Does your congregation struggle to explain, model or implement a “culture of generosity?”
On January 17th, while teaching a Fundraising as Ministry segment for the Gateway to Entrepreneurship course, the familiar topic of secrecy around money surfaced. After exploring vision, generosity and perceptions about fundraising members of the class began talking about their personal ministry experiences surrounding money. While not everyone in the class has a call to preach or serve in congregational ministry, everyone had experienced the impact of secrecy around giving and financial management in faith based communities. Should the Pastor know who gives at various levels? Should the Pastor have access to giving data? Should giving be openly discussed? The tension around poor practices and questionable decision making practices was thick as we began a deeper dive into the role of money, generosity and financial gifts in ministry leadership.
I have had very few people caution against the importance of Pastoral Care for the sick, broken hearted, widows, spouses facing broken covenants, consequences of bad decision making, survivors, worship teams, volunteers, parking lot ministries or Sunday school teachers in the last ten years. Yet, the slightest hint of celebrating those with the gift of giving, financial contributors, consistent supporters, or any sub sector of givers can cause a heated debate about pastoral bias. There is a perception that affirming members with the gift of giving will lead to unmerited access to the pastor. We illuminate our own beliefs and hang ups about money when we say that the Pastor can know extensive circumstances and details about each season of life, as long as we don't talk about money.
There is no financial data that is more sacred than the many milestones of life that are entrusted to our Pastoral Leaders. We invite ministers into the intimate details of life - birth, death, marriage, job loss, relocation, marital stress; yet I encounter people across the nation who believe that giving records should be kept from Pastors. As we illuminate the importance of examining financial information and giving data, to more effectively plan development cycles and campaigns to achieve vision, we are challenged to think more deeply about the concerns that linger. Vision is the intersection of the passions of Pastoral Leadership, the passions of congregational members and the needs of the community. The resources that are invested by members make mission and vision possible.
How is it possible to trust someone about the deepest aspects of spiritual, emotional and physical health/well being; and believe that money is off limits? We must begin to challenge how church administrative and operational cultures default to what has always been done, without examining the basis for choosing a different system that fosters gratitude, uplifts different gifts, fosters transparency and allows pastoral leaders to plan for the future. It is as important to breakdown stereotypes and operational leadership quandaries, committing to support improved offertory practices and increased knowledge about engaging donors and supporters in meaningful ways. Personalized gratitude not only fosters a culture of appreciation and gratitude; it also serves to right size the squeaky wheels that inevitably surface, without investing in the mission and vision they say that they hold dear. Yet, nothing can happen without integrity, values and trust.
I have witnessed first hand the lingering consequences of secrecy around money. From campaigns that never reach their financial goals, to increasingly high debt to income ratios that are not sustainable, secrecy has consequences. It is undeniable that not everyone has earned the respect and trust necessary to manage this data. It is also undeniable that financial secretaries, treasurers and office staff are often isolated in holding complex financial information without the benefit of the authority to affect change. We should be talking about and examining money practices in our faith communities, without the false paradigm that one size fits all. The gift of giving is one that should be treasured and celebrated, and that does not imply that it should be elevated above all others. Likewise, there is a dangerous tendency to disregard and misunderstand financial supporters. Donors and consistent financial supporters need pastoral care too.
Seeking ways to confront the secrecy that exists in your faith community? Small steps make a world of difference.
- Thank donors personally. A financial statement is not an expression of gratitude. This small step is a very large step for most. Group all financial givers into broad categories so that notes are personal, relevant and specific.
- Facilitate a leadership book study or devotional on the topic of financial management. Open the conversation of money and giving with leaders by exploring philanthropic heroes and the reflect on how we learn to give.
- Highlight the testimonies of donors and those who have been blessed to be able to give. Invite people within your community to share how giving has changed their life.
- Analyze the data. Even before there is an examination of individual giving data, there are trends, demographic information, constituency analysis and giving method markers that can be extremely informative.
- Tackle the questions of WHAT and WHY. Why should the Pastor know? What benefits exist when financial transparency is a value? Are there reasons that leadership team members believe that the Pastor should not know? What is the basis for these beliefs? Are our personal preferences around giving data impacted by our personal giving history and our personal experiences with money? What has happened to foster or compromise trust and integrity around stewardship issues?
At the end of the day, let no topic be so sacred as to cause us to isolate or ignore entire segments of the faith community. I have heard for the last decade, "the pastor should not know because he/she will spend different amounts of time with different people based on their giving." What I know for sure pushes back on this belief. In every faith community that I have ever been a part of, Pastors and ministers alike, already spend different amounts of time with different groups of people - we have different needs, different personalities, different seasons of life and different investment levels in volunteerism, financial support and levels of passion about our faith walk. Differences make us who we are. These same differences offer joy if we orient toward authentic relationship.
