Year-Round Planning Helps the Budget Drive

By Donald E. Skinner

The annual budget drive. Done well it's a thing of beauty and a joy for at least nine months, until the next one rolls around. Done badly it causes massive volunteer burnout, drives the congregation into hiding, and forces budget cuts that set the tone for a parsimonious year.

A good budget drive is a year round effort. That doesn't mean asking people for money year round. It means tending to key parts of the budget drive operation on a year round schedule so that the drive itself will go smoothly, says Wayne Clark, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Director of Congregational Fundraising Services.

Here are the elements of a year round budget drive effort that should happen outside of the "normal" budget drive season:

  • When the congregation annually elects its board of trustees it should also elect cochairs of the budget drive. Clark recommends cochairs who commit to serving for two years so that one person can always be in training.
  • The cochairs should sit down and review the budget drive just after its completion, making notes that will improve next year's drive.
  • Financial contributors should be sent monthly statements throughout the year. "If they get it with the other bills they're more likely to remember to pay it," says Clark.
  • Don't highlight the annual budget drive itself for more than a few weeks.
  • New members should be asked to contribute as soon as they join. New friends should be asked as soon as they show a commitment to the congregation. Clark warns that if you don't ask them for money they will think either you don't need the money or their money is not that important.

At First Unitarian Church in Dallas, TX (747), the ask is for five percent of income "as a goal." "The average commitment of new members is significantly higher than the overall average," says Steve Lewis, the church's executive director. "We're very straightforward. We say, 'This is your spiritual community. We ask for your spiritual, mental, financial, and physical involvement.' We don't want it to hurt, but it shouldn't be easy either."

Other budget drive tips:

  • Recruit people to attend a volunteer budget drive orientation. If they agree to do it, give them no more than four people to ask for money. "There's something magical about four," says Clark.
  • Vary the budget drive technique. Do a face-to-face budget drive one year, then do a Celebration Sunday, where people bring their contributions to church.
  • Instead of doing a line item budget before the budget drive, do a program budget. Ask the congregation and committee chairs to develop a budget based on the programs that would be possible if there were enough money. During the budget drive talk about the programs you'd like to initiate or expand. Share stories about what the church means to you.

About the Author

Donald E. Skinner

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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