Questions for Reflection
- What is an example of "this is the way we've always done things" in your organization?
- What steps can you take to move toward a more intentional, vibrant practice?
by Melissa Spas, Managing Director of Education and Engagement
Many leaders inherit organizational practices that are limited, counter-productive, or simply no longer working. How many times have you heard someone say “this is the way we’ve always done things”?! Grappling with that expectation and sense of entrenched practice poses a challenge for leadership, especially when we hope to be future-oriented. When it comes to fundraising and stewardship in religious organizations and congregations, longstanding patterns and practices may be a real barrier to thriving and growth if they are left unexamined. With intention and strategic efforts, inherited development practices can be retired and new ones, directed toward greater vitality, can take their place.
This is the way we've always done things.
For example, many congregations only talk about money when they are asking for it, and thus limit explicit “money talk” to a single season of the year, often in the fall, with an emphasis on inviting people to pledge or make a commitment around their giving in the coming year. The practice of emphasizing giving just once per year can have the unintended effect of marginalizing this aspect of faith formation, communicating that giving is an unimportant aspect of religious practice, something to be dealt with and then set aside until the next year. When we inherit a taboo related to money, we are limited in our ability to nurture and celebrate this aspect of the organization’s life. Often faith-based non-profits also see fundraising as something in support of the mission, rather than tied directly to the mission itself, which allows for a silo to develop around financial practices within the organization. Year-round stewardship, employing a variety of approaches to invite giving, and the integration of activity that nurtures generosity can all strengthen the spiritual and financial health of a faith community. When we value the contribution made to the life of the organization by generous donors, we won’t hesitate to celebrate that contribution, in the same way that we are eager to acknowledge and appreciate volunteers and leaders.
Similarly, many Christian congregations maintain that the pastor should not know who gives to the congregation, or how much. This is a practice that is rooted in a good intention, separating the business of the organization from the pastoral responsibility of the leader, but it has unintended consequences in our post-modern context. According to the soon-to-be released National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices, “when asked who had access to participant’s contribution records, only 55% of congregations gave the head clergyperson access to participant’s contribution records.” When the leader has full information, he or she is equipped to lead effectively and address stewardship as a part of discipleship, with the relationship to money as an important aspect of faithful practice or formation. If money is taboo, it is because we understand it to be sensitive and important; Robert Wuthnow says that a taboo is something so important to us that to touch it or talk about it is to expose oneself to considerable danger.1 Religious leadership entails a measure of risk, but that is because faith necessarily engages the complexities of meaning-making, addressing those things most important in the lives of practitioners. Money is no different – it matters to people, and so addressing it with seriousness allows for a renewed sense of purpose and meaning.
This shift from an inherited practice of traditional stewardship or fundraising activity toward an intentional and strategic approach can be an opportunity for growth in the organization and among the leadership. When tailored to the particular strengths and opportunities of an organization or congregation, fundraising that is carefully considered, planned, and evaluated will always be more effective than something that is simply repeated because it’s our tradition or “the way we always do things”. The power of a legacy lies in what it can accomplish for the future; this is as true of inherited practices and traditions as it is of financial gifts or bequests. Leading with integrity means attending to the ways we can honor the past while also moving confidently into the future. Applying intention to our financial mindsets and practices allows for that kind of leadership with integrity.
1Robert Wuthnow, Poor Richards Principle Recovering the American Dream Through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business, and Money, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 140.
The executive report of our nationally representative study on the economic practices of US congregations will release on Tuesday, September 17. This study explores how congregations receive, manage, and spend their finances, including topics like Melissa mentioned regarding congregational leaders knowing what and how much participants give. Sign up and receive it directly to your inbox next Tuesday.
We invite ECRF almuni to a day of renewal and reflection on Thursday, November 21 at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. Program Manager, Anne Brock, will lead us in small and large group conversations and creative activities to help us consider the role shame plays in our relationship to money. There is no cost to attend this one day event. Space is limited, so we will receive registration on a first come, first serve basis.
Our 2020 Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising dates are now posted! The first offering, March 23-26 in Indianapolis, is now open for registration. You'll see many of our long-standing partnerships as well as some new ones. Please share this information with your colleagues!
With the 2020 dates comes the opportunity to apply for our scholarship which covers half of the tuition. Applications need to be turned in by September 20. We will notify recipients in early November.