Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why Should We Support the Region and the UUA?

by Bill Clontz

In 2012, the UUA and the Southern Region embarked on a new course to improve how we share our resources. GIFT, Generously Investing For Tomorrow, is intended to be a simpler and more equitable program for providing the resources that enable our UUA and Southern Region team to serve our congregations and to represent our values and priorities at levels we could not do as individual congregations. 

To provide information and to encourage reflection on GIFT, the Southern Region has provided a number of GIFT information tools on this web site, including most recently a set of GIFT FAQs. This blog will, from time to time, focus on one of those FAQs in an expanded discussion. Today we are examining a fundamental question: Why should we share our resources when congregations already feel financially challenged?

As the question and response below emphasize, this goes in many ways to the heart of our relationships with each other, as individual Unitarian Universalists and as an Association of Congregations. 

Q: Congregations are financially strapped, not long in coming out of the recession (and some have yet to do so). We feel that our first obligation is to our own programs and ministries. Why should we support increased commitments that are expected from some to District, Region, and the UUA now?

A: Resources are indeed stretched, as they always are, and so we make any requests for resources carefully. The GIFT program was created with this reality in mind.

Ours is a covenantal Association.  We exist on the basis of mutuality. Each congregation expects the UUA to provide support, expertise, search and settlement assistance, religious education curricula, social justice resources, conflict management, and worship materials. The UUA is expected to represent us regionally, nationally, and globally, and to do those things we cannot do as effectively alone. In keeping with the mutuality that connects us, the UUA counts on congregations to provide the resources that in turn enable the Association to support congregations. us, 

The fact of the matter is that the covenantal nature of our Association means that congregations in your district and region, as well as in all other areas of the country, depend on your support. Your giving locally makes a strengthened Unitarian Universalism available to others. This is what your covenantal support means, and what it provides.  Our relationship is real-time, dynamic, and mutually supportive. We do not have the luxury of taking care of our home congregation first, and then supporting the UUA at some future date, or vice versa. Our tradition will not thrive without all of us participating at a generous level. The districts, regions, and the UUA have undertaken a wide range of cost saving measures, increased efficiencies, and are working hard to ensure best use of our shared precious resources. Staffing is lower at all levels and redundancies have been targeted. The organization is as lean as it has ever been. 

Much of this discussion will revolve around how we see ourselves as a larger community. If we are simply a thousand or so outposts out there alone, then our focus truly is inward, with the districts and the UUA being little more than servicing organizations. 

But as we increasingly see ourselves as an Association consisting of vibrant communities joined by covenant, then we will be both independent and networked. This vision allows us to mutually support each other, to reach those yet to find us, and to stand for our values in ways we cannot do just as individual congregations. If we believe that Unitarian Universalism has something significant to offer the world, then we need to commit to our Association and to each other by resourcing that relationship in a meaningful way.

In other words, the GIFT program is not simply a matter of what congregations get back from the UUA and district or region in return for funds. Rather, GIFT offers us the opportunity to put our values of interdependence, equity, and generosity into practice. 

There is nothing more important to most of us than the transforming inspiration we have experienced in our congregations. Our support of the GIFT program makes that experience available to people outside of the walls of our individual communities. We have a story to tell and work to do – and the only way we can do that, is together.

As noted before in this space, it has always been a source of concern and irritation to me that Unitarian Universalism is so small a movement; we have much to offer and should be a greater presence. One reason we find ourselves so is that we often focus inward, just on our individual congregations. This FAQ discussion reminds us that we are more than just a collection of congregations; we are part of something larger and of enormous potential. How well that potential is realized depends directly on us, and our willingness to share for the common good. 

As always, your questions, comments, and suggestions are welcomed by your Regional Congregational Life Staff Primary Contact, the Congregational Giving Director, or at a dedicated email address at the UUA: southerngenerosity@uua.org.

Bill Clontz is a stewardship consultant with The Stewardship for Us Team, supporting the UUA. Bill can be reached via bill@stewardshipforus.com,via the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Network, (http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml ), or through your regional staff.
This blog has a new posting no less than once a month. You may find it and more at our website, www.stewardshipforus.com. You are welcome to sign up for stewardship updates at the blog. Comments and discussion are always welcome; share your experiences with us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Oh, Yeah! I Forgot About That Pledge Thing.

