Resources for Challenging Times

Best Practices, Stewardship and Practical Advice
Essays, Newsletter Columns, Memos and Other

Best Practices ~ Education ~ Links & Resources ~ Stewardship ~ Theological ~ Worship


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A Collection of Articles on Stewardship and Giving
Wayne Clark of our UUA Office of Congregational Stewardship Services has assembled a group of articles and best practices regarding stewardship and giving in tough economic times.  Download the collection as a pdf document or as word document.
The collection includes:

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10 Steps to Successful Stewardship in Difficult Economic Times
Slides by Wayne B. Clark, Ph.D. UUA Director of Congregational Stewardship Services outlining 10 steps for successful stewardship during tough economic times.

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Memo Regarding Giving in Challenging Times
From: Rev. Ian S. Evison, Congregational Services Director, Central Midwest District
Sent: Saturday, January 31, 2009
Subject: RE: "Giving in challenging times" documents for Pledge Committee review

It has been a pleasure and honor working with congregations on this as on so many other subjects.  Just as we begin to develop some ideas about one thing, the next is upon us quickly on the heels of the challenges over sustainability and energy costs came concern for disaster prevention (in the wake of the Knoxville shootings) and now we are working this matter of the very odd crosscurrents of economic anxiety and political hope. 

Understand that there are no magic bullets or fail-safe expert answers.  One thing that is very clear even on our national level is that those we might think would be smartest about this are rather in a fog and that the situation is evolving. 

Any wisdom I have comes from conversations with our congregations as I wander the region.  Some of the themes I have heard in the past few weeks: 

Don’t make assumptions:  more is determined by the individual experience of a congregation than by “the economy” writ large.  As in any year, some congregations will do better financially, some—the largest group—about the same, and some less well.  We are in the midst of a poll of our congregations about how they are doing financially (please respond if you have not).  So far, the largest group find themselves doing about the same as last year.  After that the next group finds themselves doing better than last year financially.  It is still scary.  In good times congregations get used to modest annual increases in income, having just a bit more than last year.  We all know well that our finances depend too much on too few.  If one or two of our top givers lose their jobs, decide it is time to retire or move away, things suddenly get much worse.  Yet, we must be careful to keep clear that being good leaders does not mean assuming things will get bad.  It means keeping very alert to how things are going.

Don’t allow an ethic of austerity to freeze your congregation:  Somebody in our office the other day referred to the fact we are working to “squeeze every last dime out of that penny.”  It is a good moment to give everything a fresh look and actually has been rather fun and interesting to really rethink each expense.  We had for many years an office that was more or less structured around our high volume copier (it was an impressive machine).  When we looked at how much we were paying for the lease and how much our volume of copying had reduced, the per copy cost was absurd.  Our idea of an office had assumed a big copier and a line of file cabinets.  When we looked critically at the matter, it just did not many sense any more.  Knowing how much people are stretching to support us, it would be unseemly at the moment not to be very careful about expenses.  However, I have increasingly heard reports of a different problem.  You don’t want people to be afraid to spend.  You still want people to do things.  We even need to be prepared to do some new things.   Activity takes money.  And it is a particularly bad time to presume that all our members can fill in by paying expenses out of their pockets.  So, boards need to give the message that people need to be diligent about saving and that—within the budget—people are expected to spend.

There are opportunities.  I am going out in a couple of weeks to go out to talk with a small congregation about a decision to buy some land.  This is a congregation who has long felt the need for a new building and now finds the local builders much more willing to work with them at a price they think reasonable and land options have opened that simply were not available six months ago.  As a small congregation this a bit frightening.  It can seem almost like inviting bad karma to make bold moves in troubled times even if the math works out.  I have no idea what they will decide.  But the point is that there are opportunities.

