Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Annual Financial Campaign Best Practices

By David S. Bell

As Christian stewards, we are called to be generous givers. The church appeals for our financial generosity especially during the annual financial campaign. As churches face increasing financial pressures, church leaders sometimes experience difficulty in remaining focused on nurturing the spiritual gift of generous giving, including financial giving. The tendency is to move to a reactionary position of fundraising to meet the growing demands of the church operating expenses. However, the most effective, spiritually centered annual financial campaigns consistently focus the core of their programs on the joyful transformation of the giver in giving, and not on the need of the church to receive. For many churches, the most appropriate way to conduct an annual emphasis on percentage giving and tithing is through an annual financial campaign. An annual financial campaign is one component of a comprehensive year-round stewardship program.

 This annual emphasis provides a focused time in the life of the church when the congregation, individually and collectively, is encouraged to develop the joy-filled spiritual gift of generous giving. Although income received from church members does offset church expenses, the development of the budget and the implementation of an annual financial campaign should be distinct from one another. Ideally, a Stewardship Committee should plan the campaign. Persons serving on the Stewardship Committee may be visionary leaders who are passionate about their faith, have discovered the joy of generous giving, and often suggest new ministries for the church.

Several annual financial programs are currently available in the marketplace. The best program for one congregation may not be the best program for another congregation. Thus, church leaders should review two or three campaigns and make a decision based on the compatibility of the program with the church. Regardless of the annual campaign program, three consecutive years is generally the maximum lifespan of a program. A church will experience diminishing financial and discipleship results from a campaign in the fourth year and following years. However, a campaign program may be reintroduced to a congregation in four to six years after at least two other campaign programs have been used.

Most annual financial campaigns fit into one of two distinct types – member-base expansion campaigns and step-up campaigns. Member-base expansion campaigns are designed to reach members who are not currently financial givers. These campaigns introduce the spiritual gift of generous giving and encourage members to examine their faith commitments. Step-up campaigns primarily focus on current financial contributors and seek to deepen their spiritual and financial commitments. While both types of campaigns are essential to the long term spiritual formation and financial position of a congregation, churches will experience more dramatic increases in income from step-up campaigns. The reason for this phenomenon is the key reality that most church income is generated from the financial gifts of a small percentage of church members who are current contributors.

Most annual campaigns suggest that church members provide planned personal testimonies during the worship service for three to four Sundays prior to the campaign Sunday. These personal witness moments build enthusiasm for the campaign, inform the congregation of the church’s vision, and remind people of the responsibility of financial discipleship. These testimonies are also key motivators that will help maximize the financial gifts of other contributors. These testimonies should state clearly the mission of the church and provide several examples of how the church changes people’s lives.

Money continues to be one of the greatest taboos in the church. When we do discuss money, we have a tendency to view it through the lens of scarcity. However, God has blessed us abundantly. An annual financial campaign is one step in the continuum of an effective year-round stewardship program that can help us experience God’s abundance and that can challenge us to be generous givers as a response to God’s abundant blessings.

David S. Bell is the President and Executive Director of the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. David has a keen understanding of current economic and consumer trends impacting charitable giving, which he gained through experience as a pastor, development director, and national church leader. David is Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and active member of The Alban Institute, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Christian Leadership Alliance, and the National Association of Church Business Administrators. David graduated from Drew Theological School and holds a BA in Religious Studies and Secondary Education from The College of Wooster. David and his wife, Ethel, have two children and reside in Brighton, Michigan.

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