For many congregations, tis the season of the annual budget drive. As a stewardship consultant, I talk with many congregations, especially at this time of year, as well as with the Regions and the UUA. I observe an unintentional trend among us that we all should be interested in eliminating.
If you are a congregational leader or a stewardship volunteer, I bet a conversation something like the following will be familiar to you:
“How is the budget drive coming along? We are at about the three-quarters point on the calendar.”
“Well, the commitments that are in look very good – people seem to be giving this serious thought and are responding generously. But we only have about 20% of the commitments in, so it’s hard to know how we are doing.”
“Oh, swell. That means that once again our volunteers will have to spend hours calling people asking them to make their commitments. Most people do when asked, but what a poor use of our volunteer time. Still, we have to do it, so the leadership knows what they have to work with for a budget.”
Sound familiar? People don’t mean to delay, but doing so puts our leadership in a difficult position for planning and makes our volunteers do unnecessary work. If we would all commit to an early and thoughtful response to the call for contributions, we would make life remarkably easier for a lot of good people. The rule in our house is that no more than two weeks after receiving the information, we make our commitment. That request for a commitment is not wine – it doesn’t get better with age! Let’s respond promptly and generously – please.
Now, let’s take that discussion up a level or two higher. At the same time you and I are working out our congregational budgets, the Regions and the UUA are doing the same at their levels. We all sent in our certified data by 1 February, yet as we begin moving into spring, a number of congregations have yet to make their commitments to the Annual Program Fund (or the GIFT program for the Southern Region).
To highlight what should be an obvious point, the regions and the UUA are we. They serve us and our priorities, and in so doing they rely on us for predictable and sufficient resources. Without timely and generous commitments, they cannot plan effectively or carry out programs in the way we would expect. Imagine if your boss said, “I ‘m sure we will pay you next week, I’m just not sure how much or exactly when. Check with me later and maybe I will have more to tell you.” None of us would like to live like that – and we should not ask our regions or our Association to do so either.
So, how about it, fellow Unitarian Universalists? Let’s get our personal commitments in, early and generously, and let’s have the courtesy and foresight as congregational leaders to do the same for those that count on us and serve us.

Bill Clontz is a stewardship consultant with The Stewardship for Us Team, supporting the UUA. Bill can be reached via bill@stewardshipforus.com,via the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Network, (http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml ), or through your regional staff.
This blog has a new posting no less than once a month. You may find it and more at our website, www.stewardshipforus.com. You are welcome to sign up for stewardship updates at the blog. Comments and discussion are always welcome; share your experiences with us.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Roots Hold Me Close, Wings Set Me Free

Introducing the Stewardship for Us team and the Next Generation of Unitarian Universalist Stewardship.

Preserving our heritage and building our future.

Bill Clontz, Stewardship Consultant

More than a few readers will recognize the title of this article as coming from one of the best-known hymns in the Unitarian Universalist musical tradition. It perfectly describes the process Unitarian Universalist stewardship has been completing over the past five months. 

The Stewardship for Us team has been working with the UUA Congregational Life Directorate and the Congregational Stewardship Network to analyze how we can best support stewardship across the UUA. 

Our objective has been pretty straightforward, if daunting – retool everything we do to strengthen Unitarian Universalism through stewardship. Our guidelines were to honor the 20+ years of stewardship support this program represents, preserve the best of what works, find out what is needed that is not being provided, and establish new solutions for our congregations, regions, and the UUA. 

We examined our existing offerings in detail and compared best practices and tips among the stewardship consultants. We examined what other practitioners in the field of stewardship are doing well, including other denominations, nonprofits, and commercial firms. 

We interviewed and met with UUA leaders at all levels, from the UUA’s senior leadership to parish ministers and lay leaders, to confirm what they felt their congregations, regions, and organizations needed for better stewardship. They provided us with thoughtful, imaginative, and focused dialogue.  

The end result is stewardship support for the 21st Century, and a body of work that will always be subject to ongoing reexamination and improvement. Much of what results from this process will look familiar; much is new and specifically designed to provide the right assistance, in the right form, to the right communities and organizations.  An overview of where we are:

