Monday, December 22, 2014

Beyond Fundraising: Developing a Year-Round Culture of Generosity

By David S. Bell

One of the foundational premises of Christian stewardship is that God is the owner of all. All that we have in life is a generous gift from God. Stewardship includes our care of one another, the use of natural resources, and the management of our personal property and our finances. Thus, stewardship concerns far more than just money. Yet, we often equate stewardship with the topic of money.

Stewardship is often a topic that is avoided by many church leaders. Yet, church leaders can greatly influence the understanding of money and stewardship in the life of a congregation. Generous giving is a spiritual gift that requires cultivation and growth, like any aspect of one’s Christian formation. Here are some suggestions specifically related to cultivating the stewardship of money:
  • Make prayerful decisions concerning your own family’s financial management. Practice a lifestyle that is compatible with the teaching of Jesus, not with the values of American consumerism. Model generous giving. Practice tithing or proportionate giving. Complete your own estate planning. These self-focused activities are important tasks for your own stewardship development. Moreover, the completion of these tasks will enable you to lead others more effectively.
     
  • Complete a money autobiography; encourage other church leaders to complete money autobiographies. Create a non-threatening small group experience for people to share and to discuss portions of these autobiographies.

  • Promote a vision of ministry that attracts people to be generous givers – most people are not motivated to give to the “survival needs” of the church, they are motivated to give because of the mission and ministry of the church.
     
  • Practice year-round stewardship.
     
  • Be intentional about focusing the offertory prayers on the joy of giving.
     
  • Provide a variety of educational and small group experiences that focus on topics such as: personal financial management, family budget planning, debt reduction/consolidation, and estate planning.
     
  • Encourage the establishment of a planned giving program for the local church. If one already exists, then cultivate persons to designate gifts to the various endowment programs.

  • Be an active leader in planning a designated time during the church year when the congregation reflects, individually and collectively, on its practice of generous giving. Often this focused time will be an appropriate time to conduct an annual financial campaign.  An annual campaign should be grounded theologically in the celebration of giving. One of the goals of this designated time is to provide people with the opportunity to experience the joy of giving.

  • Direct the Finance Committee to develop a narrative budget in addition to the detailed line-item budget. The narrative budget emphasizes the mission and vision of the church, rather than individual line items.

  • Be intentional with the Finance and/or Stewardship Committee(s) to create a variety of giving “entry points” that enable all church members and friends to support financially the ministry and mission of the church.

  • Remember that people want to know that their gifts of time, talent, prayers, and presence are making a difference in the world. Consistently provide them with examples of the impact that their gifts have made on other people.



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.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Inviting Generosity One Lunch at a Time

By David S. Bell

A well-known political commentator was invited to lunch by a billionaire corporate leader. The commentator was anxious about the lunch meeting. He pondered the anticipated conversation. He wondered where they might dine – what food they might eat. The venue was a far constant from what he had conjured in his mind. They met at a hospital cafeteria. Their lunch conversation was interrupted sporadically by staff and family members of patients. The commentator observed that the billionaire offered compassion and a "Christ-like" spirit as he engaged with folks.

The lunch was followed by a tour of the hospital. The tour was also peppered with sidebar conversations between the wealthy host and patients, family members, and staff, alike. One man sobbed expressing appreciation for the care of this hospital and the billionaire's generosity to it. The tour ended with the lunch host inviting the political commentator to be a donor to the hospital foundation. The commentator was so moved that instead of just wanting to be a donor, he inquired, "Can you teach me how to die broke and help others in the process?"

The reply: "That's a deal I can make!"

As I read this true story in a magazine focused toward high-powered executives, I was immediately reminded of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The contrast between a wealthy, modern-day CEO and the scholarly, pietistic preacher of social justice is vast. Yet, this story seemed to raise some comparisons. One of Wesley's financial goals was to die penniless having helped others throughout life. Wesley demonstrated phenomenal generosity. Wesley called us to give all we can. A steward lifestyle is advocated throughout the Old and New Testaments. Financial giving is a serious responsibility of the committed Christian – not to give what we do not possess, but to give generously from those assets that we have acquired.

Yet, how often has the cultivation of financial generosity been sidelined in the church? How often do we decide to lead a "soft" annual campaign? How often do we make excuses for people's apparent inability to give? How often do we ignore planned giving? How often do we deny the competitive nature of charitable giving? How often do we simply not ask? I know far too often!

