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Forward Through the Ages: A New Stewardship Development Program

General Assembly 2006 Event 3020

Sponsor: Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Staff

Speaker: Dr. Wayne Clark, UUA Director of Congregational Fundraising Services

The UUA's Dr. Wayne Clark is a believer in something many Unitarian Universalists shy away from—asking for money. That was crystal clear in the workshop previewing his about-to-be-published book, Forward Through the Ages: A New Stewardship Development Program (due out from Beacon Press in March 2007).

Clark, Director of Congregational Fundraising Services for the UUA, believes that language around money should change to get rid of some very old, very negative baggage. In Clark 's preferred lexicon, the canvass is the "budget drive," a pledge is a "financial commitment," a canvasser is a "visiting steward," and a home visit is a "stewardship conversation." Above all, Clark says, fundraising is stewardship. His rationale is that "fundraising" emphasizes the need of the recipient, while "stewardship" is all about the spiritual need to give. And the way to a person's wallet, he insists, is always through the heart and soul.

The Forward Through the Ages stewardship plan emphasizes the connection between spiritual stewardship and congregational mission by linking resources with current programs and ministries, and by seeking to deepen a commitment to future programs and ministries. It's a multi-year, systemic stewardship development program designed to both promote growth and fulfill a congregation's mission. There are five phases, which could each take a year to complete, and five components in each phase.

The phases of the stewardship program are:

  • Receiving and accepting
  • Growing and investing
  • Returning and restoring
  • Giving generously
  • Applying recent learnings

In each phase, the five components are:

  • Stewardship education
  • Joyful giving
  • Ministry and good works
  • The annual budget drive
  • Planned giving

Clark gave several examples of possible activities in the first phase of the program (Receiving and accepting). Stewardship education could include offering a money management workshop or conducting a Sunday service around the theme of gracious receiving. Ministry and good works might include a series of Sunday order of service inserts highlighting successful programs and ministries. Planned giving might include a bequest recognition society.

Clark shared a long list of tips designed for successful stewardship campaigns. For example, he says for visiting stewards (what many now call canvassers) to be effective, they need an orientation workshop to discuss how to ask for money. Clark recommends that potential visiting stewards be assured that they don't have to decide whether to take the job until the end of the orientation. Those who then agree to make stewardship visits should be given no more than four households (to avoid burnout). And Clark says those who decide they cannot handle the job should be let off the hook.

As for how to ask for money, Clark insists the most successful approach is a direct, person-to-person conversation. Phone calls are a distant second. Mail is an even more distant third.

Responding to one of the final questions in a Q and A session, Clark said the most important part of any fundraising driving is making the case. "The better job you do of sharing your passion, the more money you're likely to get. You want people as stewards who are passionate about the congregation and are willing to speak to that. They must be able to answer the question 'What difference will my money make?'"

Clark is looking for four to eight congregations to participate in a demonstration project of the new stewardship development plan. Judging from the hands that shot up during this workshop, there'll be no shortage of volunteers.

Reported by Chris Sealy; edited by Margy Levine Young.