  • The same team of expert consultants, all life-long Unitarian Universalists that have served this community for years, continues to do so.
  • To save precious resources, primary management of the program has moved to the consultant team itself, now designated as preferred vendors to the UUA, with coordination continuing as previously with the UUA Director of Congregational Life and with the Congregational Stewardship Network.
  • Congregations and others are free to reach out to the Stewardship for Us team directly, or through the UUA Congregational Stewardship Network.
  • We continue to offer the programs that have proven their value (Next Steps Visits; annual budget drives; capital campaigns, mission; vision and strategic planning support; planned giving; and workshops for congregations and others).
  • New focus is available in tailored support for large and for small congregations. A schedule of webinars is being launched to support a wide range of needs throughout the year. Workshops are being offered for clusters and learning circles, at Regional gatherings, and at General Assembly.
  • Stewardship support is a team effort in the widest sense. The Stewardship for Us team is working closely with Congregational Life, the Congregational Stewardship Network, and with Regional leadership to provide the best possible, fully coordinated support.
This first edition of the stewardship blog introduces the team. Subsequent editions, which will be updated no less than monthly, will serve as a community resource focusing on core issues of stewardship, generosity, and support, best practices among congregations, and building a community of stewardship that serves the Unitarian Universalist vision. 

The blog will be accessible from the Stewardship for Us web site, on the main UUA website, and on four of five regional websites. Your comments, suggestions for topics, and dialogue are always welcome.  Those who wish to do so may sign up on the Stewardship for Us website for automatic notification of new postings.

This is an interesting time for Unitarian Universalism, one full of challenges and promise. How well we integrate stewardship with our sense of purpose and community is more important than ever. We look forward to growing, sharing, and learning from each other as we go forward. 

We hope you will reach out, see what is available to strengthen our stewardship environment, and join in the dialogue. Links are provided below. Let’s talk.

The Stewardship for Us Team: www.stewardshipforus.com 

The Congregational Stewardship Network: http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml 

Stewardship for Us supports the UUA, Regions, and congregations. You can reach us at  team@stewardshipforus.com, via the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Network (CSN), (http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml ), or through your Region staff. 

This blog has a new posting at least monthly, and often more frequently. You may receive automatic notice of new postings by signing up to do so on www.stewardshipforus.org. Comments and discussion are always welcome.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Year’s Resolutions for a Great Stewardship Program

Bill Clontz, UUA Stewardship Consultant

Well, by the time you read this you will have had ample opportunity to assess how you are doing on your New Year’s resolutions. What’s that you say? It turns out that going to the gym every day is proving problematic? Taking 30 minutes every day to write is elusive? How about we try a new set of resolutions to provide a terrific stewardship program for your congregation. These are resolutions you can actually keep! Let’s take a look at good ideas to resolve as our own.

First, start with a commitment to allocate the time to do a solid campaign. Good campaigns consistently are built on 6-9 months of planning and preparation. If you are already inside that time line, don’t despair – get busy now, and start a planning calendar for next year to give yourself enough time. Why so long? We do this with volunteers; people have competing demands and opportunities to meet and coordinate may be few and far between. 

Second, resolve to capture lessons learned – and put them to work. Plan a post-campaign review with your team members to examine what worked and what did not, figure out what you would like to do differently next time, and ask someone to take that action as theirs to make happen. Your first meeting next year should start with a second look at this review. 

Third, watch out for volunteer burnout. Resolve to bring at least one new volunteer on your team this year, and do so every year. If the same team does the work year after year, the campaign will inevitably get stale and good people will burn out. Planning and carrying out a comprehensive campaign is excellent leader training. Spread the opportunity!

Fourth, resolve to give your members really good reasons to pledge. “We’re a close community and a great church” is not enough. People have many opportunities to contribute to good causes. Make the case why this congregation should be first on that list. As a member, I want to know what my contribution will accomplish, what we could accomplish with the resources I offer.

That is a enough for one year’s resolutions. Carry these out and you are on your way. And remember – if you want to build up an exceptional and sustainable stewardship program that touches all the bases, get in touch with the stewardship consultant team at the contact points below and let’s talk about reaching your goals. We’ll even have some fun along the way.

A Special Note: If you are anywhere near Marietta, GA on Feb 21, join us for a Stewardship Saturday (Stewardship for UUs), a cluster event being hosted by The Emerson UU Congregation. For more information and registration, view the downloadable flyer here, and register here.

Bill Clontz is a stewardship consultant supporting the UUA and the Southern Region. You can reach Bill at bclontz@uua.org, via the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Network (CSN), 
(http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml ), or through the Southern Region staff. 

This blog has a new posting each mid month. You may add it to your RSS feed. Comments and discussion are always welcome; share your experiences with us.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tis the Season for Giving: Examining the Miracle of the Shared Plate

by Bill Clontz

As we move ever deeper into the holiday season, we lack for few incentives and reminders about the importance of giving and sharing. Let’s take the opportunity of this seasonal focus to observe a quite remarkable and growing trend among UU congregations – that of sharing the offering plate, not once a month, but every Sunday – and ending up with more funds (often a LOT more funds) for both the congregation and the selected charities. How is that possible?

When I first began noticing this trend about 3-4 years ago, I was skeptical, to say the least. Most congregations I know run it pretty close when it comes to the budget, and while what shows up in the offering plate is not as significant as pledges (that normally come in electronically or through the mail), the amount that comes in by the offering plate is not insignificant. A great many UU congregations have a long and proud tradition of sharing by a second collection, usually once a month or on the 5th Sunday of some months, but sharing the entire plate every month – that is quite different.

As it turns out, the evidence is overwhelming that this new level of sharing has a profound effect on congregations when it is done well. This means taking the time to explain the rationale, giving people time to think about it and talk about it, having the entire congregation participate in choosing the designated charities, and setting up an automatic review process after the first year to confirm how well it's working, and to decide how often to review the list of supported charities.

There have been many discussions and some polling on this phenomenon through the UUA email lists (especially the MONEY list service), and on a number of the UU Labs on Facebook. The results have been nearly unanimous – congregations and charities are taking in more. Increases of total intake of well over 100% from previous levels are not at all uncommon. Often the increase for charities is even greater than for the congregation, but both gain. 

People are genuinely moved by the opportunity to live our principles every single Sunday. They also like the sense of ownership that derives from selecting the supported charities. In many such congregations, the Social Justice team administers the program, but all take part in the selections of which organizations to support. Congregations frequently choose a good mix of local, national, and international charities. And visitors often note how impressive this “walk the walk” commitment is to them. Congregations that once had nearly empty collection plates (as so many of us provide electronic contributions now) find they now need larger collection plates!

Counterintuitive? Yes, but when you think about it, not really. And evidence continues to build. Here is a chance to break out as a stewardship-based congregation. Start your dialogue today.

Bill Clontz is a stewardship consultant supporting the UUA and the Southern Region. You can reach Bill at bclontz@uua.org, via the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Network (CSN), 
(http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml), or through the Southern Region staff. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Tax Man Cometh: Thinking About End of Year Giving

Bill Clontz, UUA Stewardship Consultant

We’re not fond of thinking about it, of course, but right after the holiday season, comes tax season. But take heart! There is good news here. We all have the opportunity to do some good while preparing for tax season. I’m not a financial advisor (You will likely want to consult with one before making any tax or investment related decisions. And remember, with November elections and the prospect of a lame duck congressional session, late changes and opportunities could appear – watch the news!), but experience tells me many of us can do some good as we do our personal planning.

Here are some ideas you may wish to consider:

• Charitable IRA Rollover: This tax extender encourages older Americans to give out of their Individual Retirement Accounts, a giving strategy that allows IRA owners age 70-1/2 or older to exclude up to $100,000 a year from income if the IRA funds are paid directly to certain public charities. (Otherwise, the IRA owner would have to pay tax on the IRA funds before claiming the deduction).

Congress allowed this option to expire, but it could be brought back at some point. Be prepared to take advantage of this opportunity if it is reauthorized. Many retirees do not need the money that they must take out of their IRAs in the form of a Minimum Required Distribution (MRD). Being able to donate these proceeds to their congregation can be a win-win.

• Donate Appreciated Stock: With the stock market at all-time highs, making a gift of appreciated stock could provide an important financial boost for your congregation or the UUA, and provide you with a significant tax break at the same time.

Talk to your broker about your specific situation, but know that in general you could take an immediate tax deduction for the full market value of the stock and also avoid the capital-gains tax that would be owed if cashing in the securities.

• Get a Jump Start on Your Annual Pledge: No matter when your church calendar year starts or when/how your budget drive is conducted, you know that sometime after the first of the year, you will be asked to consider your pledge for the coming church year.

Why not give that some personal reflection now, at year’s end, and make an initial judgment about an increase. Start setting aside that increase now. When the new pledge year begins, you are already at about the level you wish to be, and the increase set aside for some months can be contributed as a one-time gift – all potentially earning a tax dedication as well.

Bill Clontz is the Southern Region’s UUA stewardship consultant and a member of the Congregational Stewardship Network. You can reach Bill through the CSN, through the Southern Region staff, or at bclontz@uua.org. Learn more about the CSN at http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml. 
This blog has a new posting each mid month. You may add it to your RSS feed. Comments and discussion are always welcome; share your experiences with us.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Power of Testimonials...and the Risk

Observation 1: In all my years of working with UUs in stewardship, I have found nothing so powerful, so stirring, so effective in reminding us why we give, as a well-presented, heart-felt testimonial.

