We continue to live in unprecedented times. While some aspects of our life may have returned to what they were before the pandemic, many have not. Many churches continue to worship online only, others are offering hybrid worship, and still others have returned to in person worship. Economic uncertainty and social turmoil continue to abound. Hence, it is reasonable to ask: How are we supposed to conduct our annual pledge campaign this year? How can we effectively raise funds for our church, its mission, and its ministries?
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 must be paid and the need to keep the church’s doors open, talk about the unique divinely-called mission work 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 that connects money with mission instead of a numbers-only budget.
Be both inspirational in what you have been doing this year and aspirational about what you hope and feel called to do in the year ahead. Talk about current and future ministry that needs to be done. Talk about the ministry you do together and how it matters now more than ever. Remember: Money Follows Mission.
3. Ask unapologetically. You are inviting people to support the mission and ministry of Jesus being incarnated in and through your church. This is about Jesus, furthering his mission and ministry, and transforming lives! Ask sensitively, as people are likely in very different financial situations. Ask in such a way that you don’t make those who are hurting feel worse or guilty, yet challenges those who have the means to give more, to do so. Remember: Money Empowers Mission.
Prioritize the need of the giver to give, not the church to receive. Provide the giver a chance to express and grow in her/his generosity (see Living More Deeply Into Who We Were Created To Be, May 1). Do not neglect the spiritual growth that comes through giving and generosity. The church’s ministry requires time, talent, and treasure. Invite people into the joy of financially participating in making God’s love and justice real.
4. Stress proportional giving. Another text with great possibilities is Mark 12.41-44 (Luke 21.1-4), the story of the widow’s gift. One can go in many directions with this story, but one is certainly Jesus’ focus on proportional giving rather than specific amounts. Percentage giving can be a source of comfort for those who don’t have a lot of money. 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.
Stressing percentage giving can dispel the perception 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.
Implicit in the story in Mark (and Luke) is Jesus’ critique of those who have sizeable financial resources, but only give a small percentage of them even if it is a large “dollar” amount.
Put a percentage giving chart with your other giving materials on your website and include one in your mailings so that people can readily see where they are. Then, invite them to grow and stretch themselves in their giving and generosity. Such charts can 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 with technology and the internet. While some people previously excluded from church activities are now included, some previously included are now excluded for health reasons or concerns. Hence, even as you increase your use of technology and the internet, recognize that not everyone will want or be able to access materials, fill out forms, and make contributions online.
Consider changing the wording from Pledge to Estimate of Giving as this may be comforting and reduce anxiety for some during this time of great economic uncertainty and instability.
Offer to mail your giving 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, degrees of facility with technology, the internet, online giving, and social media) regarding communications and contributions. Also, consider gender identification. Studies show that women and men differ in numerous ways when it comes to giving, and thus, should be treated differently.
6. Remind everyone of the universal charitable tax deduction increased to $300 per individual ($600 for a married couple filing jointly) for 2021, and seniors of the tax-wise Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) means of contributing to the church.
I have no clue as to what the remainder of 2021 will bring, nor 2022. However, I think if you incorporate at least the above into the planning and accomplishing of your giving 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 SNEUCC. We sincerely appreciate them for truly we have this ministry together!
May God continue to bless you and your ministry on behalf of Jesus, the Christ!
Rev. Dr. David Cleaver-Bartholomew is the Director of Stewardship and Donor Relations for the SNEUCC.