Planning Annual Fall Pledge Campaigns

Planning Annual Fall Pledge Campaigns

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In today’s unprecedented context, when churches cannot worship in person and there is great economic uncertainty and social upheaval, it is quite reasonable to ask: How are we supposed to conduct our annual fall pledge campaign? Can we do so? We have no models, no roadmap. These are uncharted waters. We have never been in this situation before.

While each church is different, I would encourage you to incorporate at least the following into your thinking and planning if/when you ask people to estimate their financial giving for 2021.

1. Highlight Scripture. Scripture is one of the most powerful means by which God speaks to us. Through it, God challenges, heals, sustains, and urges growth within us and among us. One text you may find relevant is 2 Corinthians 8.1-7. This example of the Macedonians who “in the midst of a very severe trial, their abundant joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” might have something to say to us today. These verses, in fact chapters 8 and 9 generally, offer rich study and preaching opportunities as Paul attaches deep theological significance to the collection for the Jerusalem church.

2. Emphasize how your ministry is changing lives. Tell stories of what you are doing to bear witness to God’s love and justice in these challenging days, about how you are making disciples of Jesus, how you are bringing new life as agents of change, and/or how you are forming partnerships with others and working for the common good.

Rather than talking about bills that need to be paid and needing to keep the church’s doors open, talk about the unique divinely-called mission work that your congregation is carrying out in your community; how you are being Christ’s body; Christ’s hands and feet. To do this, try using a narrative budget instead of a numbers only budget. Be both inspirational in what you have been and are doing and aspirational about what you hope and feel called to do in the year ahead. Talk about ministry that needs to be done. Talk about all the ministry you do together and how it matters, now more than ever.

3. Ask unapologetically. You are inviting people to support the mission and ministry of Jesus being enacted through your church. Also ask sensitively as there are people hurting financially right now, even while others have more money available. Ask in such a way that you don’t make those who are hurting feel worse or guilty, while challenging those who can to give more.

Prioritize the need of the giver to give, not the church to receive, and of providing the giver a chance to express and grow in her/his generosity. Again, the ministry of the church is needed now more than ever, and this ministry requires time, talent, and especially treasure. Invite people into the joy of financially supporting and participating in making God’s love and justice real.

4. Stress proportional giving. Another text with great possibilities is Mark 12.41-44 (also, Luke 21.1-4), the story of the widow’s gift. Granted there are many directions one can go with this story, but one is certainly Jesus’ focus on proportional giving rather than dollar amounts. Percentage giving is a source of great comfort for those who don’t have a lot of financial resources. People who give like the poor widow in this story can know that in God’s eyes their “small” gift is not small at all, but rather incredibly generous.

It is important to stress percentage giving because not only is it biblical (see, Deuteronomy 14.22-29; 16.17; Numbers 18.20-32; Leviticus 27.30; Malachi 3.6-12), but also it guards against someone saying that a person who can only give a small amount is an insignificant giver. Jesus singled out such givers as the widow in Mark for praise. We should do likewise.

By the way, implicit in the story in Mark (and Luke) is Jesus’ critique of those who have large financial resources, but only give a small percentage even if it happens to be larger in dollar amount.

Put a percentage giving chart with your other pledging materials on your website and include one in your mailings so that people can readily see where they are and how they are being invited to grow in their giving. Such a chart can easily be found and downloaded from the internet.

5. Employ a variety of ways and formats to communicate with your people. Different people will have different comfort levels and abilities to utilize technology and the internet. As you have probably already noticed that while some previously excluded people are now included, some previously included are now excluded. Hence, even as you continue to emphasize online giving, recognize that not everyone will want or be able to fill out an “Estimate of Giving” form online.

Consider changing the wording from “Pledge” to “Estimate of Giving” as it may be comforting and reduce anxiety for some during this time of great economic uncertainty.

Offer to mail fall pledge campaign materials, such as letters, a percentage giving chart, an “Estimate of Giving” card, and a stamped self-addressed envelope to those who would like, or you think would prefer, to receive them this way.

Think generationally (e.g., different stages of life or career, plus degrees of facility with technology, the internet, online giving, and social media) regarding communications and contributions.

6. Remind people of the universal charitable tax deduction of up to $300 per individual ($600 for a married couple filing jointly) and seniors of the tax-wise Qualified Charitable Distribution means of contributing to the church. See my posts on May 15 and August 24.  

I have no clue as to what the remainder of 2020 will be like, nor 2021. However, I think if you incorporate at least the above into the planning and execution of your fall pledge campaign, you will have taken steps in the right direction, even in these very challenging times.

As always, “Thank You!” for your time, talent, treasure, and prayers regarding your church and the SNEC. We sincerely appreciate them for truly we have this ministry together!

Author

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David Cleaver-Bartholomew

Rev. Dr. David Cleaver-Bartholomew is the Transitional Associate Conference Minister for Stewardship and Financial Development for the SNEUCC.

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