Motivation Key Factor in Budget Drive Success

When a congregation becomes motivated to improve its annual budget drive great things are possible.

Members of High Plains Church Unitarian Universalist  in Colorado Springs, CO (143 members), want to build a larger facility to accommodate their growth, which has been running at 15 to 20 percent. In the spring of 2006 the congregation held a budget drive that involved the whole congregation in one-on-one stewardship conversations, something it had not done for several years.

The drive brought in $20,000 more than the goal of $120,000, says the Rev. Matthew Johnson-Doyle. "It was a big job and it would be hard to do it every year, but it did build financial strength," he says.

The congregation brought in Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) fundraising consultant and Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation of Atlanta, GA (642), member Larry Wheeler to help it get organized. "We wanted a strong annual stewardship drive under our belt before launching a capital campaign to buy property", says Johnson-Doyle. " We didn't believe Larry when he said a drive like this would build community, but it did. People really got to know each other."

It helped that the congregation had been doing other things right. "We've learned to ask for financial commitments from people when they join," says Johnson-Doyle. "People who have never been part of a church have no idea what the expectation is. They want to know what they're supposed to do." A helpful tool has been the UUA's  Suggested Fair Share Giving Guide, says Johnson-Doyle. The median pledge for the congregation is $1,200.

The Unitarian Universalist Colorado Association (UUCA) is in an interim ministry period. As it looks forward to the next chapter of its life it wants to expand its social justice programming, create a campus ministry, and hire more staff. To do that, members are demonstrating that they're motivated to raise the necessary money.

The budget drive this past fall raised about $790,000, well over the unspoken goal of $775,000. The previous year's drive was also over the top, by about $40,000. Interim minister the Rev. David Keyes has helped the congregation think about stewardship in new ways the past two years. Last fall the whole congregation engaged in one-on-one stewardship conversations. "It was a lot of work," says Keyes, "but it was the only way we were going to get what we wanted."

He adds: "I have never been involved with a budget drive that was not successful. It depends on how willing the congregational leadership is to do things in new ways. I ask people to take risks, have courage, show some passion for the mission, and follow through. That always leads to greater generosity."

The following factors have contributed to stewardship success at UUCA: Keyes tells the congregation he's committed to a full 10 percent tithe and invites members to commit to at least 5 percent. He preaches two stewardship sermons, both of them weeks before the budget drive begins. He believes they do more good then, rather than on the day the drive starts. Wheeler trained visiting stewards this year. Church consultant Michael Durall spoke at the budget drive dinner. Members presented testimonials at each service for several months, sharing how important the church was to them. As a result the median gift at UUCA went from $850 in 2005 to $1,200 this year.

Both High Plains and UUCA give away their Sunday offering and believe that this results in higher overall giving. "People see the money going out the door, and they feel good about how it's being used. They realize the church depends on their commitments," says Keyes. "UUCA gives away $8,000 a month. At High Plains $200 to $600 is donated one Sunday a month," says Johnson-Doyle, "Members really like that we do that. I think generosity leads to more generosity."

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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