Tag Archives: faith based

Church and Money

Many churches, like other nonprofits, have to grapple with challenges of operating facilities, paying salaries, and providing funding for programs, schools and mission work. The economic challenges of recent years have impacted congregations raising questions new and old.

We talked with Robert Van Ess, Associate Pastor at Holy Trinity Community Church United Church of Christ about this. He has studied and written about church giving, changes in the economy, and generational differences related to money. We share his thoughts for your consideration.

“Many churches are struggling to meet the demand of their annual budgets.  Hard choices are being made across the ecclesiastical landscape.  Programs and mission projects are being restructured, downsized, or even eliminated.  Churches are cutting down from employing full time pastors and making do with part time appointments.  Building campaigns have been scaled back or put on hold.  In a move to stave off budget busting expenditures many churches have begun to only insure their full time pastors exclusively, eliminating the previous benefit of insuring the pastor’s entire family as beneficiaries, in an attempt to cut down on the sky rocketing health care costs that along with a pastor’s salary can amount to 50% or more of a smaller church’s budget.”

Sound familiar?

As with other nonprofits, churches can only make so many cuts. There comes a point when revenue – or tithes and offerings – need to be reevaluated. Van Ess raises questions that for church leaders to consider. For example, how can churches encourage consistent tithing and giving by members who are committed to the church but who attend inconsistently?  How can churches retain liturgical meaning and values that are expressed through tithing and giving, and at the same time encourage tithing and giving by younger people who may not own a check book or carry cash?

Is electronic giving an appropriate answer? If yes, how would it be integrated into the life of a church? Is giving with a debit card acceptable? A credit card? How does an individual who gives electronically participate in the liturgical aspects of giving? What does she or he put in the basket? What if the majority of a congregation moves to electronic giving – would services themselves begin to change?

Van Ess points out that young people have a different relationship with money and giving than that of people over 50. Many don’t deal with checks or cash. They pay for gas with a card, use electronic bill pay services for utilities, rent and other monthly expenses. Many never receive a “pay check” – their salary is deposited into their bank account on a specified date.

Change is constant. The question is how will congregations adapt to these changes and ensure financial viability? Creative and respectful experimentation may reveal how to integrate new ways of giving. Tell us what your church is doing and we’ll report back.

Robert Van Ess is a 2011 graduate of Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis Missouri and serves Holy Trinity Community Church United Church of Christ in Memphis Tennessee as Associate Pastor.


New Lessons from Big Bird

Are you prepared for your 15 minutes of fame? Or more precisely, your nonprofit organization’s 15 minutes of fame? What if you were the Public Broadcasting System, home to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame, and a presidential candidate put you on the chopping block in front of 70 million television viewers?

You may recall Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s now-famous quote during his first debate with President Barrack Obama. He told the moderator, Jim Lehr of PBS, “I’m sorry Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS, I like PBS, I love Big Bird, I actually like you too, but I am not going to keep spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”

It went viral from there with tweets, videos and blog postings lighting up the internet. Here’s the question – what if your organization was suddenly thrust into the local or national limelight? Would you be in a position to capitalize on the publicity? What if people – hundreds or hundreds of thousands – suddenly started visiting your website? Or better yet, making $10 gifts by text or your website’s “donate now” button?

How does your website look? Does it tell your story? Is it integrated with your donor management software so you can track and respond to people who give electronically? Do you have easy-to-use talking points your leadership can use to get your story out? Would you be in a position to craft a quick and witty response that could be tweeted to your followers? What about creating a quick video? Could you drive people to your website, launch a give-by-text campaign? Thank everyone?

It would be great if all opportunities were planned; that we knew in advance when opportunity would knock and could be dressed for the occasion. But that’s not always the case. So here’s our take-away regarding the Big Bird dust-up – be prepared. Invest in your fundraising, your messaging, and technology. Think about how you could respond if your organization received unanticipated positive attention. How would you take advantage of it? Who could you call on to help you?

Conversely, what if your organization were drawn into the public eye in a negative way. Think Pennsylvania State University and Coach Jerry Sandusky? Do you have a crisis management plan that can help guide you through the challenging times? Again, are there people you can call on to help you?