Pay attention to what people discuss in coffee hour.  Congregations tend to develop habits or norms regarding appropriate themes for worship, adult forums, religious education.  It is very important to observe what people discuss after the service is over or after the adult forum is over.  It is then that they say the things that they wanted to say but that somehow did not seem to fit.  UUs have very complicated norms regarding what is discussable regarding money.  We are national leaders on cradle to grave sex education.  You can often find a quorum of the local Planned Parenthood board of directors in the Unitarian Church on Sunday morning (if you add a Reformed Jew and a renegade Methodist).  Somehow it is not so easy on the subject of money, especially when it gets personal.  Someone observed in a congregation just how many coffee hour conversations there seemed to be about the sensitive issues regarding giving financial assistance to grown children, aging parents, or siblings who had lost jobs.  They observed that somehow in their congregation the economy writ large seemed to be fair game for public discussion but that the tough matters regarding family finance were not.  I think UUs in particular need to be careful about the idea that we are going to get through this solely by some combination of austere living and social activism.  We need to be sure that we are finding ways to speak the issues regarding how this is connecting existentially with our own members.

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Giving During Tough Economic Times Best Practices - Compiled by UUA Stewardship Consultants
January 9, 2009

    1. Share the history of giving to faith communities during previous recessions.
    2. Stay positive.
    3. Act and lead with confidence.
    4. Assume that all will be well . . . Don’t assume the worst.
    5. See the recession, and the start of a new presidency, as an opportunity to welcome new people, and to revisit your congregational vision and mission.
    6. Ask “How important is the congregation to you?”
    7. Believe that caring for people always trumps brick and mortar needs.
    8. Use pie charts to depict the distribution of the previous year’s spending.
    9. Use pie charts to indicate the anticipated distribution of financial commitments when the goal is met.
    10. Develop a line-item annual operating budget after completion of stewardship conversations.
    11. Do not presume other’s financial situation. Ask everyone for an annual financial commitment.
    12. Be pastoral. Focus on “how are you doing” personal conversations.
    13. In addition to monetary goals, create a goal for the number of congregants participating in the annual budget drive. Define success more broadly.
    14. Sponsor a “turn down the heat” day each week and host a pot luck meal at church.
    15. Sponsor a job-seeking club / a referral network / a resume writing workshop.
    16. Promote open conversations about “living well in tough times.”  
    17. Market a “business is booming” slogan to spread the good news of the congregation.
    18. Focus on three key words; help, hope, and home.
    19. Emphasize that the faith community is a haven during tough times.
    20. Congregations that were strong before the recession, will remain strong during a recession. Weaker congregations will succeed if they have strong leaders.

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In Uncertain Economic Times, Enthusiasm, Planning, Count for a Lot.
Interconnections, December 15, 2008.
Is the glass half full or half empty? Does economic uncertainty bring only problems, or could it also bring opportunities? Those are questions facing all of us in congregations this fall as markets fluctuate and members see their savings, and maybe even their jobs, in jeopardy. As leaders, how do we respond to this economic climate?

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Nned Collegial Conversations

For Ministers, Religious Educators and Board Presidents

In the District Office we have noticed a rise in the levels of anxiety and fear as the economic state of the world intrudes into our congregational life. We know that often the leadership and staff in individual congregations find themselves offering care and support to everyone only to find themselves burned out and depleted at the end of the day. 

We, the staff of your district, would like to offer the leadership and staff of your congregation an opportunity to come together, to talk, listen and be cared for during this stressful time of ministry.

At least one NNED staff person will host each conversation at the following UU congregations and times. Please come if you are able, and let us know when you will be able to join our caring conversation.
(in the original memo, the location, dates and times of the meetings were listed)

In Faith,
Karen Brammer, Benette Sherman and Mary Higgins

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Memo To Congregational Leaders
By Michael Greenman, Social Justice Committee
First Unitarian Universalist Church, Columbus, OH

It appears very likely that the months (and perhaps years?) ahead are going to be difficult for many in this country and around the world.  Jobs continue to vanish and the recession feeds on itself.  Many are looking to a new Obama administration to turn the freight train around.  It may well do that, but it will not happen in a year or two, or perhaps three or more!