As a result of our inaction, the remainder of the charitable world ends up informing donors, and frankly many avid churchgoers, about the theology of generosity. Here are six key steps to place financial generosity back on the playing field of discipleship:
  • Know the values, mission, and vision of the church
  • Tell stories over and over and over again of changed lives as a result of ministry
  • Overcome the fear of money talk in the church
  • Develop abiding relationships with potential major donors
  • Personally invite people to support ministry with a financial commitment
  • Thank donors routinely for their contributions and gifts
The results may surprise you. People are seeking opportunities to give. You might find people willing to give at unprecedented levels – maybe even some people who strive to die broke while helping others in the name of God. It may seem outlandish, but it would not be the first time that someone was willing to give it all for the sake of helping others. Jesus did it. Early church founders strove for it. A political commentator is learning how to do it. What about you?



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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How Much Income Can We Spend From Our Endowment?

By David S. Bell

At the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan, we receive inquiries regarding the appropriate rate of distributions from Endowment Funds. Many churches limit their distributions to "interest" and do not take any portion of the capital gains or market appreciation as a part of their earnings. Twenty years ago this may have been appropriate as interest rates averaged 6-8% and about half of all stock market returns were in the form of stock dividends.

Today, interest rates on bonds are in the 3-4% range and yields on stock dividends are less than 2%. An endowment invested in roughly equal allocations of stocks and bonds will receive little more than a quarter of its total investment return in the form of interest and dividends. Realizing these changes in the investment landscape, many thoughtful organizations are amending their endowment policies to provide for annual distributions as a percentage of fund value, not limited to interest or capital appreciation. Historically, the sustainable rate of endowment distributions has been in the 4-5% annual range.

To limit endowment income to interest only may not be good stewardship. This reduces funds available for ministry. If you would like to explore this concept more fully, why not schedule a consultation by a member of the United Methodist Foundation staff? You may also wish to receive a free copy of Dr. Barrett's useful booklet, The Thoughtful Christian's Guide to Investing Church Funds. Contact us for more information today.

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.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Spare Change

By David S. Bell

What happens to spare change? Many people have developed interesting ways of collecting or using their spare change. Some families collect it in a jar for a designated family activity, like vacations. Parents often give these coins to their children for safe keeping in a piggy bank. Still others keep it in the change holder of their car for road tolls or quick stops at a drive-thru.

The value and use of spare change is relative depending on one’s income level. For instance, one might consider generous giving to the mission and ministry of the church. A few dollars of spare change may represent a generous offering for some people. However, these coins also represent the leftover money – truly spare change – placed in an offering plate by others with greater monetary means.

By definition, spare change is money not required to cover the expense of daily existence. Some people won’t even carry spare change. They want to avoid the jingle of the coins, the perceived hassle of finding the coins, or even the actual weight of the coins in their pocket or wallet. Spare change to one person may be the equivalent to a daily wage for another person. Money is relative to one’s point of view or socio-economic position in our global community.

Luke 15:8-10 records the Parable of the Lost Coin. Jesus’ message to his disciples is not focused on spare change, but rather on a perspective of abundance and generosity. Jesus compares finding a lost coin to finding treasure in heaven. He provides lessons in economics, wealth management, and repentance.

The woman in the parable lost the equivalent of one day’s worth of wages – well beyond the spare change in her life. Today, a daily minimum wage employee would earn approximately $60.00. This daily wage might seem like spare change to a millionaire. Frankly, many people who are far from being millionaires live a lifestyle where spending $60.00 here or there is treated like spare change. Yet for others, this daily wage may be the difference between providing food and shelter or being hungry and homeless. The value of the lost coin decreases relative to the wealth of the individual.

As one’s disposable income decreases, one’s desire and need to make prudent spending choices increases. However, many North Americans have fallen into the cultural pull of satisfying our perceived “needs.” In this self-indulgent society, we treat ourselves first. We are swept up in the enticing ideology of living for today. The more one becomes entangled in self-indulgence, the less one can maintain the biblical principles of saving and giving. Money ends up controlling people’s daily lives. Jesus reminds us that generous giving frees us from this bondage and opens the possibility for other pervading, God-honoring principles to direct our daily lives. When spare change is dropped in the offering plate, spiritual poverty supersedes economic poverty.

Jesus offers hope for the spiritually impoverished. This hope is the gift of salvation offered to those who repent of their sins. God offers everyone, regardless of economic standing, the gifts of freedom, hope, and deliverance. Like the woman in this parable, we are called to treasure the gift of God’s grace so freely given to all. Generous giving is one example of living a lifestyle grounded in God-honoring principles. What do our habits with spare change suggest about our values, priorities, and commitment to God?

