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The time of year when most churches do their annual pledge appeal, or “stewardship drive,” or “every-member canvas” is upon us.

If you work in the nonprofit world, odds are your church has tapped (begged?) you to work on its stewardship committee or campaign.

And as you are well aware, churches are different animals, with cultures and practices around solicitation and confidentiality that are unique to the sector and often to each congregation.

But here are some suggestions from some of the stewardship websites and blogs from a variety of denominations for simple new practices that your congregation could try this fall without overturning generations of precedent:

1. Use a customized letter from the minister to make a specific ask.

Many churches are reluctant to make a specific request or even acknowledge that anyone (especially the minister!?) knows how much people gave last year. But two years ago, our parish administrator prepared customized letters for our rector to send to each household, saying, “Thank you for your 2012 pledge of X. For 2013, would you consider pledging Y?” Only those two members of the staff knew the numbers in each letter. In most cases, the request was for a 5% to 15% increase. One hundred ten of 230 households met or exceeded the requested increase, and we did not receive a single complaint.

2. Use the pledge card to convey information.

Don’t waste the back side of your pledge card on 3 inches by 8 inches of blank stock. Use it to print a pie chart of how your members’ pledges are used, emphasizing whenever possible the money spent on outreach, mission, and education vs. boring things like utility bills. Allocate staff time across program areas. Or, make a bullet point list of new ministry initiatives for the coming year – even low-cost things like launching a new class – so that the cover letter can focus on the personal reasons for giving, and not have to try to summarize program objectives at the same time.

3. Use the pledge card to collect information.

When you’re running your envelopes, print two extra sets of labels – one in a standard font, and one in an easy-to-read script font. Use one set of labels to personalize the pledge cards (no one wants to spell out their mailing address for you again), and the set in the script typeface to label (and stamp) envelopes for hand-written notes as gifts come in.

But also use the pledge card to collect additional information beyond their address which you already have, and the financial commitment you are seeking. Don’t make it a survey, but do collect email addresses and cell phone numbers if you don’t have them; and consider a small number of boxes that members can check for things like:

  1. I am interested in including the church in my will and/or estate planning.  Please contact me.
  2. Please save on postage and printing by communicating with me by email only whenever possible.
  3. I would like to give monthly by credit card or through automatic bank withdrawal.  (Make sure you’re set up to handle this, of course!)

4. Encourage people to give electronically through a weekly or monthly Electronic Funds Transfer.

I know there is some resistance to this approach, at least partly because passing the offering plate and bringing it to the altar is a meaningful part of the liturgy. Some churches have addressed this desire to keep that tactile physical act of giving, by putting re-usable laminated cards in the pews that say, “I give online” – so that members who give this way can also participate in the ritual of placing a representation of their offering into the plate. Consider starting that practice this month – so people see it before they consider filling out their pledge card that way next month.

5. Invite members of the congregation to deliver two-minute “testimonials” on “why I pledge” during the announcements phase of the worship service.

6. Get everyone involved in saying thank you.

Even board members who are terrified of “fund-raising” can sign thank you notes (like the ones you printed the envelope labels for earlier). Even when doing only ten at a time, having the envelope addressed and stamped eliminates two big barriers to getting the job done in a timely manner. And don’t hesitate to have one board member make a thank you phone call (even just to leave a message!), and another one send a hand-written note a few days later. Three times (including a formal acknowledgment on church stationary) is not too many times to say thank you. It has the added benefit of increasing the visibility of lay leadership.

Church leaders are all too familiar with the statistics on declining membership and giving, nationwide, over the past 40 years. But churches still receive over a third of all American charitable dollars – more than any other nonprofit sector – and have the advantage of talking to their members and demonstrating how they fulfill their mission as often as every week. Your church has some tremendous fund-raising advantages. Don’t be afraid help your colleagues use them!

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Ron Newlin

Ron Newlin

Customer Support Specialist at Bloomerang
Ron Newlin is a Customer Support Specialist at Bloomerang. He has been working with nonprofits since 1987 when he became Executive Director of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.