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 firstname.lastname@example.org, via the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Network (CSN),
(http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml), or through the Southern Region staff.