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  • A Case for Support

    Today I participated in a webinar entitled “Developing a Compelling Case for Support”.

    The presentation was designed for charities that apply for foundation grants.  In Canada the ratio of charities to foundations is about 20:1, so foundations end up with many more applications than they have money to support.  As a result they have to be selective about which charities to fund.

    A case for support is an internal document prepared by a charity to answer the question “why should anyone give us money?”  While the document is not made public, it becomes the basis for all communication with external parties such as funders and supporters.  So before a charity goes asking for grants or donations, it will want to create the strongest possible case for support.

    According to the presenter, foundations are looking for charities that can demonstrate high performance and high impact.  They are trying to invest where they can produce the greatest good for the least money.  It’s about both efficiency and effectiveness.

    Here are a few of the questions that a case for support should attempt to answer:

    • Is there evidence that members of our board of directors believe in the organization enough to contribute financially?
    • What is the compelling need that we are addressing?  Is it portrayed with urgency?  Does the description evoke empathy?
    • Do all of our programs align with the mission statement?
    • Do we have defined goals and measurable outcomes?  (Do we understand the difference between outputs and outcomes?  Outputs are the product of activity.  Outcomes are valuable benefits realized by the people served.)
    • Are the methods we use unique?  Innovative?  Could our methods be used by others with success?
    • Do we differentiate ourselves from similar organizations in some way?
    • If we received more funding, how would this improve our results?
    • Do we exhibit financial health and fiscal responsibility?

    My guess is that most churches have never even heard of a case for support, let alone prepared one.  And I’m not suggesting that congregations need to rush out and hire a consultant to help them create such a document.

    But it might be worth knowing how other charities prepare themselves before soliciting donations.  After all — whether we know it or not,  like it or not — we are in competition with tens of thousands of Canadian charities for the money that enables us to do what we do.  Apart from that, those are good questions in and of themselves.

    As time goes on, more individuals will start thinking like foundations.  They will increasingly see financial support as being more like investing than donating, and they will expect recipient organizations to understand the language of investment.  They will want to make sure that their money is doing good, and they will not hesitate to switch their allegiance if someone else can produce more good with the same amount of money.  Sincere intentions alone will not cut it.

    The truth is, this is happening now.  Are you prepared for the new reality?

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  • Christmas Appeal Letter

    The week after Victoria Day is an odd time to be writing about a Christmas appeal letter, I know.  However, you may want to consider discussing this with your council or stewardship committee now so you can begin making plans in the fall.

    St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Cambridge was facing a budget deficit in the fall of 2011.  They had published articles about it in their newsletter, which produced two gifts — one of them large.  But those amounts were not enough to eliminate the looming shortfall.

    So they decided to mail out a Christmas appeal letter (see it here:  christmas letter st peter cambridge).  It went in the mail on December 14.  All but one of the responses listed below came in before year-end — an amazingly fast turnaround, in my opinion.

    (Incidentally, they mailed a different letter to the two member households that had responded to the newsletter articles.  It was substantially the same as the one most people received, but it omitted the request for a year-end donation.  It was essentially a thank-you letter.  And everyone who made a donation in response to the appeal also got a letter of thanks.)

    It appears that this is the kind of appeal that could be conducted more than once in a congregation.  Notice that the letter did not mention the budget deficit or the dire consequences that might ensue.  The tone of desperation that characterizes so many of our “stewardship” efforts is missing.

    Instead, the letter is focused on:

    • listing the many ways the congregation serves the broader community;
    • thanking members for their support (at the beginning and end of the letter);
    • inviting members to contribute as they are able, out of a sense of gratitude for God’s blessings;
    • providing information about seasonal worship services.

    People can take offense at all kinds of trivial things, but it’s hard to find anything in this letter someone could complain about.

    Here’s a summary of the appeal’s results.

    Letters mailed:  152

    Envelopes returned:  30 (19.7%)

    Total donations:  $3,130 (the total may in fact be higher; some people may have donated but not used the special envelope)

    Average donation:  $104

    Donation range:  $10-500

    This is something you might want to do in your congregation — even if you don’t have budget deficit.  Imagine what ministry you could undertake with a few thousand additional dollars!