No two communities are the same. No two donors are the same. May we stop long enough to think about the possibility that secrecy is the reason why people are not more generous. Members can not fund what they do not understand and do not see. In a complex giving landscape, with religious giving as the largest sub-sector in US giving, do not allow the lack of information to drive stewardship, planning or expressions of gratitude. Assumptions about giving are often completely WRONG. We serve a generous God and the call to generosity requires more from us. Silence speaks volumes about the disconnect between how we understand fundraising and how we see resources to fulfill vision. Fundraising is Ministry, and it is a sacred practice that merits reflection, understanding, training and investment. Good conversation partners on the topic offer a wonderful starting point.
Should the pastor know? Share your thoughts and start a conversation today.
Aimee Laramore will be a featured speaker at the Howard University School of Divinity Centennial Convocation November 9th, 2016 to November 10, 2016
(Original Q & A article at InTrust Magazine) Both new and seasoned board members may need refreshers in their school’s mission and vision statements, says Aimée A. Laramore. And they may need a refresher in what their own role is in the seminary’s overall fundraising strategy. But many seminary board members can’t communicate the seminary’s vision clearly, and many administrators don’t know how best to use their boards. The result is anxiety both in the executive suite and in the boardroom.
Laramore is the director of seminary advancement at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, and she was formerly associate director at Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She also heads up a personal consulting practice, ALlyd, where she teaches and coaches organizational leaders and boards on strategic planning, governance, capacity building, and resource development.
Laramore is a member of the board of visitors at the Howard University School of Divinity. After a recent workshop she facilitated there, In Trust caught up with her to ask a few questions.
Q You started this workshop — as you do other training sessions for boards — by asking people to write down the mission and vision statements of their organization from memory. Why?
A I start with this exercise because it is important for people who have been asked to steward an institution’s resources not only to know that institution’s mission and vision, but also to be able to communicate them to people in a variety of contexts.
The lesson of the exercise is obvious: It doesn’t require much comment from me when you realize that you can’t write the mission or vision of an organization that you serve.
But there’s another, more surprising, outcome that often happens: If there are 15 people from the same institution, you might end up with 15 different statements. Some people write what they think the mission is and what they wish it would be, and some write what it used to be and what they think it is now. The point is that all members of the team need to know that mission and vision by heart and be able to communicate them with passion and clarity.
Q In what ways do theological schools benefit when board members can effectively communicate the mission?
A When board members are skilled communicators, there are more people prepared and positioned to share what’s happening at the institution. We talk about time, talent, and treasure so much that sometimes people forget an important fourth “T”: testimony. The ability to talk to others and to connect the school to venues, people, and resources that they might not otherwise have access to is an essential characteristic of a good board member.
Q What are some techniques you recommend to reinforce the importance of communicating the mission?
A Start each board or subcommittee meeting by having someone give a brief, personal testimony of how they’ve been able to share the mission or vision. When board members have a regular opportunity to express what they have done, that builds accountability. Another practice is for each board member to identify three examples or key points of the mission or vision that resonate and practice how they would relay these stories and ideas to people outside the institution.
Q Can you give an example?
A Sure. At the beginning of a recent meeting of the board of visitors of Howard University School of Divinity, a student named Lawrence Rodgers shared about a trip to Ethiopia he made with other students, professors, and Dean Alton Pollard III. He talked about how it had been personally transformational to learn about the country’s religious and cultural history.
A high point of this student’s visit to Ethiopia was being a part of the delegation to return a sacred 15th-century manuscript to Debre Libanos Monastery, one of Ethiopia’s holiest sites. Howard University had received the manuscript more than 20 years ago from an alumnus who had donated his collection. The student described the university’s painstaking efforts to return this artifact to its rightful home.
This was an effective talk — partly because it gave those of us who didn’t make the trip an example of institutional integrity and an opportunity to reflect afterward about how the Howard University School of Divinity lives the values that it considers most important. As a board member who did not attend the school, I now carry that story with me everywhere I go.
Q Switching gears a bit, what can theological schools do to help board members become more effective?
A Fundamentally, we have to see board service as an exchange — it’s both an investment by the board member in the institution, and an investment by the institution in the board member. It’s critical to provide board members tools that help them to grow in their service. These may be written materials, electronic materials, or video clips.
At the same time, part of the institution’s responsibility is to send the message that it values board members’ time. Life is busy. Institutions have to use board members’ time effectively, both when the board is in session and when it’s not.
Q How should board members think of their own relationship to the seminary’s fundraising program?
A Often theological schools dance around the development role of board members. But board members need to understand that development — attracting, cultivating, and retaining donors — is really an obligation of every stakeholder, including them.
I tell new and potential members of theological school boards that they should be able to put that institution in their top three philanthropic priorities. Additionally, an effective board member introduces the president and other key leaders to potential supporters. Board members should also be attentive to not only how we raise resources for the institution, but also how we prepare students — the next generation of church leaders — to deal with money, finance, and philanthropy.
Q Particularly for those serving on theological school boards, how would you describe the connection between faith and philanthropy?
