“There are two times I hear from the church about my giving: asking for my stewardship pledge and letting me know if I got behind on it!”
We hear this from church members across the country too often. The reality is that today’s donors and tithers to our churches are most often donors to other causes and ministries. The harsh reality is that they’re often making their best and most sacrificial stretch gifts to those causes.
The national decline in church membership and participation points to an inevitable shrinking of financial resources. Churches have to re-evaluate how they’re inspiring donors and how they’re treating them year-round. While support of the church is a Biblical calling and obligation for most, many of today’s donors also have a sophisticated expectation shaped by their experience giving to other organizations. And they rightly want to know the difference their investment is making in the work of the Kingdom.
In this series, Four Philanthropy Essentials for the Church, we’ll unpack the key strategies churches need in place for the healthy stewardship of donors. Whether you are a ‘one-person show’ in a small congregation or part of a large team in a multi-campus church, these are essentials that can be scaled and adjusted to your setting.
ESSENTIAL #1: Communication that is consistent, coherent, and specific.
CONSISTENT: If you don’t already use a communications calendar, build a simple one that includes everything the church is sending to its various audiences via platform or vehicle. Look carefully at how often your donors are hearing from you and the kind of information you’re communicating.
Your church-wide communications calendar should also include the components that are stewardship specific. Plan that content and timing strategically alongside the other communications your donors are receiving. For example, year-end giving receipts are often a lost opportunity. Begin planning early. Use that mailing to showcase the impact of donor giving and collect some statistics, quotes, or other outcomes to remind your church givers of what they helped the church achieve this past year. Or plan to include handwritten thank you notes to a set of givers with the receipts. Either will give your mailing more impact and inspire donors.
We’ll deep dive into the essentials of donor acknowledgments later in this blog series, but a church’s communications plan should include regular thank you notes as well as a plan for thanking recurring and first-time donors.
COHERENT: While donors crave knowing the impact of their giving, they quickly tune out if they’re hearing from you too often with messages that are irrelevant to them or are poorly constructed. If every ministry in your church is sending an enewsletter to every member, it’s time to take a donor-centered communications approach to streamline and segment your audiences.
Pay close attention to your open rates and analytics, which indicate if your messages are being well received. You might discover that of the members getting your children’s ministry e-news, 30 percent were going unopened by people whose kids aged out several years ago. Enable your donors to opt-in or out of messaging most relevant to them. Finally, consider an occasional feedback survey for your communications to help shape them moving forward. Just the act of asking for input and what is meaningful to members is an act of stewardship!
SPECIFIC: Donors want to know what impact they’re making. Be purposeful about letting them know how their investments were spent. People who give to the youth mission trip should get a special communication (with photos and stories!) letting them know what difference their specific support made. Share the stories of ministry and mission-related impact — if possible, with the quotes and photos of people involved. Your members will share it, tell their friends about what the church is doing and inspire others to get involved.
It might feel more challenging to showcase the impact of funding church operations and facilities. But that is where and how ministry happens, so name it and acknowledge it! Look carefully at your budget and what members made possible with their faithful support. If your givers helped replace windows or paid for critical HVAC repairs, name it, photograph it, and be specific about the difference it made for the health of your facility. If your members funded an educational sabbatical for clergy, share that and its impact on your church’s mission. Even an investment in your IT or website are donor funds well spent in expanding the reach of the Kingdom.
Finally, don’t feel overwhelmed. Whether you are in a small office or part of a large congregation, strategize how to best allocate your time and resources. If you have none of the above essentials in place, just choose one or two goals and commit to making progress on those. Choose some volunteers to help you think through your communications strategies or get their input on a mailing piece or survey. Sometimes people who aren’t called to volunteer for VBS or greeting would be passionate about helping the church’s development and communications efforts.
In the coming weeks, we’ll outline additional philanthropy essentials, including a lens for your donor data and trends, as well as an approach for personalized acknowledgments.
Tim Smith has over 30 years of experience in Church, Non-Profit Administration, Management, and Fund Development. Having served as an Executive Pastor and Chief Development Officer in growing Churches and Non-Profit Organizations, he has provided a wide range of expertise and resources. Tim serves as Founder and CEO for Non-Profit DNA, a boutique firm committed to helping non-profits and churches build their capacity through fundraising, leadership, team building, staff recruiting, and coaching.