Our congregation and our congregants are and will be affected.  So I ask myself: what is the role of our community, our church, in helping to mitigate the impact of what is surely to come to some or many of us?  Should we perhaps be planning and preparing for that role?

You, as the leadership of our church, may already be in serious discussions on this topic, but one of my least favorite phrases is “I assume”, so I ask the question, realizing that there are no easy answers, but perhaps there are many small steps that could help.  Below are some thoughts regarding some of the things that we could be thinking about.  Many of these may be provided by social, community, state or federal programs, but perhaps we can supplement or make them more “personal”:

Freecycle, a network that connects local people to each other to give away unwanted items at no cost, and the items don't clog the landfills that way.

Job counseling – Jobs are being lost.  Some of our members are professionals in this field.  A “pro-bono” (or reduced fee?) service or training could be established.

Job Training – Some of our members are surely engaged in occupations that are less negatively impacted by job losses, or perhaps practice occupations whose numbers may increase during a recession (not sure what those might be!).  Could training be organized to help re-direct the skills of our  members and community to more employable occupations.

Reducing living costs and footprints – cost cutting could be vital to many of us.  But how? Many of our members are also members of “Simply Living”, a highly effective local organization that teaches its members and students how to live “more lightly on the earth” – teaching gardening, energy efficiency, local sustainability, etc.  Could we establish a specific link to their activities and encourage our members to participate?

Financial advice – some of our members are in the financial sector.  Could we have classes or advice on sound financial decisions and practices?

Earth Community - In times of difficulty human beings reach out to others – could we establish Co-operative systems to exchange food, skills, talents (Barter Systems)?;  more frequent rummage sales? CSAs?

Mental anguish – Fear and worry is a likely result for some of us.  Do we have counselors or other professionals who could help with that?

Real Estate – Foreclosures will continue to mount.  Do we have expertise in identifying better mortgage rates or in assisting with the sale (or purchase) of houses?

Shelter – at some point some may be homeless.  Could we develop lists of members who would be ready and willing to open up their homes/residences on short or long term rentals or room-for-services basis?

Financial support – Many of our members may not be impacted to any great extent by the current recession.  Could we organize a special appeal with a purpose-specific account to potentially provide assistance where it is desperately needed, something like the Ministers’ Discretionary Fund?

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A “Kerr”nel of Truth from Your Minister
Article from the First Univeraslist Church of Lyons’ Jaunary 2009 Newsletter
By Rev. Lynn Kerr
First Universalist Church of Lyons, OH

As 2008 came to a close, more and more non-profit organizations began a blizzard of appeals to my home. Although they were all charities I had given to in the past, in such uncertain economic times and with me not working full-time, it was tempting to just toss out all of them.  I decided to put them aside for a bit, balance the checkbook, finish my Christmas shopping, and then see where we came out.  

It just so happens that on Christmas day at my in-laws, I picked up an article about charitable giving.  There I read that if you are trying to judge whether you can afford to make donations, you should look at your grocery store habits.  If you are buying everything you need and want (within reason) at the grocery store, the author felt that was a good sign that you can afford to donate to charities.  The theory is that our regular grocery bill will be one of the last things we slash when money is no longer available.  

So, I thought about my most recent grocery trip.  Yup, still bought the orange juice my family likes, not the cheapest one.  I bought several pork loins because they were on sale and they could go into the freezer.  I even bought our cat one super fancy can of cat food to celebrate the New Year.  

The next day, I picked up the rather tall stack of appeals.  I calculated what I had spent on Christmas gifts and then I divided it by the number of charities asking for help and wrote a check for each.  As you can imagine, none of those non-profits got a windfall from me, but I had done something.  It has made the start of my new year a bit brighter and I am thinking about switching my brand of orange juice to save some money for the people who can’t buy it at all. 

Happy New Year!
Blessings and Peace, Rev. Lynn Kerr

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