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.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Question of Childhood Curiosity

By David S. Bell

When I was a young child, I would often ask "Why?" Even before my parents could answer this question, I was ready to ask my second question. Do you know the second question? If you have raised children or spent much time with them, then I am certain that you do know it. The second question was: "Why?" Whatever my parents' answer, my follow-up question was always, "Why?" My own children have blessed me with this same level of curiosity.

"Daddy, I have a question for you. . . Why are there clouds in the sky?"

"Clouds are in the sky because today is a partly cloudy day," I respond.

"Why?" says the young child.

"Today is partly cloudy because of the changing weather. This changing weather is called a 'weather front.'"

"Why?" says the child routinely.

"When the winds blow, water molecules form together and make clouds. There are different types of cloud formations. . ."

"Why?"

This sequence continues until eventually the adult ends exasperated with frustration exclaiming, "Because that's the way it is!" or pronouncing with theological delight "Because God made the Heavens and the Earth!"

Jim Collins, author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, has taken this basic childhood question of curiosity and leveraged it as a powerful method for achieving the essence of an organization's purpose. The method can be practiced at its elemental level. Start with the descriptive statement of what your church does. Perhaps your descriptive statement would be the mission statement of The United Methodist Church. We "make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Why is that important? Ask leaders the why question five times. As one repeats the question and digs deeper into the reasoning for doing what the church does, one approaches the fundamental purpose of a particular local church. The five whys can enable the church to frame its tasks and activities in a more meaningful way.

I was privileged a while back to spend time with a few of the current great thinkers and strong leaders of The United Methodist Church – Bishop Robert Schnase, Bishop Scott Jones, Gil Rendle, and Lovett Weems. While others would certainly need to be added to this group to be representative of our denomination, they have all contributed significantly to the movement of today's Church. Their books are widely acclaimed. They represent multiple generations of the Church. They hold different roles within the Church. Yet, as I listened and talked with each of them, each one began at the same place. They started with the mission of the Church. In order to have a meaningful conversation about the Church, we needed to be clear about its purpose, core values, and mission. They encouraged persons, like me, who consult regularly with local church leaders, like you, to ask you again and again, "Why do you exist? What is the purpose of your local church? Who would miss your local church if it closed? Who is excited that your church is open? How does your local church connect to the mission of The United Methodist Church?"

Your answers to these questions and to the five whys have more to do with the stewardship of our prayers, presence, gifts, witness, and service than we may first think. It may seem clichéŽ – but it is true – money follows mission. May God be with you as you reengage your childhood curiosity.


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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Perspectives on Being Old Fashioned

By David S. Bell

During a recent presentation at a national conference, I was approached by a young adult who was interested in additional information about the generosity trends among different generations. She provided me with a few ways to deliver the information to her, one of which was "old fashioned e-mail." For me, postal mail, often termed "snail mail," is bordering on old fashioned. She did not even mention this option. I spend hours each day communicating through e-mail to pastors and church leaders. While I know that younger generations consider e-mail pass, I was quite struck during this conversation with a young adult when she associated e-mail with a rather archaic form of communication.

The conversation was so fitting for the moment – a workshop on differences in generational giving. I had talked all the way through the various differences, but this brief post workshop conversation and my startled response were clear indicators to me that I, too, am from a different generation than Generation X or Y. A natural sense of discomfort exists between some generational practices. Thus, it is not surprising that the perspective of one generation may be viewed with an anxious, or perhaps even critical, eye by another generation.

Do you notice some of these generational differences in your church? They may appear in conversations over worship, music, facility usage, communication, evangelism – in fact, just about any area of ministry. And, yes, giving! I admire those persons who can at least understand and maybe practice the trends of other generations. Certainly, I am not implying that these trends are so well-established that fluidity does not occur between generations. For instance, multi-generations may be found in most contemporary worship services. Yet, generations do have their preferences or leanings.

In the area of giving, younger generations have strong preference for electronic giving. We are experiencing a great transition from a cash society to a cash-less society. More and more financial transactions are being completed electronically. Electronic banking and purchasing are the vastly preferred methods for adults among the youngest of baby boomers and younger. It is only natural that their preferred method of giving is also electronic. Electronic fund transfer (EFT,) giving kiosks, online giving, all meet the needs of these younger generations. Interestingly, as churches have launched these electronic methods of giving, another generation has been among the early adopters – those between 62 and 70 years old. Why might these people sign-up? Answer – Social Security. Social Security payments are deposited electronically. These newly retired adults are learning to trust and to use electronic banking more than those sandwiched between them and the younger generations.