Governor Romney’s comments created an unanticipated whirlwind complete with a guest appearance by Big Bird on Saturday Night Live. Sometimes the things we say have an effect that is different from our intentions. It’s part of life – the part where we learn to laugh at ourselves and accept our imperfections.

But, if your nonprofit can capitalize on an unanticipated moment in the spotlight, do so.

Church Fundraising

Willis White

Willis White

Prayer must be at the heart of church fundraising, but the fundamentals of fundraising also contribute to success. We met Willis White when he was serving as co-chair for a $3.5 million, multi-year campaign to retire the debt on the Allen Temple Baptist Church Family Life Center. We worked with White, his co-chair Constance Walker and the church’s campaign leadership team during their campaign.

The campaign was the vision of the senior pastor who called on White and Walker to serve as co-chairs. White had been prayerful regarding a ministry when he was approached by his pastor. “It felt like a calling to serve. Our pastor was respected by everyone and had served the church for over 40 years. It was an honor to be asked.”

White attributes the campaign’s success to prayer and planning. “We allowed the Lord to lead us, to lead the membership. All the gifts and donations we received are because the Lord made a way for us. We prayed and we planned. We hired fundraising counsel to help us. That was critical. It was one of the key reasons I accepted the request to serve as a co-chair.”

“Working with counsel we laid out a plan that would take us through the full campaign. Because the plan was in writing we could meet with people who had agreed to help with the campaign and talk with them about what we needed to do. The plan was key to galvanizing our membership. It had two components – an internal effort and an external community effort. The church membership bought into the idea of raising money to show our own commitment to the campaign before raising money from outside the church.”

Working with the culture of church, the membership organized itself into groups that corresponded to the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 months of the year. “This allowed everyone to be a part of the campaign: you were a part of the campaign because you were part of a tribe because of your birth month.

The campaign’s naming opportunities motivated giving by individuals, families, and by groups and organizations from within the church. “These opportunities encouraged giving even though people were dealing with the downturn in the economy. For example, the ministers got together and pooled their gifts towards a naming opportunity to honor the outstanding work of one of our ministers. We had a $50,000 naming opportunity for the stage  and the music department pooled their gifts, naming the stage  in honor of our music director. Naming of the windows was a motivator – people used that opportunity to honor their loved ones or family. People were proud to show that they gave to the campaign and to show their commitment to the church.

The power of faith and planning

Motivation, prayer, faith and teamwork were key to White’s experience.

“Our campaign leadership committee had to stay motivated and we had to motivate the congregation. We had awareness Sunday on the first Sunday of each month where we reported on the progress of the campaign. People would rally around; it reminded people the campaign was going on, and motivated them to participate. Our strength came from faith and prayer. We were always amazed by the success we would have from month-to-month. We were making payments of $50,000 a quarter for debt service during difficult economic times; that was amazing.

Faith, prayer and planning are at the core of the advice he offers to church leaders who are considering a campaign. “Number one: be prayerful. You will be successful because of your faith. But make sure you give God all the glory for your success. Number two: work from a plan. Number three: consider a co-chair approach. It gave us continuity and constant leadership. When something came up for one person there was always a co-chair there who knew what was going on and could keep things going. We used that approach with the tribes as well. This is helpful because in a church there are usually a small number of people who do much of the work. Having a co-chair took some of the pressure off of the leaders and created support. In our church there is always the same group of individuals who volunteer to serve in the auxiliaries, and the co-chair approach shared the leadership responsibilities.

We asked how he sustained his commitment throughout the campaign. “Faith. It was always exciting and always rewarding to be able to raise money and to make $50,000 payments towards our debt. We wouldn’t know in the beginning of the quarter where the money would come from and to see the money appear in time to make the payment was very motivating. We felt the Lord blessed us every quarter to make these payments. It increased the faith of our membership – people continued to be amazed about what we as membership could do. We knew that continuous work and continuous prayer would make us successful.

