the percentages by increasing the number of Creatives, then Responsibles, and so forth, around the circle, as we work on one relationship at a time.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 missionalchurch.org

Rallying Stories and More, for Abundance Thinking


This week I relished listening to Rebekah Burch Basinger in this month’s “Author Chat” done by the basinger-rebekah-burchEcumenical Stewardship Center. 1 She is the co-author of the classic, Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry. Part of her conversation was about what it would mean for abundance to be the stewardship model in people’s lives, instead of a scarcity mindset that assumes we never have enough resources to accomplish what God has called us to do.

“This whole concept is really foundational: to put God in givers’ hearts first,” said Rebekah. “We need to keep the focus on the giver’s heart, and not let anything get in front of that” (such as money or institutional needs).

Even when a nonprofit organization or a local church is facing a big financial challenge, she said, participants can start by asking themselves what assets they have, instead of what they lack. One example she gave was when she got to work with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, Arizona. Despite their difficult financial dilemma at the time, their new bishop asked the question, “What do we want to accomplish, and what will be needed to do it?” When the church leaders and members looked at their situation from that point of view, they realized they already had a lot of what they needed.

So what can church leaders do to encourage such an abundance approach? Rebekah cited these four things:

  1. Tell positive “rallying stories” of God’s abundance in the past, when God came into a particular situation and responded with abundant grace. Then ask the members what they learned from that story to help in their current circumstances.
  2. Talk about money regularly, as an everyday part of the church’s conversation.
  3. Be faithful in reporting back to givers, letting them know how their giving made a positive difference in people’s lives.
  4. Find every opportunity to celebrate your congregation’s corporate generosity, saying Thank you for all they have done to make a positive difference.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – To hear all of Rebekah Burch Basinger’s Author Chat, go to the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s website, stewardshipresources.com/authorchats/basinger. While you’re there, check out the other authors, as well, offered for free.

Top Ten Ways to Increase Giving in Your Church


With the New Year upon us, now is an excellent time to look at the overall strategies of your congregation to encourage generous giving. Thankfully the Spirituality and Giving Project 1 studied 1,157 churches of more than two dozen denominations related to what motivates members to give, and what influences them to increase their giving. The churches were rural, urban and suburban from both the U.S. and Canada.

fire-heart-2These were the top ten overall strategies that are the most effective ways to increase giving in a congregation. They are:

  1. Connect individual giving directly to the spiritual life of each person.
  2. Begin practicing stewardship education as a twelve-month process which involves children, youth, and adults.
  3. Encourage tithing or proportionate giving.
  4. Let people make pledges and regular gifts to more than a single fund, encouraging rather than discouraging designated giving.
  5. Provide opportunity for people to give from both checking and savings.
  6. Promote special offerings more effectively.
  7. Encourage the pastor to be actively involved in stewardship education and fund-raising.
  8. Send more frequent financial statements to members and constituents who support the church.
  9. Emphasize the mission and vision of your church rather than the line item budget – and remember that people give to people and God, not budgets.
  10. Help people give through their wills, living trusts, life insurance policies, and similar means.

As you put together your church’s Generosity Plan for this year ahead, you can start with this “Top Ten,” assessing what the leadership does well and what one or more things you can improve, to help grow more generous-hearted givers.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Study conducted by Christian Community, which published The Desires of Your Heart: Financial Giving and the Spiritual Life (1997: Christian Community, Fort Wayne, Indiana), by Holly Carcione, Steve Clapp, Kristen Leverton and Angela Zimmerman. The authors listed these ten strategies on p. 22 and used them as the subjects of each of the book’s chapters.

Going Digital With Your Stewardship Campaign++


Written for “Live Free” issue of Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation

Republished in Ecumenical Stewardship Resources e-newsletter 6/26/2015

     Communicating electronically is crucial, even if your church doesn’t do that on a regular basis.Computer keyboard mouse Most North American denominations offer websites to their congregations. At least 207,000 congregations have their own websites in the U.S. As for Canada, thousands of churches have websites in the Ottawa area alone. People of all ages have access to laptops, tablets and smart phones to receive personalized information about the world; whatever the purpose, “there’s an app for that.” Even the most print-oriented grandparents email their grandchildren, and once-stodgy businesses now use emails as part of the backbone of their communications.

500 million people use Facebook, half of them logging in every day. Facebook and emails are most popular among Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) in the U.S and Canada, and Baby Boomers now dominate church leadership in North American congregations. Pinterest has attracted more than 4 million unique daily visitors. The age of these visitors is overwhelmingly between twenty-five and fifty-four: the age range that is missing in most North American churches.

