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April 5 - 11, 2010

Re-Timing the Annual Appeal

By Rev. Mike Robinson

I suspect some members of your Stewardship Committees or Team are asking themselves, “Well, what are we going to do this year? Let’s see . . .last year we had a Con
secration Sunday, and the year before that we did Pony Express. So how are we going to make budget this year? And whatever you do, the Council President said, “You better be done before Advent!”

Of course, the most traditional time to have an annual response is in the fall – usually in October or early November. The key is to have it completed before the ‘Holiday Season’ and to get the commitment totals to the Finance Committee so they can work on the budget for the coming year. Then there’s the little game of totaling the estimated loose offerings and other income. Financial advice may come from one corner suggesting padding the whole budget by 5 percent -- hoping to heaven it will all add up at the end of next year!

Believe me, this ritual is being played out all across the country every year. The trouble is, two important points are being lost in the shuffle. One, we don’t want our people to ‘give to budget’ and secondly, congregations conduct their annual response at what is arguably the busiest time of the year!

So why not consider moving your annual response away from the fall? After all, have you ever developed a budget just on your pledges? And do you really want your people to think they’re just giving to the budget? That’s not only un-inspirational, but it’s a maintenance way of thinking about ministry. It sets the bar of giving at your institutional needs, and not at the level where people can give!

Why not change the focus and the time of your annual response? Lift up the ministries you accomplish -- both locally and through churchwide -- and show your people how through their giving they are helping people around the world. One of the ELCA Stewardshops made some important observations about the timing of an annual response:

1. Giving is a spiritual matter. If “budget-funding” is the imagined motivation for the fund appeal, other matters – responding to God’s generosity, taking stock of one’s life, praying – might be diminished.

2. Most research indicates that people do not give to budgets; “meeting the budget” is not an effective or sustaining motivation for giving. Spirit-gifted people of God want to make a difference with their lives, and with the money with which God entrusts them.

3. When budgeting and funding processes are separated, the congregation benefits from the cumulative effects of mission interpretation and stewardship education. Hence, information about the effects of contributions, and a full realization about life-related stewardship can support and motivate generosity.

4. Because of the start of “the program year” – e.g., Sunday school, committee activities, classes – energy and time are not always available in fall. Sometimes the end result is that the annual fund appeal is not done well. Another time of year may offer more energy.

5. When budgeting and funding process are separated, each benefits from more focused attention.

6. A program of stewardship education -- including biblical wisdom about money and generosity – can be expanded to include more content.

7. Because congregations regularly add a “faith factor” to the total amount of collected financial pledges, their utility as accurate predictors of member giving is diminished. The most accurate predictor of future giving is past giving during a calendar year; these statistics are available at any time of year, not just in the fall.

Congregations may wonder what happens during the time between budget preparation and the annual fund appeal. Will contributions fall off or givers forget? The answer: Because people don’t give to the budget, and because their motivation for giving won’t be confused with the spending plan of the congregation, they will continue or increase their giving.

In my travels around the country I am surprised at the number of congregations who have already begun this process. They like it because it helps them to focus on the Biblical and missional aspects of giving. Perhaps it is the right time for your congregation to consider changing time of your annual response.

Mike Robinson serves as Assistant to the Bishop, Southwestern Texas Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This essay is from Stewardship Now, resources the ELCA makes available for congregations to use. Click here to access Stewardship Now.

      Copyright 2009 Stewardship of Life Institute