Why Don’t People Give?

Walking across the campus at Wesley Theological Seminary this fall, I received some sage advice from one of that campus’s distinguished leaders. “Can you help people raise more money?” The person continued, “That is something that most every church leader can use.”

Fundraising, like good communications, isn’t something that you can fix with a program.

The information didn’t exactly rattle my cage, as I know–firsthand, from any number of studies, and from years of talking with ministers–that financial issues are the ones that tend to keep leaders awake at night.

But I have delayed writing about it for one simple reason. Fundraising, like good communications, isn’t something that you can fix with a program. Fundraising is the outgrowth–most often–of how well your congregation functions on a variety of levels, perhaps the most important being communications.

So why write about it now? Because entering this New Year is a perfect time for you to think anew about fundraising and communications.

It Ain’t About Preaching (Probably)

If we’re connecting fundraising to communications, you’re probably expecting an essay on preaching about money. Let’s quell that right now. Preaching about money is probably the least effective thing you can do to improve giving in your church. If, that is, preaching is the main way that you communicate the importance of stewardship.

FundraisingWhy? A lesson from the world of marketing helps. Anyone worth their grit in the marketing world knows that there’s no magic commercial to turn people on to your product. It’s an array of commercials that hit you repeatedly in different ways. It’s why McDonald’s spends billions each year to air commercials, place magazine ads, and insert banners across webpages (as well as place their products in movies, TV shows, and on YouTube). People have remarkably short attention spans, and hitting them once or twice in the same place simply isn’t enough.

How often have you heard a commercial while in the car, or during a football game, only to realize 30 seconds after it goes off that it’s gone from your consciousness.

Sermons have an important role to play in fundraising. But as with any medium, the likelihood that people will hear your sermon and be forever changed are pretty slim. It’s more likely that by the time they get to their car, much of what moved them 10 minutes earlier has already been forgotten.

It’s not you–it’s just the reality of how we as humans work.

It’s time to expand your approach. It’s time to layer up.

Layers

To significantly turn the corner on giving in your community, there are three important tasks you need to take on, each a form of communication. Teach your members about finances; integrate the influence of giving into your print and online communications; thank people for their gifts.

In short, layer the message much like you would spread frosting on a layer cake. Dump all the icing in one spot turns everyone off. Layer it evenly and thinly across the entire cake and between each layer creates a hard-to-reject treat.

Sounds easy–but it’s not. To do each of these effectively requires planning, staff time, and a commitment to doing it consistently.

Whether you have a communications strategy that is already doing some or most of this effectively, or want to begin one, it makes sense to take these changes in small steps.

Teach about Finances

There are few pressures in life greater than financial pressures. Financial difficulties lead to divorce, poor health, poor job performance, the list goes on and on. And as you know, more people than not in your community are probably facing some of these issues.

At the same time, people find asking for help with their finances difficult–and embarrassing. So help them out.

In 2014, offer a personal finance course to your members.

There are any number of very good courses designed to help churches help their members with their financial struggles. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have financial planners in your community who are willing to volunteer time to help others. If you don’t, many advisers will come in and offer basic financial planning courses.

layer the message much like you would spread frosting on a layer cake.

The reality is, until your own parishoners are financially stable, their ability to give to you will suffer. Just be careful to not make giving to the church your sole motivation for offering the help.

Integrate Financials into Your Communications

Over lunch several years ago with a minister of a mid-size church in Northern Virginia, I was stopped mid-sentence by my guest. He wanted to point out a man passing in front of the restaurant. “He’s made a fortune in real estate, and yet he gives virtually nothing to the church. Do you know why?”

I did not.

“He’s a businessman, and he wants to know where his money is going. In the church, he has no confidence that the money is being used well.”

Whether people have millions to donate, or hundreds, they want to make sure that their money has a significant impact. They want to know that it makes a difference.

In 2014, begin with your most-successful communication piece and integrate the impact that giving has on the church and your community.

This does not need to be loud, with screaming headlines. Rather, when your write your newsletter or e-newsletter, post on social media, or announce coming events, include a word or two about how this is possible.

Activities in your community run on money. When writing about the Christmas play, the blood drive, the parties throughout the year, the feeding programs you offer, etc., ask yourself, are people aware that their dollars pay for this, and that their money makes a difference?

How does this look? Consider this simple note in a church newsletter SLC helped with last year.

The original blurb described a program in which youngsters treated the senior adults to dinner and an evening of games.