One common objection to electronic giving is the lack of involvement with the worshipful act of placing a gift in the offering plate and presenting it to God. I completely concur that giving is an act of worship. A logical solution might be to create a giving card that indicates a gift has been made through another means of giving. A worshipper may place this reusable card in the offering plate. Several people may be able to place this card in the plate – not just those people signed-up for EFT. For instance, the monthly check writer or the annual stock transferee may also benefit from using this card as a means to participate in the offering.

Here are some practical suggestions for material to be included on a giving card:
  • "I/We generously support the ministry of [name] Church. [OR] I/We practice the spiritual discipline of giving. [OR] I/We believe that all we have is a gift from God. We are called to give proportionately to God through this ministry. [OR] We practice tithing or are working toward tithing. [AND INCLUDE] Our financial gift for this ministry is given electronically [You could also include: "by a monthly check or another means"]
  • Include a scripture statement about giving
  • Include the basics, like church name, etc.
For more information about electronic giving, I encourage you to visit www.GCFA.org. The General Council on Finance and Administration has partnered with Vanco Services to provide a very user-friendly and value-priced method for all types of electronic giving. This service is provided to any United Methodist Church. If you would like to have a post-article reading conversation with me about generations and generosity, feel free to use any "old fashioned" method of communication that you prefer! I'll respond accordingly!


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.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Where There's a Will, There's a Way!

By David S. Bell 

During this past month, I have been leading a number of estate and gift planning seminars in churches. As I have spoken with individuals after each of these presentations, I am convinced more than ever that people, in general, are procrastinators when it comes to estate planning. According to a 2010 survey by Lawyers.com, two-thirds of Americans have no will. I believe it! Repeatedly, people approach me after these seminars to admit embarrassingly that they have no estate plan – no advance directives, no last will and testament. I have meet elderly widows, single parents, middle-aged couples, parents of young children, senior adults – all of them with no will. Are you among them? Then, read on.

People often assume that if they are not wealthy, they do not need a will. They consider creating an estate plan to be an unnecessary expense. In essence, everyone does have a will – either by design or by default. Either you have taken the time to design a proper will and specify the eventual distribution of your property or you are relying on the impersonal state laws that define how assets are to be distributed when no will exists.

So, what are the consequences of not having a will? The probate court appoints an administrator of your estate, names guardians for surviving minor children, and disperses your property. The court will oversee many other provisions that are enforceable in the absence of a will. Estate administration costs are normally higher for probated estates without a will.

  • A will actually encourages good stewardship. Using your will power encourages you to be a steward of your assets
  • A will is one of the only ways to convey your personal wishes for distributing your property to loved ones
  • A will permits you to select a personal representative in whom you have confidence
  • A will gives you the opportunity to name the guardians of your children
  • A will leads to a more efficient process with the probate court and Internal Revenue Service
  • A will allows you to name specific beneficiaries, including your family, your church, and other charitable organizations
  • A will enables you to choose your own trustee or qualified organization to oversee the financial management of your estate.

While a will is a fundamental document, several other documents might be considered as primary components of an estate plan. These documents may include: a living will with a patient advocate designation and an authorization under HIPAA, a durable power of attorney, a letter of instruction, a living or revocable trust, and life and long-term care insurance.

A charitable gift to your church or other church-related ministry may also be included in your will. Charitable gifts made upon death are the most popular type of gift from accumulated assets. These gifts are often referred to as "bequests." They are so popular because a bequest gives you the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy while retaining full use of your property during your life.

If you would like to ask basic questions about estate planning or if you are interesting in learning more about planned charitable gifts, please feel free to contact us. And, most importantly, if you do not have a will, I urge you to establish one for the sake of those whom you love.


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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Personal Spending Plans

By David S. Bell

A personal spending plan is a fundamental tool that enables individuals to control money; rather than be controlled by it! A spending plan further enables people to help reach their financial goals and live out their values and priorities. Less than half of most families have adopted a personal spending plan or “family budget.”