Fellowship was an unexpected benefit. “We had an executive committee throughout the campaign and these were people I didn’t necessarily have fellowship with before. Our meetings and dinners brought us closer together. We found out there were talents and leadership within the church that we weren’t aware of before and this has served the church beyond the campaign.

Advice from a volunteer church fundraiser

Church fundraising requires prayer. That is at the heart of the advice White offered. We asked him how he prepared for the campaign. “Continuous prayer,” was his first response. “I also had  agreement from my family as this was a three-year commitment that would take a lot of my time. And my family had to make a meaningful gift over-and-above our giving, if I was to ask others to do so. We gave, and the Lord rewarded us. We were very committed; we believe in a church being debt free. There is power in being debt free, and we wanted the church to be debt free. That empowered and inspired us.”

White was an ideal campaign co-chair in our estimation. We asked him for his opinion on what makes a good church campaign leader. “You have to be committed and have faith in what you are doing. You need good leadership and organization; clear goals and a strategy for achieving those. The campaign should have a defined time period; and the church membership must  buy-in. You need people to lead the effort that can get other people to buy-in. You have to have marketing and sales skills in order to appeal to people who can give. You need good communication skills. You have to enjoy communicating with others and feel comfortable doing so. A church campaign needs everyone’s involvement; you have to be communicating to everyone about what is going on and how people can get involved.

While the campaign enjoyed success it also faced challenges.  “Prior campaigns related to our Family Life Center were not able to achieve their goals. Yet people who had given to those campaigns felt the debt had been paid off because there had been no final report at the end of the first campaign. We also had a building campaign going on, and we had to communicate the difference between the building campaign and the Family Life Center campaign. Another challenge was communicating the importance of giving beyond tithes and offerings. We needed to maintain current revenue from tithes and offerings and have people give above-and-beyond to this campaign.

“Finally, the economic climate was a big challenge. We launched during a time that was compared to an economic depression. We are located in an African American community where people were facing unemployment and foreclosure while we were asking for campaign gifts. The membership was very prayerful, they had faith, and they believed that if they gave it would be returned to them two-fold.”

Church Giving Supports HBCUs

The United Methodist Church and HBCUs – behind the scenes at the Black College Fund…

The power of your church giving may be stronger than you know. For example, did you know that when you give to the United Methodist Church you are supporting eleven historically black colleges or universities in addition to supporting your congregation? That’s right. You are part of a long tradition that is now managed by the church’s Black College Fund under the leadership of Dr. Cynthia Bond Hopson.

As you may be aware, black colleges and universities have been transforming the lives of individuals, communities and our country since before the Civil War. Eleven of these 105 institutions are private-church related colleges founded by the United Methodist Church. In order to learn more about the relationship between these colleges and the church, we talked with Dr. Cynthia Bond Hopson and share our conversation with you.

Saad & Shaw:   Why did the church establish these colleges and why has it continued to support them?

Dr. Cynthia Bond Hopson:   The Methodist Church has always had a passion, tradition and belief in the power of knowledge and as the Civil War ended, it was painfully clear that the education that had long been denied to slaves would severely hamper their self sufficiency if not addressed. The people called Methodists (through the Freedmen’s Aid Society, founded during the 1860s) saw an urgent need and addressed it. This ministry to the educationally underserved remains and we see it as essential to empowerment and self determination. According to a history of the Black College Fund written by Dillard University President Emeritus Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook, “Without question, the UMC has no peer or competitor, either quantitatively or qualitatively, in terms of church support for its HBCU. No other mainline communion approaches the United Methodist level of generous and sustained financial support.” We believe in higher education and generously invest in it.

Saad & Shaw:   How does the church support these colleges? (Do you provide funding, conferences, technical assistance…)

Dr. Hopson:   All the above, but mainly the financial piece; our (mostly unrestricted) funding goes directly to the institutions to help keep their tuition and fees low, to enhance the infrastructure, to create new programming—whatever it takes to stay competitive. There is a capital projects designation and we also offer/share the United Methodist Connection of people, information and resources.

Saad & Shaw:   Why do you feel HBCUs are important today?