Take social media seriously if you’ve ever heard the complaint, “We need to attract more young people, more children, more youth.” 200 million people consistently use Twitter, which gets 36 million unique visitors from their desktops each month. The number of tweets topped 300 billion two years ago. In fact, tweets are so popular that several commercial television programs ask for and post Twitter responses during their on-air time. When it comes to Tumblr, a microblogging and multimedia site, 110 million users are registered, hosting more than 180.7 million blogs. Instagram, a photo-sharing social network, has become a massive social network with more than 75 million daily users, primarily teens and twenty-somethings.

It would be foolish not to take advantage of this communication explosion. So create a Social Media Team for this nine-week period. Make sure the team members are the youngest or most media-savvy members, preferably middle school through college age. Have the team chair share the primary messages of your theme, and let them generate at least two dozen ways to get the words and pictures out. Even if your team is only two people, they can have a huge impact!

Many churches already have an email prayer list or database for highlighting events within the congregation. Name one or two people to generate emails to send out on whatever time basis you have determined. Would a weekly email be helpful to help members build excitement over the nine weeks? Be sure to send out an email at least to introduce the program and each of the four weeks when Live Free is your worship theme. Encourage the rest of the team to use other social media as often as they can. If your church has a website or a presence on Facebook, set up a Live Free page and post photos as you go along. The purpose of the interviews is to share testimonies about how God frees them up to give generously to God’s work in the world, and how this congregation has shaped their lives and encouraged them to live generously toward others.

Organize an Audio-Visual Team. What if just two folks are interested during these nine weeks? That’s fine! One person can serve as the interviewer and the other can film it on your tablet camera (iPad has beautiful resolution) or even on a smartphone. Film interviews can be ten minutes or less, or even two-minute responses to questions related to the worship themes. Intersperse these clips with live speakers at your meal presentations, in order to provide a common thread throughout your meal events.

If you have someone who wants to present visuals during worship, he or she can use Microsoft’s PowerPoint or Apple’s Pages. That person can also recommend and project any film clips you may have chosen to use in the four Live Free worship Sundays. Search “generosity” or “stewardship” at www.youtube.com for film clips. Possibilities might include Ankit Bakshi’s “Joy of Giving,” Ministryspot’s “The Gift of Generosity,” Bishop Hannington’s “Grace of Giving,” or ARandVideo’s “God Is Generous in Giving.”

Initially, an electronic effort may sound like a lot to small churches. At the same time, it will feel natural to congregations that already communicate electronically on a regular basis. Thousands of local churches are located in rural or open-country areas that already depend upon electronic messaging, while millions of people in their thirties and younger depend solely upon Internet technology. If Live Free is worth inviting people to participate, don’t leave anyone out!

– Betsy Schwarzentraub

++ This article comes from the center section of the Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine Volume 17, which includes a timeline, articles, and other resources to create a financial-commitment program with the “Live Free” theme, based on 1 Timothy 6:18-19 and Galatians 5:1. You can used the magazine, corresponding theme materials, and digital Life Free Companion Resource to create your own “Live Free” emphasis. All are available from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center at www.stewardshipresources.org.

Ways to Share Your Narrative Budget++


Achievement 5Spread your good news! Plan the strategy for sharing your congregation’s narrative budget over the year. Consider any of the following ways of telling or sharing your good news:

  1. Use posters and bulletin inserts that proclaim the ministry.
  2. Highlight one ministry area a month, or feature a ministry area in weekly bulletins.
  3. Have first-hand testimonials from the congregation speak about the special ministry in which they are active. Include all groups and ages, from children to seniors.
  4. Use the narrative budget in New Member Classes.
  5. Make a video or DVD presentation based on your church’s mission statement and/or narrative budget.
  6. Ask for a half-hour time slot on your local cable television station to share your congregation’s mission and budget.
  7. Ask every group in your church to give fifteen minutes in study and prayer, based on the narrative budget.
  8. Plan a Presentation Breakfast or Luncheon or Dinner to present the narrative budget to the congregation.
  9. Incorporate your narrative budget into your home visitation.
  10. Plan a special mission weekend to interpret your ministry areas.
  11. As new church leaders are installed for the year, present the narrative budget as part of their dedication.
  12. Give time in worship to celebrate your participation in each of the core areas of ministry.

The possibilities are many. Be innovative, and remember to include the children and youth in your plans.

++ From A Declaration for Mission: Your Congregation’s Budget, by the Canadian Interchurch Stewardship Committee, 1992


Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub