By Susan Cooper, Kansas communications associate director
Rev. Clif Christopher, author of “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate,” believes most churches ask for money in completely the wrong way.
Instead of showing the value of donating to the church’s ministry, they give a “doom and gloom” picture of the budget and even how close the church is to closing the doors for good.
|Rev. Clif Christopher, center, believes churches should tell the stories of their ministries. (photo by Susan Cooper)|
“If you expect success, you must answer the question, ‘Why do you deserve the support you’re asking people to give you?’”
He said non-profits—not churches—have identified the correct way to elicit donations.
“People want to see evidence. Where are the lives that are being changed? Non-profits communicate how they’re changing lives over and over again,” Christopher said.
Non-profits are dependent on people choosing to give money, so the non-profits can do their missions.
“They craft everything around why people choose to give,” he said.
The cover stories in their newsletters are usually about how a specific person’s life was changed.
“They’re telling you a story that, when you read it, makes you feel, ‘By golly, I gave my money, and something was done.’”
Christopher said the number one reason people give is that they believe in the institution. They believe it is a place that’s changing lives. It’s a place where they want to give. If they don’t believe in it, they don’t give anymore. They’re choosing to give where they see an impact being made, where they’re changing lives.
As an example, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital does a half-hour infomercial four times a year.
|Including church budgets and dire predictions don’t inspire people to give.|
|People give to organizations that demonstrate results.|
“What do I see in our church newsletters? Do I see the story of someone who’s found Jesus, who’s found new life? Do I get a witness to your mission? No. I might get a little Kansas communications associate directorial about Lent or announcements. Reading about a women’s group bazaar doesn’t make me want to give my 10 percent.
“If I keep flipping the pages, I’ll find out how short they are this year, how close they are to bankruptcy.”
Another reason people give to non-profits is belief in the organization’s fiscal stability.
“No one wants to give to a sinking ship,” Christopher said.
“You won’t find bad news in non-profit newsletters. They know that doesn’t motivate people to give. They talk about what they’ve done and how more money can expand on that.”
Many churches operate “in the hole” for 11 months of the year. December is the month when people give the most and when churches go back “in the black.” Christopher said there’s nothing unusual about that.
However, this seems to encourage churches to highlight how much they’re “in the red” throughout the year.
“Pastors are told to ‘give it to the congregation’ from the pulpit,” Christopher said.
The reasoning for presenting a dire financial situation seems to be, “when they see how far behind we are, they’ll throw their wallets at the chancellery. That’s the dumbest reasoning I’ve ever heard!”
Focusing on debt is founded on the fear that people will quit giving if a church has a financial surplus. But successful non-profits don’t give messages about being behind financially, and people believe the non-profits are using their money wisely.
Churches need to promote what they do. The Church’s “product” is changed human beings, according to Christopher.
A cross in front of a church is advertising, “This is a place of changed lives. This is a place where Jesus can change your life,” Christopher said.
Churches should be telling the story of those changed lives.
“Before you start cutting budgets, maybe you should have a meeting and ask, ‘How are we changing lives?’”
It’s also important to remember to thank the congregation for giving.
“Every non-profit is aware of the need to thank their donors. We are the worst at thanking our donors. Non-profits send thank-yous within 24 hours of receiving donations. All we do is send a statement of giving at the end of the year after our members have donated 52 times during the year,” Christopher said.
“People react positively to being thanked. Down the road, this helps stewardship. If members notice the pastor appreciates them, they’re more willing to give back.”