Dr. Hopson:  They are uniquely suited historically and otherwise to nurture, challenge and mentor their graduates to be instruments of change whether they’re running a school board, multi-national corporation or a university. These institutions attract the best and brightest in addition to those who have the potential to be great and they inspire them to “find a way or make one” as the Clark Atlanta University motto says. The small class sizes and low teacher/student ratios allow the faculty, staff and administration an opportunity to provide personalized attention and a family-like environment. Students can’t help but flourish and soar.

Saad & Shaw:   What role do these colleges play in the life of the church?

Dr. Hopson:    We get some of our most effective, committed, talented and innovative leaders from these institutions. Supporting leadership for life is not just a motto for us— we invest in it. The choirs tour and perform in local churches and our Project Athletic Ambassador program links congregations with the BCF basketball teams when they’re on the road for games. Also, in the Southeast, our institutions host the Youth Harambee, an annual gathering of youth groups from around the jurisdiction. Many of the schools were founded in local churches and that historic bond is a tremendous source of pride.

Saad & Shaw:   How do these church-related institutions work together? Do they engage in joint programming or joint fundraising?

Dr. Hopson:   The Council of Presidents (active presidents and retirees who have served more than ten years) help plan programming and promotion. Further, my office hosts a biennial continuing education event for public relations and advancement directors.

Saad & Shaw:   Is giving to these colleges a “black thing” or do all church members give?

Dr. Hopson:  Every United Methodist Church in the United States is assessed an amount to pay and many local churches and annual conferences (a group of geographically grouped churches) take enormous pride in paying their 100 percent share. We love those! We also receive memorial and estate gifts from supporters occasionally.

Saad & Shaw:   Has giving by churches to the Black College Fund increased or decreased during this economic downturn? (Whether increase or decrease, how has giving affected the fund and its work?)

Dr. Hopson:   I am delighted that our funding has held steady, and if anything, it has increased percentage wise. This year we received about 87 percent of $11 million, but our students’ needs continue to outpace the funding so we are constantly striving to reach potential new students and donors.”

Saad & Shaw:   Does the support of these church-related colleges and universities perpetuate segregated institutions?

Dr. Hopson:   Absolutely not! These schools are and have always been open to anybody with a hope and a dream, regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity or national origin. They are our most diverse campuses with students and faculty from around the world.

Saad & Shaw:   What else would you like to share with our readers about the Black College Fund in specific or HBCUs in general?

Dr. Hopson:  Our 11 institutions come in all shapes and sizes and there’s bound to be one that fits your needs or interests. If you haven’t visited one of them, stop by and be impressed by the critical research, innovative programming and some of the best and brightest students anywhere on the planet! And, if you want to invest in excellence, the Black College Fund is a great choice. Our administrative costs are less than four percent and your contributions are tax deductible. We support leadership for life.

Saad & Shaw:   Any last words on the power of collective giving such as giving through one’s church?

Dr. Hopson:  Our schools are a great investment and together we can do so much more than any one of us individually could do. I continue to be amazed at what happens when everyone gives their best gifts—together we are a force to be reckoned with!

Saad & Shaw:   Thank you for your time!

To learn more about the UMC Black College Fund visit www.gbhem.org/bcf or call (615) 340-7378.

Let’s Have Faith

Faith-based organizations across the country are making a difference in communities large and small. One such congregation is St. Andrew African Methodist Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Led by husband and wife team Rev. Kenneth Robinson, M.D. and Rev. Marilyn Robinson the church is committed to ministering to Memphis – Spirit, Soul and Body. Together the Reverends Robinson and the St. Andrew AME church have grown their ministries into what is known as The Enterprise. They believe churches have unique attributes that can drive positive social transformation — and they have set out to demonstrate that.

The Enterprise includes the church’s ministries, and The Works, an independent Community Development Corporation (CDC) associated with the church. The Enterprise is comprised of:

  1. The St. Andrew AME congregation founded in 1866
  2. The church’s many social ministries and Community Life Center
  3. An independent, but church-affiliated Community Development Corporation (CDC) called The WORKS
  4. The Ernestine Rivers Child Care Center
  5. The Circles of Success Learning Academy (COSLA) – a nationally recognized charter school
  6. The South Memphis Renaissance Collaborative – a community collaborative dedicated to long-term redevelopment.

