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Money Stories—A New Approach to Annual Giving

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By Erin Weber-Johnson

A few days ago my colleague and I at Vandersall Collective were in a meeting and we were asked a very common question. The minister noted, “You have all the experience….what in the world do I do this fall? Do I even ask [for money]? What does that look like? Is this faithful?” 

Indeed, this year is unlike any other. People are feeling the weight of disconnection and the disruption of even the simplest daily routines. 

We have heard things like:

“It’s been over 5 months since I`ve been physically touched.” (92 year old woman)

“I have about three hours of personal contact each week—all of which is virtual.” (39 year old woman) 

“I don’t recognize myself anymore in the mirror. These past few months have left their marks on my face and on my soul.” (69 year old man.)

It would be ineffectual and, frankly, inappropriate to continue with an annual giving campaign as though nothing was different. In the midst of all that characterizes 2020, we are being called into something new, because we are a changed people. 

There has never been a more important year to ask people to give—not because our church budgets need it, but because our souls do. 

Faith leaders are called not to skip annual giving or rely on previous methods. There has never been a more important year to view stewardship not as a means to an end but as pastoral ministry. Now is the time to actively seek connection with those in your faith community and to do the work of listening to and understanding their money narratives. The Acts description of the earliest Christian community is filled with mutual care, love, and enough for all—and provides wisdom for us about how to ask and receive our own faith community’s resources. 

For many, annual giving is viewed as a painful necessity to meet budget needs, and feelings of obligation, guilt, and shame can fill our money narratives. Yet, people give for many reasons—which are driven both by their money narratives and current context. 

About four years ago, approaching the final run up to the presidential election, I researched previous presidential elections and claimed there would be a small bump in giving following the 2016 election, but overall, congregations could anticipate giving to remain consistent. 

I was so very wrong. Here is what happened: 

Since the election in 2016 advocacy-based organizations on both sides of the aisle have seen significant increases in giving. Two major motivations that emerged following the 2016 election were 1) Rage/Catharsis  and 2) a Need for Agency. With fears and animosity amplified, fundraisers like politicians discovered that people can and often will donate as a means of expressing not only their ideals but their outrage. 

Our needs have changed since January, 2020, and our motivation for giving is changing, too. We are all far more aware of our mortality, and looking to make meaning and connections. There is a deep need to give like never before.

As my colleague, Mieke Vandersall writes, “When there is a crisis, I have found that our fear around money—not having enough, guilt over having too much, being left alone, not being able to control our own destiny—becomes front and center. I have found that in crisis times, those old stories that have not been healed come rearing their head, and in crisis, for us to explore those, and allow our biblical stories to speak a new story, is the exact time to do this work together. 

There has never been a more important time to explore our relationship both individually and as church with money and power. As we continue to live into these days investing in relationships, providing opportunities to fulfill donor needs through giving, and examining our money narratives, here are five action steps to build into your program: 

  1. Connect regularly and personally with your members. Ask people how they are. Explore their money stories and their 2020 stories and talk about how their giving might change in response. 
  2. Share the ways giving to your congregation makes meaning in the world. What is God doing through your congregation? 
  3. Check your donor records. Are there donors that have stopped giving? Are there potential unspoken pastoral care needs? 
  4. Make sure your own money theology is in check. Do you, as a faith leader, need help with this? Is something keeping you from talking about money or asking people to give? 
  5. Don’t apologize for asking. Would you apologize for serving in any other pastoral ministry? Claim this as life-giving work without apology. 

The best stories captivate and transform us—they change how we live. This stewardship season, don`t opt out of asking people to give or put it into autodrive. Now, more than ever, invite people into a reimagined relationship with money, a deeper connection to God, and an opportunity to give to God for repair of the world. 


About the Author
Erin Weber-Johnson is Senior Consultant at Vandersall Collective and Co-author of “Our Money Story”, a curriculum created with A Sanctified Art. She and Dustin Benac are co-editing an upcoming book “Care and Crisis: Meditations on Faith and Philanthropy in the midst of Disruption” published by Cascade Books in early 2021.

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