Friday, August 15, 2014


by Kathy McGowan, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life staff member

One day, I noticed an opened letter from our local public radio station on the kitchen counter. It was a thank you for the $10.00 donation. Upon further inspection, I saw that it was addressed to my seventeen-year-old son. I was surprised, as we had never discussed this. When I asked him why he had donated, his answer was simply “Mom, its NPR.” For him this act of generosity was that simple; it is just what one does.

When I start my workshops on Stewardship I begin by saying, “Giving and generosity are matters of the spirit and at the heart of stewardship. Giving is a spiritual discipline, a practice that reflects one’s religious values, spiritual depth and maturity. Becoming a generous person involves a lifelong developmental process which begins in infancy and evolves with each experience of receiving and giving.”

You see, in order to become a generous person, one must have opportunities to experience giving. After my lecture on Stewardship at our Southern UU Leadership Experience (SUULE), one of the staff members and I were chatting about this lifelong process, and she shared this story with me.

“When the time came to plan the annual auction at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett we began the usual brainstorming on possible dates, themes, etc. but then someone had the idea to redefine the event by changing the format to make it an all-inclusive, family-friendly, multi-generational affair.

Because we recognize that not all of our members had the financial means to fully participate in past auctions, we decided that this year we would have what was more of an “auction-themed party”.  Guests would offer their donation at the door and, regardless of the amount given; they would receive an envelope containing a predetermined amount of ‘play money,’ which would constitute their bidding capital for the evening.  We intended to create a more inclusive event that families and those with limited financial means would feel comfortable attending, and to keep everyone attending from being concerned about budget limits and overspending.

The auction is our biggest fundraiser of the year, so when this model was proposed, many elements of the idea were met with skepticism:  'Why should I donate something of value if it could possibly be won by someone who had paid less than it's worth to receive it?'  'How will we raise money if people aren’t actually buying things?'  There was reasonable, widespread doubt.  Given that the church depends on this event to fund its operating budget, this was a risk, to be sure. As expected, there were some who did not initially jump for joy at the idea of changing the way we’ve always done things. The congregation was given the opportunity to hear the reasoning for the proposed change, voice their concerns, and ask questions during the town hall meeting.

But someone had faith, and planted those seeds of faith, over many weeks of planning and sharing with the leaders and the congregation the vision of a welcoming community this new model would cultivate.  And as the larger community began to get on board, something amazing began to grow.

The theme was to be 'the 70’s.' On event night, the congregation turned out decked in all their hippie and flower-power finery, and had a wonderful time. UUCG’s 2014 auction was a huge success! It exceeded the expected amount by the end of the night, and continued to bring in donations well after it was over. The youth of the congregation were able to participate by being able to fully engage in the auction, and also served as cashiers and runners during the night.

We took a big risk going against what has always worked, but in the end it was well worth it.”

When Nathalie and I chatted about this successful new “fun-raiser,” what struck me was the multi-generational aspect. The entire community was involved in giving at this event. I am sure that new connections between people were created and fostered. Not only were there opportunities for giving, but the giving was celebrated, helping to create an environment where giving to our congregation is “just what we do”.

(With contributions from: Nathalie Bigord, Christiana McQuain and Paige Varner of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett, GA)