As it does every spring, my phone has been ringing lately with calls from worried pastors. Easter has passed and all their thoughts now shift to the balance of the year. Pastors and laity both refocus on the business end of the church, and, in many cases, realize that if the trends hold, they won’t have enough money for ministries, missions, debt, staff or (you fill in the blank).
“Clif, I think we may need to look at a capital campaign. Clif, what are you recommending as a winning annual campaign that might also get us some money this year? Clif, do you have a really good letter that I might send out to get more dollars? Clif, I want to move to Alaska and have someone drop me on an iceberg in the middle of the Arctic Ocean! Clif, what do I do now?”
I hear and understand the panic in their voices, but there are steps to take to handle the “what now.” Here are some of my thoughts:
- Realize that 90% of all churches are behind budget after Easter. The key is where you have been as a church at this time in previous years. See if the treasurer can get you some historical perspective. You may be on track and just don’t know it.
- Look over the individual donor list to see who is giving and who isn’t. Are you behind because one major donor has not given yet, or do you see a downward trend in many gifts? Where are your top 10 givers? You don’t want to make a big deal about the whole church being behind if the issue is one or two people.
- Review other trends. Are Worship and Sunday School participation off? Why? Is there a crisis going on that is causing discontent? Are those involved in the crisis giving? Does national or denominational news have your people upset or concerned? Remember that giving is usually a reflection about how people are feeling about the future of your church and its ministries.
- Appropriately target any communication you decide to do. One letter to all is usually a bad idea. You may need to visit with just one or two people. You may need to talk just to a staff member. You may need to address shortcomings in worship. You may need to send a letter to the congregation, but make sure that it is donor-specific, with different messages to tithers, committed consistent donors, occasional givers and those who never give.
- Finally, bring in outside counsel if you have problematic and systemic issues. Experts can frequently discover what you could not find or perhaps just could not say. They can thoroughly examine all your financial stewardship procedures and practices in annual, capital and planned giving.
Here is the bottom line: One size does not fit all! The common, knee-jerk reaction this time of year is to send out a “we are dying here!” letter. Do not do that. Do your homework and then specifically address the problem – if you even have one.