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  • Ten Tips for Learning More About Money

    This piece is by Margaret J. Marcuson, and is produced here with her permission.  Her website can be found here.  A visit to the site may be highly rewarding, particularly to pastors who are not comfortable with their leadership around money issues.

    What’s your financial IQ? Most pastors have a lot to learn. Here are 10 tips for church leaders for broadening your perspective on money and society:

    1. Read some kind of financial publication, in print or online, at least occasionally. This will help you with your own education, as well as keep you in touch with current financial issues. Read a book about financial matters occasionally.

    2. Develop your curiosity about financial matters and the economic system. While it’s not your main interest, it affects you and everyone in your church and community.

    3. Connect with financial professionals in your congregation and community. Tell them of your interest in keeping up with the financial issues of the day.

    4. Reserve judgment for a time and consider yourself a learner. While there is clearly a place for a theological critique of our system, it’s hard to assess what you don’t understand at all.

    5. Find a way to connect face to face with those who have fewer resources than you. Engage with them as a learner, not a helper.

    6. Remember that the Bible says “the love of money is the root of all evil,” not “money is the root of all evil.” Know the difference.

    7. Develop a global perspective on financial matters. Your own denomination’s international ministry network can help with this. Don’t depend solely on mainstream media.

    8. Accept that you will necessarily be a dabbler in this area. Don’t feel the need to be an expert, simply notice information that comes your way.

    9. Study the Scripture with the question of society and money in mind. Jot down notes and questions you have about this matter.

    10. Preach a sermon on money and society occasionally. Share your learning as well as your questions with the congregation.

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  • Symposium on Preaching and Stewardship

    The Rev. Dr. James Forbes will be the featured speaker at the Symposium on Preaching and Stewardship June 12-14 at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis.

    Forbes is a noted author, scholar and preacher. He was voted one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English speaking world in 1996. He has twice been named by Ebony magazine as one of the US’s greatest Black preachers. After 13 years of teaching homiletics at Union Theological Seminary he was called to be the first African American to serve the Riverside Church in New York City. He currently serves as the president of the Healing of the Nations Foundation, a national ministry of healing and spiritual revitalization.

    Click here for registration and more information.

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  • An Economy of Grace (part 2)

    Kathryn Tanner, Professor of Theology at the Divinity School, University of Chicago, published Economy of Grace in 2005 (Fortress Press).  In it she attempts to develop the argument “that Christianity does have an economic vision for the whole of life”, and that it provides a platform from which to critique the economic orthodoxy that prevails in most of the world.

    This vision is organized around the concept of gift.  She draws clear lines between giving on the one hand and all other forms of transfer on the other.

    “The sense of gift or grace that organizes our reading of the Christian story should fundamentally undercut principles of exchange of all these sorts.  Notions of debt, contractual obligation, loan, even stewardship, should be written out of the story about God’s relations to the world and our relations with God and one another, in light of an understanding of grace that is fundamentally incompatible with them.”

    Kathryn Tanner, Economy of Grace, pp. 56-7

    She also provides a connection between generosity and social justice.

    “God’s purpose in giving is to benefit creatures, and therefore the proper return of God’s giving is not so much directed back to God as directed to those creatures.  A proper return here is one in which God’s gifts both do the creatures who receive them good and are used for the good of others.”

    Tanner, pp. 68-9

    Gratitude is the simply the natural response to a gift, to grace:

    “The gift’s goodness is what inclines one to affirm that fact, to thank the one who brought it, to praise and honour the giver for her kindness and generosity.  One doesn’t usually make a return like that to the giver because one has to, but out of a free and joyful testimony to what one has received from another’s hands.”

    Tanner, p. 69

    The book is organized into three sections.  The first section is a rigorous analysis of different ways of comparing two autonomous “fields”.  Even with an advanced degree in philosophy, I found it tough going and not very rewarding to a non-academic reader.

    The second section, “Imagining Alternatives to the Present Economic System”, was of the greatest interest, although not without some challenges.

