A challenge to pastors: embrace the ministry of fundraising

Over the years, I’ve sat through hundreds of prospect review sessions where the giving records of faithful supporters are analyzed down to the dollar. Bumps in giving are cheered, declines worried over, and the next ask planned with care. No one frets that donor files are regularly reviewed by the “right” people. Information is, after all, a fundraiser’s most valuable tool.

It’s the rare ministry CEO who worries that knowing who gives what will prejudice his or her relationship with friends of the organization. In fact, organizational heads usually want more information, not less.

Except, that is, when the CEO is a pastor.

offering plateThe majority of clergy take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance when it comes to the giving patterns of parishioners – or so it is in the circles within which I move.  “I want to treat everyone the same,” pastors say. “Knowing who’s giving the most could lead to favoritism.”

This is a noble sentiment on the surface, but unfortunately, completely wrong-headed. In fact, worse. It actually works against growing givers’ hearts.

IF ONLY A FUNDRAISER IN EVERY THE PULPIT

Never mind that local and national charities are tracking the generosity of folks in local congregations. The majority of pastors choose to lead in the financial dark, fearful that donor information will overwhelm impartiality. And because they

  • keep mostly mum about money,
  • fail to say thank you for obviously sacrificial giving (or any giving for that matter),
  • don’t know enough to challenge those who could give more, or
  • in any way act like fundraisers who understand their work as ministry,

pastors aren’t part of encouraging parishioners toward greater generosity.

It’s little wonder that congregational offerings as a percentage of the overall giving pie (see Giving USA) have flat-lined in recent years. How are the people expected to give, unless asked? And how will they be asked if pastors are silent?

Think about Jesus sitting by the offering box in the temple, comparing the gifts of widow and Pharisee. There’s Peter’s cautionary tale of a rich couple who under-reported the sale price on a property as a way of scrimping on their gift. And Paul was familiar enough with the financial situation of the folks in Macedonia to know that theirs was sacrificial giving.  If money talk was good enough for this trio, well . . .

So here’s my plea to those who’ve answered God’s call to preach the Good News. Don’t back away from an aspect (maybe even THE aspect) of the Message that North American church goers most need to hear. Our buildings are full of rich young (and not so young) rulers. Generous still matters to the Christian life.

And my word to the folks in the pews — if your pastor isn’t tracking, preaching about, praising, and sometimes critiquing giving, encourage him or her to do so. Your spiritual health depends on it.

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This article was almost completed when I spotted the question “Should pastors know how much church members give?” in Christianity Today’s “Under Discussion” column. Interestingly, four of the six respondents lean in my direction (three, very much so) on the question, while two side with the silent majority of clergy.

Also, I recently learned of an Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising being offered jointly by the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving and St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. You can read more about the institute and its purpose of serving “clergy who wish to gain an expertise in fundraising principles and practices and to train development personnel who serve faith-based organizations” here.

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