The write-up was factual, human, and perfectly fine. We just added one tweak, mentioning that the money for the meal was raised by the children and benefited some for whom that was the only meal they had that day.

It was a modest adjustment, and it didn’t scream dollars and cents. Rather, it made clear where the money came from, that it didn’t require a great deal, and that it had a significant impact.

Such lines integrated subtly in your publications are a simple way to ensure that your members are getting the message–your giving matters.

Thank People

It’s so easy to do, and so easy to forget to do. But saying “thank you” goes a very long way toward making people feel appreciated and willing to give again. Ann Michel explained in an essay that saying thanks involves three “Ps”: Personal, Prompt, Planned. It’s that simple, and that complicated. Delivering personal thank yous promptly requires planning and staff time. Ensure that your community is able to do that in the New Year.

In 2014, make it a priority to create a method for thanking people promptly and personally for their gifts–no matter how small.

Plan to Communicate Better in 2014; Prepare to See Giving Increase

Each of these three steps are relatively easy to implement, but they do require follow-through and time. Done well, you will see results. But give yourself time. Changing the way you communicate will take time–for your members to hear the message, for you to become comfortable with the approach, and for your organization to build the systems to perpetuate the change and grow it.

If you can’t do all three this year, do one. Then add another the following year.

Just start doing it, and doing it effectively and consistently.

Happy New Year!

To learn more about how SLC can help your congregation more-effectively integrate the language of giving into your communications, please contact Martin Davis.

Ushers vs. Hosts

If you’re a fan of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” you may remember an episode where Ray is shamed by his wife, father, and mother into attending church on a more regular basis. But when he sets his sights on becoming an usher with his father, he gets a shock.

His father doesn’t go to church for all the holy reasons he tells the family. Rather, he does it to hang with the guys in the back while cracking jokes on the poor souls in the pews.

This episode came to memory as I read a recent piece by Lovett Weems of the Lewis Center, “Newcomers,” in which he reminds congregational leaders that the way people come to church is not what it used to be–by any measure.

“In the past,” he begins, “people came to us…. New people understood how churches work and shared their beliefs.”

“Today,” he continues, “the sequence for many is the opposite, especially for the young. Serving may be their entry point, followed by a small group and then worship. Also today, some will participate actively without joining, at least for a long while. Some may never join. They will probably not come based on thorough knowledge of our beliefs and values. That does not mean beliefs are unimportant, but rather that decisions about choosing a church are based far more on relationships and belonging.”

No More Good Ol’ Boys Club

Ray and his father were in a church of the past. The people knew one another; grew up together; and often came together out of commitment to family.

And his father, the usher, played to that role. Too many churches today continue to train and use their ushers as if they are churches of the past.

It doesn’t work.

Today’s ushers must be more sensitive to the church of today that Weems describes. A church where people come, very often, first out of an act of service. Many will take years to join, if they ever do.

And when you are communicating your church to the community, those whose job it is to greet and seat these people in worship must be keenly aware of what’s changed.

From Ushers to Hosts

If your idea of ushers still centers around seating, passing out bulletins, and handling the offering plates, pay more attention to what Weems writes.

Treat newcomers as ‘guests’ and not ‘visitors’. When newcomers are seen as guests, your focus is with them and not with you and your church. You try to look at everything from their perspective. Churches can no longer assume guests have a church or religious background, so it is important to monitor everything you do, say, and write from the perspective of guests there for the first time.”

In fact, changing your ushers’ mindsets from that of ushers to hosts may be the most important thing you can do to improve your congregation’s outreach.

What’s the difference? We at SLC stress three.

1. Greeters, not pushers. In today’s world, people are more sensitive than ever to feeling as if people want something from them. Ushers guide people into an established community, leading them through the channels that lead to membership. Hosts, on the other hand, invite people into the “home” of those people they may well have already met outside the church walls. They make them welcome, comfortable, and at home with no expectation that they will ultimately choose to “live” therein.

2. Listeners, not directors. Ushers’ roles historically revolved around directing people to the appropriate places they needed to be. Hosts, on the other hand, spend more time listening. They take an interest in newcomers and show a deep interest in their stories.

3. Inviters, not recruiters.  Ushers played an important role in putting recruiting materials in people’s hands. Hosts, on the other hand, spend their time looking for opportunities that match newcomers’ needs and informing them about these opportunities.

The church today is not your father’s or mother’s church. Your church may or may not have adapted, but the community around you moves forward.

Shifting from ushers to hosts is a small, but important, step in communicating that your congregation is tuned into your community, its needs, and its desire to serve the world we share together.