As a result, many families are uncertain about their own personal spending habits. They simply know that funds are diminished by the end of the pay period. In fact, all too often the paycheck is spent long before more income arrives. This habit leads to increased consumer debt and family dysfunction. More and more Americans are driven by the pretense of obtaining ultimate contentment, joy, and peace through purchasing power and the acquisition of the next popular consumer fad. In contrast to this cultural pull, biblical teaching calls us to establish giving as our first financial priority – not funding our hyperconsumer-driven lifestyle.

Stewardship of financial resources lies at the heart of Christian discipleship. The failure of the church to articulate a biblical perspective on money and possessions yields to the seductive messages of rampant hyperconsumerism in our culture. The failure to address the topic of money and consumerism is an act of self-marginalization by the church. Many churches only address the issue of money during an annual financial campaign. The end result of this practice is the congregational perception that church leaders ask for money only to sustain the church budget. This perception undercuts biblical stewardship and often creates an attitude of scarcity.

The Good $ense Ministry resources can be utilized to teach, train, support and encourage your congregation in the core value of biblical stewardship. The resources can be used as their own ministry system or in conjunction with other stewardship resources.

Good $ense Ministry resources benefit the local church and its members in a variety of ways:
  • They support the pastor and staff in what is often felt to be a difficult ministry area
  • They assist individuals in removing money as a barrier to full devotion to Christ
  • They lead individuals into God-honoring management of their resources and a resultant joy, peace, contentment and freedom that brings
  • They free individuals from the bondage of consumer debt
  • They restore relationships torn by conflict over money
  • They create a stewardship culture of generosity that assures the resources necessary for the church to reach its redemptive potential
 As you plan for effective year-round stewardship, consider offering a Good $ense Ministry Budget Course. The course contrasts the cultural messages of money with the biblical teaching about money. Five major areas of money are addressed: earning, giving, saving, debt, and spending. Now is an excellent time to begin planning for this course. Often people are more motivated to participate in a workshop on personal spending plans during January and February because of experiencing the financial implications of holiday shopping.


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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Electronic Giving to the Local Church

By David S. Bell

Electronic fund transfer (EFT) is one of the fastest growing services provided by American financial institutions. Industry leaders suggest that this growth trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Recently, church members are following this same trend by choosing to have their contributions automatically withdrawn from their personal checking account or savings account. Indeed, most mainline denominational finance offices have established relationships with companies specializing in EFT services. These relationships enable local churches to implement electronic giving programs with relative ease. The EFT process is remarkably simple for the customer to initiate. Churches with only a few participants can enlist in an EFT program. Moreover, the typical cost to a church is limited to a reasonable fee for enrollment authorizations and transactions.

While some churches have decided to accept credit card contributions, this method may support the dangerous practice of credit card overspending. Many Americans face seemingly insurmountable consumer debt as a result of credit card overspending. Encouraging parishioners to support the church through credit card contributions could add compounding burdens for these already overextended individuals and families. Churches are best to avoid credit card contributions as a means of financially supporting the church.

One of the key benefits to an electronic giving program for both the church and the contributor is convenience. In fact, the convenience factor is the primary reason cited by individuals who have elected to pay recurring bills by EFT. The same rationale is true for parishioners electing to support their church by an EFT contribution. “You are giving members something they want. You are providing a convenient method for members to give,” stated Lynette von Schilling, a church account manager with an EFT company.

However, convenience is just one among many benefits. “Some processors have claimed that churches can increase their [contributions] by 10%-30%, while steadying cash flow and freeing up dozens if not hundreds of volunteer hours,” according to Matt Whitaker, president of a third party administrator. Statistics have shown that persons, who contribute regularly to the church, give more to the church than persons who give sporadically. An electronic giving program will cultivate more regular givers and, thus, increase the church’s income.

Not all church leaders are supportive of electronic giving programs for the church. Some leaders believe that electronic giving programs disregard the offering as an act of worship. Critics of electronic giving claim that an electronic giving program equates church giving to paying personal bills. Some of the most outspoken critics of electronic giving suggest that it may even be a compromise of the tithing principles, may enhance the cultural view that money belongs to individuals, and may further distance the biblical imperative of generous giving.

While church members and leaders alike have raised some level of concern about electronic giving, most mainline denominational leaders consider the benefits of electronic giving to far surpass the potential concerns. In response to the concern that electronic giving inhibits parishioners from participating in the offering, churches have developed special offering cards for electronic giving participants. These cards, similar in size to an offering envelope, state that the church member has given through an EFT. Parishioners are able to be active worship participants in the offering by placing this card in the offering plate.

