Money will always follow mission, vision and values - and there is nothing to apologize for when you operate as your authentic self.
Is it possible in our faith communities to be honest about the things we don’t understand?
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