Unwrapping the Annual Campaign

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The annual stewardship appeal ripples through many congregations in the fall, but the planning should begin much earlier. In today’s post, my colleague Catherine Malotky shares some of her congregation’s takeaways from last year’s campaign. It’s not too early — in fact, it’s the perfect time now — to start thinking about your approach to stewardship this fall.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders  

Working the Annual Campaign                                                 

The Rev. Catherine Malotky

Over the last 20 years, I’ve observed that our piety around stewardship has evolved. Two decades ago, most folks in the pews and most stewardship leaders thought of stewardship as the annual campaign to raise money for next year’s congregational budget. Learning from our secular counterparts who’ve been talking about stewardship more broadly, stewardship leaders have started imagining what year-round stewardship looks like, and loosening the grip of stewardship rhetoric that sounds strictly financial.

These conversations should cover more ground than square one rolling out in the fall, deciding how much to give to a congregation as the year draws to a close. Stewardship is an orientation toward life, and I support efforts to broaden stewardship rhetoric in a way that can speak to the complexity of our lives. In this broadening, our task as stewardship leaders is twofold: form a “steward” identity and inspire generosity.

Identity formation: baptized →disciple →steward

There is a growth curve for people of faith; like branches on the vine, in our Christian context that growth is nourished and guided by Jesus. How does Jesus’ message of justice and mercy impact our daily decision-making about how we live, interact, vote, and budget? The budgeting decisions are not just about money and should be informed by both generosity, responsibility, and humble quesitioning. What percentage of the resources entrusted to me will I share with the neighbor (in the broadest sense of that term) for the sake of bringing the world closer to God’s vision of sufficiency for all? What does it mean to recognize the planet itself as a participant in and recipient of that sufficiency?

How do we, as stewardship leaders, frame the work of our congregations from this mission lens? And how do we best empower people to both ask and answer the enormous question; how much is enough?

Inspire generosity

Flowing out of this identity-work, we hope to build the characteristic of generosity in general, and discover answers to more material questions. Some strategies inspire generosity more effectively than others, so we did a little fundraising experiment in our congregation last fall.

Too often, the annual campaign is wrapped up in the notion that to be innovative is to be entirely open-ended, but a springboard of specific details can launch new ideas. We decided to categorize our mailings, so different groups of members received different invitations to give.

  •      Non-givers were asked to make a $250 gift in 2019, which comes out to about $20 per month or about $5 per week. We had never included a dollar amount before, and hoped that by asking for a specific amount, we might help people hurdle the “how much” question, which can be a barrier to giving.
  •      Givers (who gave but did not pledge) were offered a 1:1 match for making their first pledge. To fund a “matching pool,” we invited regular givers to pitch in, getting involved to motivate non-pledgers to try something new.
  •      Pledgers were thanked for their commitment to the mission, and were asked to increase their pledge. If they had also pledged to the most recent capital campaign, we suggested that they simply shift their capital giving and add to their annual giving. (we were hoping to avoid a third capital campaign). We needed a 25% increase to our annual budget to be able to cover our mortgage from that annual budget, so we communicated this need.
  •      Sustainers (most of whom are pledgers) were thanked for their faithful, monthly support of the mission we share. Like pledgers, we asked for a significant increase in their annual giving.

How did we do? Our annual budget was supported in 2019 with a 30% increase!

Segmenting our messaging so it would be more personally relevant was one factor of many in this success, but was nevertheless significant as an innovative strategy. We have data that shows some non-givers moved into the giving category, and close to 20% of them even pledged. In addition, almost a third of our 2018 giving-but-not-pledging households made pledges for 2019.

We still have lots of work ahead on developing a steward identity, but being more strategic in our fall campaign seems to have produced a more generous outcome. As you try new strategies for unwrapping an annual campaign from outdated assumptions about stewardship, be sure to get fundraising input from colleagues, including those focused on secular work. Listening is another dimension of steward identity-formation, and in order to listen, sometimes we must first ask. 

About the Author

Catherine is on the staff of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary. Ordained in the ELCA, she has served congregations, edited and written for church audiences, coached pre-retirees, raised money, and keeps thinking about how we might help people discover the joy of generosity.

About the Center

Center for Stewardship Leaders

The Center for Stewardship Leaders seeks to shape a faithful, multidimensional culture of stewardship in congregations, households, and society. The center strives to consider the full spectrum of stewardship practice and theology, including financial stewardship, holistic stewardship, and leadership. See all posts from CSL.

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