Observation 2: In all my years of working with UUs in stewardship, I have found nothing so effective a buzz kill, so much of a set back for a stewardship campaign, as a poorly prepared and poorly delivered testimonial.

Observation 3: The distance between Observation 1 and Observation 2 can be razor thin: the line is easily crossed when testimonials are left to chance and not understood for their power and value.

Testimonials are an important part of any worthy endeavor. They bring the power of witness and of personal stories that we all can relate to and celebrate. On more than one occasion, I have seen the attitude and level of commitment of an entire congregation changed by a single testimonial. This is powerful stuff, and it feels like a privilege to be in the room when such a testimonial is delivered.

I have also seen the opportunity lost, sacrificed on the alter of an inappropriate or poorly prepared testimonial, given by someone who was ill suited to the task. How do you ensure testimonials in your congregation are among the former not the latter?  By following some pretty simple guidelines. This is an area in which I often devote no small amount of time and energy to when working with congregations. We cannot cover it all here, but following are some fundamentals that will pay off just about every time.

Whether you have testimonials all year long or just for shorter periods, always think of them first not as individuals actions, but as a series of actions that work in harmony. By the end of your series or campaign just about everyone in the congregation should have had the opportunity to hear a testimonial from someone like them (young/older, gay/straight, single/family member, large donor/small donor, life time donor/first time donor, long time member/new member, etc.). Make a matrix of all the variations of people in your congregation you can think of and work towards building a slate of presentations that speak to everyone.

Next, select prospective members to give a testimonial, starting with the aforementioned set of factors. Ask people to do this one on one, not by a general call for testimonials or by leaving a message. People who are asked should understand they specifically are being invited to do this because you believe they have a story to tell and the congregation would benefit from hearing them speak. Not everyone has a good story to tell and not everyone can speak in public with a modicum of comfort. Look for people who have that story to tell and either can speak in public or can be helped to do so with a little practice.

Now, prepare the potential speakers so that they have confidence and the congregation is well served. In most cases, testimonials will relate to why people voluntarily contribute some of their wealth to the congregation, but its not necessary that all do so. Stories that explain the sharing of Time and Talent are also appropriate from time to time, as are testimonials that simply illuminate why being a UU or why being a member of your congregation is so important to the speaker. The volunteer should speak from the heart, telling their story, but its perfectly fine to share some other testimonials with them to help them think about how to do this.

One standard you should be very clear about is timing. A good testimonial need go no longer than bout two minutes. Any longer and it becomes a speech, and an unfair infringement on the overall time available for the service. If people come to expect short testimonials, they are more willing to actually listen. Timing can only be assured if you stress this point clearly and advise the volunteer to use notes, at least in practice and to time their delivery in rehearsal (yes, they need to practice before doing this “live.).

I have always found it helpful to first time speakers to offer to look over their notes/script for them, just to offer an extra set of eyes, not to censure or be a heavy handed editor. It’s also very helpful to offer to meet them a few days prior in the place where the testimonial will be given, so they can practice with an audience of one to get a feel for the sound system and how the room looks from the podium. And in the age of smart phones, it’s easy to offer to record a practice session for them, so they can see and hear themselves.  Be encouraging and constructive in your suggestions: you want this to go well, but recognize this does not always come easily to people. This should feel like an opportunity to help and to tell their story, not like a test or a burden.

On the day of the testimonial, ensure their introduction is provided for and as they expect. If its possible to film the actual testimonial, it can be used, with permission, over again, in campaign videos, on the congregation’s web site, or excerpted in campaign printed materials. Two last items: (1) Don’t forget to say THANK YOU, more than once, to the speaker, including a personal note, and (2) Start a log of testimonials so that you can remember and others will know from year to year who has been asked, how they did, and where their testimonial may be found.

That will do it. Follow these guidelines and you will have effective testimonials, with the bonus of developing a whole group of people who can engage their fellow members on the meaning of stewardship.

Bill Clontz is the Southern Region’s UUA stewardship consultant and a member of the Congregational Stewardship Network. You can reach Bill through the CSN, through the Southern Region staff, or at bclontz@uua.org. Learn more about the CSN at http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml .

This blog has a new posting each mid month. You may add it to your RSS feed. Comments and discussion are always welcome; share your experiences with us.