A growing number of churches are finding electronic giving programs to be one more means of providing parishioners with an opportunity to be Christian stewards and to be generous givers in their local church. As one church member stated, “Thanks to the EFT program at my church, I am able to consistently support the mission and ministry of our church. Before the EFT program, I would contribute just a few dollars whenever I attended worship. Sadly, I spent more money buying coffee in one day than I gave to the church each week! Now, I feel like a full participant in the ministry of the church. The EFT program has helped me develop my financial discipleship. It’s amazing! I am far more involved and interested in the church since I have made a financial investment in the ministry!”

While the church can provide numerous financial tools to accommodate the busy lives and to encourage the consistent giving of its members, none of these services will replace the need to call people to be Christian stewards. We are called to recognize that God is the owner of all that we possess. Our response to God through Jesus Christ, regardless of our method of giving, should be the same – a spiritual discipline of joyful, generous giving.


Frequently Asked Questions about Electronic Giving

Why would people want to give to the church electronically?
Many people who give regularly find that giving by electronic transfer is a convenient option. Convenience is especially important during times when one cannot attend worship. Electronic giving also helps the church predict its income so that the mission and ministry of the church can be planned adequately.

When would this automatic contribution be withdrawn from a personal account?
Most automatic contributions are withdrawn on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. The contributor is informed of the specific numerical date of withdrawal when the EFT is established. Most third party administrators withdraw funds around the 5th or 20th of each month, although the numerical date is selected by the local church.

What does a parishioner need to do in order to set up an EFT with a church that has an established electronic giving program?
In most instances, a parishioner simply completes an enrollment form, attaches a voided check, and submits them to the church office. After approximately three weeks, contributions will start being deducted on a regular basis.

Is there a minimal amount that a parishioner needs to give in order to establish an EFT transaction?
Most churches do not have a minimum contribution requirement.

Is an EFT transaction risky?
No. Actually, an EFT transaction is considered to be safer than writing a check or giving cash. An EFT is governed by strict regulations and guidelines. Nearly 10 billion EFT transactions are processed annually in the United States and Canada.

How can one keep a record of one’s contributions?
Each bank statement will include an itemized list of automatic withdrawals from the account. The EFT contribution to the church will be included in this list. Most churches will continue to send members a year-end giving statement.

What if the church member changes banks, closes/opens accounts, or desires to make a change in the contribution amount?
A church member can change accounts or the amount contributed by contacting the church office or volunteer in charge of EFT transactions. The change will be effective with the next withdrawal. In the event that notification is not received with enough advance notice, an adjustment will be made within a few business days.

Will church members face any bank charges for EFT transactions?
No. In fact, the church member will actually save money since no check is written to the church.

Can parishioners give to the church by making a credit card contribution?
Although some churches do accept credit cards transactions as contributions, serious concerns may arise from a church accepting credit cards. These concerns include the high service fee assessed to the church in processing credit card contributions and the potential impact that credit card acceptance may have on the escalating consumer debt. Extreme caution should be exercised for both the church and the parishioner before completing credit card transactions.


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.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Capital Campaigns: Inspiring Generosity
Through Abundant Vision

By David S. Bell

Inspiring generosity through abundant vision
The concept of the capital campaign was first introduced in the Book of Exodus. Interestingly, God reminded the early religious community to use their gifts and talents to achieve God’s goals. Moses was the first religious leader to recognize the need for a capital campaign. This campaign focused on people giving a portion of their assets to support the religious community. They gave independent of any annual budget campaign (Exodus 25:1-9, Exodus 30:11-16.) Despite the success of Moses and his followers, many contemporary church leaders fail to follow his example. As a result, these congregations often experience financial giving patterns reflecting an attitude of scarcity rather than one of abundance.

The purpose of the capital campaign is not to provide a quick-fix solution or a super-sized financial aid package for a struggling congregation. Rather, the capital campaign is an opportunity for the church community to strengthen and to empower life-changing ministries. It is a shared celebration of God’s grace and providence. The capital campaign spiritually compels the congregation to give their assets for future ministry and outreach. The capital campaign may be underwriting the renovation or expansion of a church building. Yet, congregations are far more motivated when the project invites them to rally around its impact on people. A line item budget of building expenses rarely invokes an intrinsic connection to the project. The end result of ministry that will occur in the building draws people’s greatest interest and generosity.

