What to Communicate to Church Financial Contributors
Take the 2008-2010 recession, add in a highly complex biological threat, and stop meeting in person as a church for a while. Sprinkle it with regular messages from social media spreading half-truths and misinformation. Top it with the possibility that people’s livelihood may be threatened with each stay-at-home day that destabilizes our economy. In 2020, what is this recipe for?
Not knowing what to say to donors when your giving starts to decline.
Take it from a guy who lives near Detroit, this is not for the faint of heart. The complexity of sharing both pastoral concern and financial realities is graduate level communication. But saying nothing is not an option. We will all be imperfect in our attempts to manage the circumstances these days. But try we must. In light of this, I want to offer a few thoughts (and sample wording) for your consideration.
Many churches in our country are led by a single pastor. For those who employ staff, the care and communication need to start with walking the staff through the financial realities and the possible consequences in a way that model transparency and concern. Then, and only then, can we widen the circle of communication to include the congregation.
We will all be imperfect in our attempts to manage the circumstances these days. But try we must. In light of this, I want to offer a few thoughts (and sample wording) for your consideration.
1. Express Pastoral Care
The bottom line is that we are called to serve and love one another. If we were going to have a bias in any direction right now, it should be to make sure that we are caring for both people’s felt needs and their spiritual challenges at a time like this. Church leaders exhibit faith when they trust that God will provide for the church and its leaders (particularly ones that get paid by the church) when we offer a hand out for consolation and help, not a hand extended for a contribution.
2. Show Gratitude
There is so much to be thankful for and both modeling and expressing gratitude is in great need right now. At a time when we could focus on what we are losing, we can instead focus on the beauty of how people are serving each other, still contributing to the church and expressing generosity toward their neighbors. Be thankful for the church, the congregation, its history and its uncertain future. God has and will provide for us in unexpected ways.
3. Report on Continued Mission
So many churches have pivoted and almost immediately figured out ways to still minister to people inside and outside the church. Use this opportunity to report to and remind people that you are still in business. Use specific examples of how the church and its leaders and members are adjusting methodology to stay as focused and “in motion” as possible. Because of our isolation, people may not be aware of the ways we have already been able to meet the challenges in front of us.
4. Define Financial Reality
Many of us in church leadership do not have a regular or effective way to talk about this in the first place. So now, under a level of duress, it seems even more daunting. But people are not unaware – they know this will be challenging to their church. And there is little doubt our churches and their futures will be different. Let’s just start to talk about it in a healthy and natural way. Most churches have had to immediately make adjustments on how they spend resources – both strategically (we are choosing to spend money on ____ instead of what we normally do) and because of limited funds (we have suspended some of our programs and expenses). This is not time for veiled threats or manipulation (if we don’t keep the giving up, this church will no longer exist). But it may be time for enumerating some stark realities (there will be a point when we will not be able to employ the current staff).
5. Make a Gracious Ask
This is the trickiest part, but believe me, other organizations will not be afraid to ask. So, with your best, most calm and gracious approach, ask people to continue to give consistently – especially if they are able. The bottom line is that some people are, always have been, and will continue to be able to give. Speak to people with steady income in a different way than people who are experiencing loss or jeopardy. Also recognize that people that are holding back from giving to the church may be doing so for beautiful and Christ-honoring reasons: taking care of family or neighbors who are out of work or in need of food and supplies. Though this is difficult, remember that you need not be ashamed to ask – your mission is a worthy one. God will lead people to respond in the way that he wants to supply your church.
6. Offer Instructions
In a time of adjustment, where many people are still not accustomed to digital giving or mailing a check to the church office, being very explicit about methods is critical. Assume people need crystal clear instructions and eliminate their hurdles by offering a person with whom they can talk. As savvy as most people in our congregations are (many older members understand technology more than we give them credit for sometimes) we still want to offer them a person and not a computer screen only.
Consider the following letter as a possible email (or paper letter) to go out to your congregation. It is a generic template, but you can spice it up with your style, personality, and examples from your church.
NOTE: This is very similar to what I would recommend as the content for your online offering moment, so keep the same principles in mind for a verbal version of this communication.
Dear Greg and Andrea,
First of all, I want to express my love and concern for you at this crazy time in history. I never thought we would experience something like this. If there is a way I can serve you or the church can reach out to help, please let us know.
Thank you for being a part of this congregation. I feel especially grateful for how God has put us together. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. I am feeling that more than ever these days.
Have you seen some of the creative ways God has allowed us to help those in need? I am so excited about _______. I also was thrilled to see _________. This encourages me about our congregation and our ability and desire to stay on mission.
The reality is, our church is changing now and will likely need to adjust to a new mode in the foreseeable future. Our giving has started to decline a bit, and that is understandable. We have trimmed everything we can but will continue to look at ways to make further adjustments (including reductions in payroll when and if necessary). No doubt, many organizations and businesses are doing the same.
I want to ask you, if you are able, to continue your financial support of the church. For some, who are experiencing job loss, this may feel overwhelming and I am not meaning that at all. You may have to hit “pause” for now in certain ways you are able to give. For others, your income is steady. I am asking you to stay consistent in your giving as others may not have that blessing right now.
As a reminder, you can always mail a check to the church, but we have safe ways to give digitally. This includes text to give, bank transfer, and credit and debit cards. It is explained very clearly on our website, but if you need any help, please call Jane Unger at 212-555-1212 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, as always, if there is anything we can do for you or someone in your network of friends and family, do not hesitate to ask.
Pastor Rob Taylor