Monday, January 14, 2013

"We're all in this make a difference," by Rev. Kenn Hurto

This month, many congregations begin the annual stewardship process. Budgets for the next year are shaped, priorities are set, and -- typically -- institutional anxiety goes up. Many of us just have a hard time with the "Ask." Often, leaders frame this process as a money-focused event, which is far too limited. It's about re-commitment to our shared work. It is to affirm our ministry does have a claim on our lives. 

Here's (some of) what we know about effective stewardship: We know ...

  •  Commitment follows good ministry. And good ministry is a matter of clear purpose to effectively use our shared gifts to make a difference in our members' lives and in the world about us. 
  •  Stewardship is not about "What's in it for me?" It's about "What difference shall we make?"
  • Generous giving is a spiritual, heart-driven matter. Budgets matter are planning tools and statements of priorities and values. But no one gives to line-items. 
  • People give to people, not to pieces of paper. A pledge is not just filling out a card of intent, it is a conversation by which leaders remind members of how their gifts were used (well, one hopes) and how forth-coming gifts will both sustain prior commitments and move the ministry to some new level of effectiveness. 
  • There is a level of giving that arises out of loyalty and duty. But greater generosity comes out of excitement for how additional resources will make new things possible. We know people want to give to success and to aspiration. Again, it's: "Tell me, what difference will my gifts make?"
All stewardship efforts begin and end with the "Ask:" "What investment of time, talent, and treasure can we (meaning the whole congregation) count on from you in the next year?" The Ask is a conversation among ourselves. There are several ways to Ask
  • A one on one meeting, the historic "canvass-call." 
  • Small groups discussing the ministry, followed by each participant pledging at the end of that.
  • "Celebration Sundays," sort of a pep-rally service which includes members making pledges all at once.
  • (Far less effective) Sending letters or e-mails (as though pledge was agreeing to pay a bill), or leaving cards out on a table with exhortations to turn them in.
We know especially there are no gimmicks or magical tricks that "work." Any particular canvass approach can be effective. But we know also that all techniques lose effectiveness with time. That said, stewardship always comes back to this: A clear purpose to your ministry, passion for the possible, effective use of prior gifts, an engaged dialogue among our members about what really matters, and openly asking for fair share giving.
Lastly, what is a fair ask? We know capacity varies greatly, so it helps to offer guidelines. The most equitable is a progressive, percentage of income. Our UUA has an excellent giving guide to illustrate how: This is far better than asking simply for fixed dollars or an percentage increase over last year.
Our UUA has many resources to help you, including your Congregational Life Consultants serving the region (listed below). Just ask. All blessings in your ministries!
Kenn Hurto, Southern Region Congregational Life Consultant & Executive Lead