So how do church leaders know if they should commence a capital campaign? First and foremost, the process begins with prayerful contemplation. Seeking God’s guidance in all endeavors helps to assure a connection to God’s direction. The capital campaign is a faith-sharing, spiritual journey, not a mere fundraising effort.

Second, church leaders create a list of the measurable ministry goals based on the church’s strategic plan and vision. What new or repositioned ministries would enable the church to more effectively engage in vital outreach and disciple-making? Once this list has been compiled, church leaders consider if updating the current space or increasing the physical property would add to the probability of reaching or exceeding these ministry goals. Do the church leaders seek to start an endowment fund to support existing and emerging ministries? Do the worship services require enhanced technology to connect more meaningfully to younger generations? Would additional staff facilitate ministry expansion? These questions represent some of the ones to be discussed during the early consideration of a capital campaign.

It is critical to underscore that the capital campaign is connected directly to the church’s mission and vision. If the church has not established its core values, mission, and vision, then leaders might abort any attempt to begin a capital campaign. Church leaders must be able to define the core values, mission, and vision if they seriously desire to gain the spiritual and financial support of the congregation.

Third, once church leaders have established core values, mission, and vision, they clearly define in a brief case statement the connection between the expected outcomes of the campaign and the core values, mission, and vision. Clear communication from the onset will alleviate the possibility of disenfranchising some constituents from the project. Individuals step up to offer their prayers, time, talent and financial resources when they are presented with an articulate, visionary campaign. People’s imaginations are captured with relevant, focused projects.

Are church leaders now ready to launch a capital campaign if they have followed these suggestions? Perhaps. However, leaders often fall short in anticipating the implications of achieving their initial goals. For instance, the annual budget may be significantly impacted by expenses associated with the completion of the project. Will additional staff need to be hired? How much will operating expenses increase with additional space? What will be the increased programmatic cost for these emerging ministries? The strategic plan for these often overlooked areas needs to be developed. Forethought to these critical issues will strengthen the long term impact of the project and all of its related outreach and ministry.

Except in very rare instances, an outside consultant provides the greatest probability of success. The consultant can effectively guide church leaders through the entire capital campaign process, including strategic planning and a feasibility study. A capital campaign consultant is necessary especially for churches that have been unsuccessful with prior campaigns or that are conducting a capital campaign for the first time. The consultant is prepared to detail church strengths and weaknesses without alienating church committees or individuals. The consultant is often able to secure significant lead gifts that the church leaders are unable to attract themselves.

A capital campaign allows one to give from personal assets and to witness to the priority of God in one’s life. A capital campaign offers an incredible opportunity for one to connect joyfully to a God-honoring vision. Moses knew long ago that a capital campaign was a significant method to extend God’s ministry in the world. Church leaders are called to give prayerful consideration to the ways a successful capital campaign will transform ministry and service in God’s honor. Be committed to passionate leadership, share God’s abundant vision, and anticipate the congregation’s inspired generosity!

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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Abundance of God's Living Water

By David S. Bell

Imagine a less than full glass of water sitting on the table. If you are particularly thirsty, you may desire a full glass of water or perhaps even a refill after drinking the first glass. If you are not at all thirsty, then it may be a great effort to drink whatever amount of water is in the glass. Is there enough water in the glass? It depends.

Imagine a less than full glass of water sitting on the table. If you are particularly thirsty, you may desire a full glass of water or perhaps even a refill after drinking the first glass. If you are not at all thirsty, then it may be a great effort to drink whatever amount of water is in the glass. Is there enough water in the glass? It depends. The size of the glass, level of thirst, and amount of water all contribute to defining enough. Another major determinate of enough being enough is measured by one's own perspective. Does one first see the empty space or the water in the glass? In fact, both are present in the glass at the same time. This perspective is a metric of scarcity vs. abundance.

Generally, church leaders, staff, and volunteers tend to migrate toward one of these divergent positions. They either focus on their assets or their needs. Yet, both assets and needs, scarcity and abundance, exist at any given time within most organizations. For instance, few organizations have mastered total abundance in all areas of their funding, structure, and mission. Nonetheless, most organizations have some measurable value, even those in decline. Vibrant churches tend to focus predominantly on their abundant assets. Their leaders work hard to build vision from those assets. As this asset-based vision grows, needs become less and less of a systemic driver.