    The final section, “Putting a Theological Economy to Work”, is a long critique of contemporary capitalism from the perspective developed earlier in the book.  A degree in economics would help here, although anyone who is following the current economic crisis in Europe and the debate over growth vs.  austerity will find many points of relevance.

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  • An Economy of Grace

    The economy that we are accustomed to, the one we take for granted when we use the word, runs on money.  There are two main types of transaction: buying and selling is one; lending and borrowing is the other.  Money has come to have other kinds of significance in this economy.  It confers power, prestige, social status and self esteem, among other things.

    We may forget that “economy” comes from the Greek oikonomia, meaning administration, management, or housekeeping.  If we return to the original meaning of the word we can speak of different types of economy, since there are different ways of administering or managing.

    It would be foolish to attempt a comprehensive theological exposition of grace, although the commonly accepted definition is “undeserved favour”.  A few linguistic references are in order.

    The Latin source of “grace” is gratia, whose meaning includes thankfulness (from which we get our words “grateful” and “gratitude”).  The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary says that “grace” is the English translation of a Greek word meaning “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune” — in short, a gift.  Grace is connected with our concepts of both giving and gratitude.

    This gives me the courage to suggest that we might imagine an economy of grace, a social system organized around giving and thanking, where the currency is generosity and gratitude.

    How might this differ from the economy we are used to?  The idea of gratitude suggests appreciating what we have, as opposed to wanting what we don’t have.  Of course if this were applied universally it might lead to the end of civilization as we know it.   Come to think of it, there are some days when that prospect is not entirely  without appeal.

    On a less apocalyptic level, an economy of grace might cause us to plan differently.

    The traditional form of strategic planning identifies what we need but do not have, and finds a way to get what we need.   Asset-based planning first takes an inventory of what we already have, then finds  creative ways of using what we have to create something new.  One is based on scarcity, the other on abundance.

    For a very accessible introduction to asset-based planning, I recommend The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts by Luther K. Snow.  The book contains step-by-step instructions on how to do an asset mapping workshop with a small group in a church setting.

    Next time, a look at a scholarly attempt to construct an economy of grace.

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  • Let the Gratefulness Overflow

    Can you spare 10 minutes to watch something that will open and warm your heart?

    This is a visual essay about being thankful for simple pleasures.  A filmmaker captures beautiful images and the wise words of a young girl and an old man.    Watch, listen and enjoy.

    Happiness Revealed

    “Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you.  Then it will really be a good day.”

    Unidentified man in film

    [In my humble opinion, these TED talks are the best thing on the internet.  If you haven’t already found them, visit and have a peek at what’s available.  But be warned, TED can be addictive.]

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  • Can We Talk?

    From time to time, in my more pessimistic moments, I’ve thought that our church maintains a conspiracy of silence on money and giving.  “Conspiracy” is probably too strong a word, so let’s call it an unconscious collusion not to talk about those things.

    Bishop Michael Pryse has spoken about what he calls a middle-class taboo against discussing money.  People who have little money aren’t reluctant to tell others how much they earn, or how they struggle to pay the bills.  And people who have a lot of money are happy to flaunt their wealth through conspicuous consumption or (seemingly) casual conversations about their large homes or their vacation trips.  But those of us in the middle are pretty tight-lipped when it comes to revealing any information about our personal financial circumstances.  We don’t want to be thought of as having too much money or too little, so we maintain a discreet, uptight embargo on the subject.

    When you were growing up, were you privy to the specifics of household income and spending?  Have you let your own kids in on these sorts of details?  Me neither.

    In my experience this taboo extends to the subject of charitable giving, including giving to the church.  I’ve encountered people who aren’t even sure how much they put on the offering plate, often because their spouse makes that decision and they never discuss it between them.

    The process of creating a culture of generous giving may need to begin with breaking the silence.  We all should know how much we’re giving now and the reasons behind it.  Wouldn’t it be great if we understood the attitudes and habits formed in childhood that now direct our behaviour as adults?  What would happen if we could identify the ways our faith interacts with cultural norms to shape our practices?

    Imagine what it would be like to explore these questions with others, in a context that is safe and supportive.