A The root of the word philanthropy is “love of humankind.” So the connection between what we believe in our own faith tradition and our desire to love and help people is strengthened when we treat board service as an opportunity for ministry.
The financial challenges that face our theological schools and our students are a reminder to acknowledge that we serve a generous God, and that everything we do is in response to the generosity that has been shown to us. I believe generosity and gratitude are really key to how we do our work. If our worldview is no different than what’s around us, then we’ve lost sight of why we do what we do.We are enriched by our ability to give of our time, our skills, and our resources. It should not be a burden. We should be grateful for the opportunity to give.
Q How can board members be an example of generosity and mission engagement to others?
A I often ask board members how this board and this institution will be better as a result of their service. One way board members can demonstrate generosity and mission engagement is by recruiting future supporters, volunteers, or board members. Another way is sharing about the institution in formal and informal ways. I believe that a great board member is also a good teacher who can influence how his or her peers understand board service. An exceptional board member can exemplify service as both opportunity and gift; they lead by their personal investment.
Early in my consulting career, I would try to consolidate the analysis of a complex situation into a set of recommendations that were clear, concise and action worthy. It would never fail that people would ask me about doing more than the prescribed activities in an effort to move more quickly. Whether addressing change, transition, strategic planning or evaluation metrics, my clients would ask about moving more quickly. I would consistently share the importance of being intentional with small steps, and cautioned against aiming for perfection vs. progress. Two decades later, the same methodology still applies.
I have learned to be a student of change. As I read authors on the topic, the one that resonates most belongs to Dr. Kotter, an 8-Step Process for Leading Change. It was the clearest ah-ha moment when examining my day job and my consulting world, when my previous boss introduced me to his work. Kotter examines the importance of Urgency, a Guiding Coalition and a Change Vision as the 3 anchor steps for change. In my work, often I can tell within the first few meetings whether a group is truly poised for change. Strategic planning only works where there is a collective energy around working collaboratively to achieve a bigger dream. Couple the need for consensus around the most urgent issues, and the role of leadership, and you have a powerful alliance that can either make or break a process for strategic change. The analysis of core consensus, leadership, urgency and the guiding coalition (board/leadership/influencers - in action, title and investment) can forecast what the future will look like - in religious fundraising, capacity building for non-profit institutions, and just about everything in between.
The framework that I have introduced to dozens of clients has been IPOP - Intentional Progress Over Perfection. The idea is simple, creating small wins starts with making progress from where you are, with intentional movement toward where you aspire to be. A score card in strategic planning offers a simple tool for transparency and accountability. Avoid a glossy notebook with colored tabs and mounds of material few will read. Replace it with strategic directives that answer basic questions:
- What are our core values and beliefs?
- What are the 3 - 5 goals that will guide the next 12 - 18 months?
- Who are the people responsible for leading change?
- What are the strategies and timelines for achieving the goals set forth?
- How will we know that progress has been made?
It is a privilege to be the guest facilitator for organizations, religious institutions and non-profit entities. As part of our collaborative work, I invite participants to understand IPOP and make it a part of life. Serving as Associate Director for Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, we often ask the question, "What does your tomorrow look like? or How do you define success?" I believe it is as important for organizational cultures as it is for individuals. Today's post came out of a reflection about my own life, as much as my consulting practice. Vacation has a way of magnifying experiences in a way that the busy nature of life does not allow. Strategic planning often asks busy organizations to step back and take a balcony view, a process that I teach in my day job as we examine Adaptive Leadership. When you take a balcony view you see things in a new light and with a different perspective than traditional schedules allow. I'm reminded about Gordon MacDonald's Ordering Your Private World, my annual reminder about time, perspective and priorities.
We all get the same amount of time in any given day. How are you spending your 1,440? Our quest, live simply, making progress to the vision that drives each of us. As a woman of faith, that vision is anchored in what God is calling me to do, beyond what I can see for myself. As a wife and mother, that vision is anchored in the lives of 5 people, not just the face I see when I look into the mirror. As a consultant, strategist and professional in the field of faith & philanthropy, that quest is to make a difference in the lives of organizations, by helping to manage change and transition, anchored in vision. Intentional progress requires a honest analysis of where you are, and a hopeful working spirit, dedicated to where you aspire to be. There are a variety of clients, partners, congregations and thought-leaders who have re-anchored my commitment to this process. STEM education has meant that my orientation to systems and process are as methodically as my peers who have embraced quality control, systems analysis or the diverse engineering or technology paths.
More importantly, God has reminded me, like my conversation partners, I am a beautiful work in progress. I'm celebrating progress, over perfection, and working hard to measure my actions so that the strategic steps are anchored in what I have learned over the years - and all that I still have to learn. IPOP isn't a catch phrase, it is a lifestyle and a way of being. My clients understand that together we are working toward the next step, not a perfect ideal. One step at a time. My progress, and your progress, is both full of impact and beautiful. A day in Union Grove, North Carolina has reminded me - when you can't see the forest for the trees - look first, at the tree. Progress starts with a step.