Churches are compelled through the biblical narrative to focus on the positive cycle of abundance. Namely, a few assets when linked together lead to the discovery of more and more assets. In turn, these assets make a greater and greater impact on the community of faith. And, finally, the community grows and provides wider blessings leading to the recognition of even more assets. The potential of concentric growth is virtually limitless. The Bible is filled with witnesses to this asset-based approach. Consider some of these stories:

  • The creation story (Genesis 1)
  • God's covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:16-17)
  • Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 14:1-28
  • Jesus' healings (Mark 1:29-31 and others)
  • The parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32)
  • The fish and loaves story of feeding 5,000 people (Matthew 14:13-21)

How do church leaders focus consistently on assets? How do they determine a realistic vision, yet remain open to possible new discoveries? How do they promote the open-sum abundance of God even when the closed-sum scarcity of resources appears greater?

Fundamentally, the answer lies within the faith commitment of individual leaders. The answer begins with the Christian discipleship of each leader. In order for a ministry to exude open-sum thinking and asset-based visioning, the leaders must demonstrate this witness in their own personal lives. Certainly, the leaders' faith commitment does not guarantee abundant church growth, but it is very difficult to achieve without leaders demonstrating their faith commitment in very tangible ways.

The Gospel of John consistently refers to the abundance of God as the living water. (John 4:1-26.) Most notably, Jesus spends significant portions of his ministry inviting people to discover this living water in their own lives. He offers hope, grace, peace, healing, and encouragement – all signs of the abundance of God. Living water pours into people's lives as they accept the profound truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Effective Christian leadership is first and foremost centered on one's relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This concept may seem simplistic, yet it is a real challenge to follow. Regardless of how often Jesus pointed to the abundance of the living water, the disciples apparently regressed to their scarcity mindset. Think about their immediate response to any number of Jesus' actions that called for building on the initial assets of the situation. All too often, they saw the glass as half empty! Our response can be very similar to the disciples!

In order to follow the example urged by Jesus and to remain focused on the abundance of God, we need to overcome three fund development myths that persist in too many faith-based ministries. The two subsequent myths stem from the first overarching myth.

Myth #1 – We need more (AKA – We will never have enough!).

REALITY – When we remain focused on God as our primary source, we overcome the compelling urge to desire more and more.

One of the reasons that the disciples faced such difficulty believing in God's abundant provision is because they mistook other water for the living water. Christian leaders are to be centered on drinking from the living water. God provides the sustenance for our lives. God's provision is always enough! When we remain focused on God as our primary source, we overcome the compelling urge to desire more and more. Our daily lives are bombarded with messages suggesting that we need more. Sadly, these messages are not immune from the Church. We can be lured into striving for the higher-paying salary, the more prestigious job title, or the largest name recognition. One cannot be an effective Christian leader and still be hooked on the pretentious path of always wanting more. This unsustainable path is a downward spiral that leads to eventual despair. With Jesus Christ at the core of our leadership principles, we will appreciate the assets, both personal and professional, that enable us to minister to others and to lead our churches.

Myth #2 – We need more donor programs.

REALITY – When we step-back to discover those deeply held beliefs that undergird the church, we are more likely to initiate an effective strategic plan.

Jesus' actions were a direct result of his mission and purpose. He was clear about the reason behind his actions. Frankly, many church leaders are so busy doing that they seldom define why they are doing. Effective leaders step-back to discover those deeply held beliefs that undergird the church. These convictions underlie all programs. They can place parameters on the activities. Leaders may consider four to six core values with scriptural references that set the guiding principles of the overall ministry. Fund development efforts will be greatly enhanced by spending the leader's high energy on the activities that connect strategically to the church's mission and vision.

Myth #3 – We need more fundraising techniques.

REALITY – We have a responsibility to encourage discipleship.

Many church leaders often assume that the latest fundraising technique will generate increased gift levels. Development professionals escalate their cultivation of major donors in hopes of receiving more life income gifts or larger annual contributions. The unique opportunity for the Church is to encourage the joy of generous giving through cultivating donors' faith commitment. We have a responsibility to encourage discipleship. If we encourage donors to examine their relationship with God and their understanding of the connection between faith and money, we will nurture the spiritual gift of generous giving. This spiritual gift will, in turn, help to overflow our glasses.

I invite you take a closer look at the glass sitting on the table. It is filled with the living water. Amazingly, your thirst will be quenched when you drink from it – no matter how thirsty you are! And, as you provide the glass to others, their thirst will be quenched, too. God truly is abundant!


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.

©2015 United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. All rights reserved. Website designed and managed by Affinity Marketing Services, Grand Rapids, MI.