    A couple of years ago, under the personal leadership of Bishop Susan Johnson, the ELCIC created and distributed a resource called “Conversation on Gratitude and Generosity“.  It is an outline for a 30-minute dialogue on our personal theology, attitudes and practices that has been used at meetings of National Church Council, Synod Councils and congregational councils across the church.

    If you haven’t already done so, why not download the file and consider using it with a group in your congregation?  If we can’t talk about this stuff, how will we ever be able to change?

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  • More

    Spotted on the back cover of my recent copy of Sports Illustrated, a full-page ad for Embassy Suites Hotels™ with this tag-line:

    “The more MORE [sic] you have the more you have to have more.”

    The point of the ad is that this particular hotel chain offers more of what people want, or need.  The specific benefit offered is “complimentary drinks every evening”.

    It seems to me that, apart from the commercial message, there are at least two other ways of reading the copy-writer’s line:

    • You (me, all of us) are right to want more, in fact we deserve it.  Wanting more is completely normal, and it should be rewarded appropriately.  It’s not even optional; we have to have more.  So get out of our way, all you nay-sayers, foreign environmentalist radicals and enemies of the North American way of life.
    • The unfortunate thing about affluence is that it creates insatiable desire.  Getting what we want does not produce satisfaction, it merely produces more wanting.  We are addicts always in search of a fix, always needing a higher dose.

    What are your thoughts about having more?

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  • Should the pastor know?

    Should the pastor know, in full detail, who gives what in his/her congregation?

    Many of the pastors I’ve talked with say they don’t know, and they don’t want to know.  Their reasons include the following:

    • Anything to do with money is best left to the laity, who have greater expertise.  It’s not a pastor’s job to get involved in financial matters.  Often that has been made clear by lay leaders in the congregation.
    • Salaries make up a very large chunk of most congregational budgets.  If clergy show an interest in what people give, it may appear that they are only interested in feathering their own nest.
    • They don’t want their pastoral ministry to be influenced by the knowledge of who gives what.  They might treat people differently as a result, and that would be wrong.  It is important to treat everyone the same when it comes to pastoral care.

    Some pastors are proud of their utter indifference to, or ignorance of, financial matters in their congregation.  They appear to think that it somehow marks them as more virtuous or at least more spiritual.  (Notice the dualism that creeps into the conversation as we make distinctions between pastoral ministry and lay ministry, or things that are spiritual and things that are material.)

    Last May I posted a review in this space of a a book by J. Clif Christopher, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate (you can find it if you scroll back to the earliest posts here).  He devotes several chapters to a consideration of the pastor’s role in church fundraising.

    In a chapter entitled “All Members Are Not Equal”, he argues that it would be folly to treat wealthy members the same as middle-class or lower-class members.  “The argument that I hope you hear being made is that the rich need the attention of their pastor to know how to handle the burden of money.”

    In the next chapter, “The Pastor Must Be A Fund-Raiser”, he suggests that it is ridiculous that churches do not demand leadership from their pastors in this area.  Senior leaders of every other type of non-profit organization are expected to be fund-raisers, so why not pastors?

    “It is because people grumble.  And why do people grumble? . . . It is because most of them are not giving as they know the Bible commands, and they do not want light shed on that fact.”

    J. Clif Christopher

    Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate

    Christopher offers four reasons why it is important for a pastor to know who gives what (paraphrased here):

    1. It will help the pastor raise more money.
    2. It will help to assess the effectiveness of church programs.
    3. It will let the pastor give thanks for people’s gifts.
    4. It will help the pastor “capture their real gift: their soul”.

    To this list I’ll add a fifth: it will allow a pastor to recognize pastoral issues that may be signalled by changes in the pattern of giving.  Has someone in the household lost a job, incurred unusual medical expenses or had to provide financial support to a family member?  Did someone get a big raise or come into an inheritance?  Is someone mad at the pastor, the church or God and wants to send a message about it?  Many different things could be happening, good things or bad things, but the member might hesitate to tell the pastor directly.  Knowing who gives what is like having an early warning system for other issues.

    I am a strong proponent of pastors being in the know.  What is your view?

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