These programs are examples of how the St. Andrew AME church and The Enterprise bring their overlapping and inter-connected missions to life. Take a look:

The mission of the church is to minister to the spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional and environmental needs of all people. The congregation embraces holistic approaches to health and well-being, spiritual enrichment, personal empowerment and community service, using the theme “Ministering to Memphis – Spirit, Soul and Body.”

The mission of The Enterprise is to serve as the vehicle for St. Andrew AME Church to accomplish its mission of works in the world through a continuum of programs, services and affiliated organizations, as well as through focused collaborations and broad partnerships.

The work of The Enterprise is guided by the need for innovative new approaches to foster social transformation and the unique attributes churches bring to drive such innovations.

The Reverends Robinson, St. Andrew AME congregation, and The Enterprise believe that the church can be a powerful catalyst, driver and fiscal agent for community transformation both in their South Memphis neighborhood and throughout the city of Memphis. They believe the model they are building can be replicated by other churches in Memphis and across the country. They believe – and are demonstrating – that a church (or other faith community) can uniquely resource social transformation. The human, spiritual, and financial resources that a church brings to the process of social transformation are unique.

At St. Andrew church tithes and gifts from church members have provided The Enterprise with funds for “seed funding” for new projects; “bridge funding” for projects that are growing and have not yet secured funds from other sources; and “gap funding” that helps programs weather the ups and downs that are part of non-profit finances. This is a unique form of funding that is not available to non-church-related organizations.

As a powerful collaboration The Enterprise provides a diverse array of needed services to church members and the larger Memphis community.

Below are the eight principles that guide the work of The Enterprise. The first two relate to social transformation. The remaining six principles focus on the unique attributes a church brings to drive such transformation.

The need for innovative new approaches to foster social transformation…

1.    Individuals and families need proactive, easy access to an integrated set of resources that meet the full range of their needs and development potential.

2.    The full range of resources and services must be imbedded within local neighborhoods for comprehensive community transformation that rebuilds physical infrastructure, helps change defeating attitudes and beliefs, and connects people to education, cultural and employment opportunities in the region.

…and the unique attributes churches bring to drive such innovations.

3.    A church of any size and any stage of development can leverage its members’ time, talent and treasure to serve as catalysts for community transformation.

4.    A church can be an appropriate organizational structure for bringing public and private funding and forging collaborative partnerships for non-religious social programs and community transformation.

5.    Community transformation and social ministry are essential to a living faith experience, and create a mutually-beneficial relationship between the faith congregation and the larger community.

6.    Faith-based values can permeate, enhance, and lend credibility to secular endeavors and programs.

7.    All social issues and aspects of human life can be addressed with the non-judgmental and unconditional “language of Christ.”

8.    All resources, programs and services put forth in the name of the Church must demonstrate the highest quality standards, and communicate a high level of worth/value.

Giving of time, talent and treasure by church members provides The Enterprise with seed money and gap funding as well as:

  1. $90,000 a year for the Community Life Center’s outreach programs.
  2. Thousands of hours of service provided by church members each year.
  3. Lower-than-market rent for the charter school. The school has a 25-year lease with the church that yields an annual savings of $50,000 over market-based rent.
  4. $30,000 a year to subsidize operating costs of the Ernestine Rivers Child Care Center.

Tithes and gifts from church members have allowed The Enterprise to grow its programming and services so that it now stewards nearly $5 million annually from diverse funding sources – church giving, earned income (tuition, fees) private grants, donations, and public funding.

The Reverends Robinson, the St. Andrew AME Congregation, associated independent organizations, community stakeholders, government and private funders are all working together to demonstrate and document that churches have unique attributes that can drive social transformation.

To learn more about churches and their role in social transformation contact Rev. Kenneth Robinson by email at RevKSRMD [at] gmail [dot] com or by phone at (901) 948-3441.

This article is based on conversations with Rev. Kenneth Robinson, M.D., and the St. Andrew Enterprise Business Plan: 2009 prepared by Consilience Group, LLC www.consiliencegroup.com.