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 Learn more about the CSN at .

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.

It’s Ingathering Time! Thinking About Spring Yet?

It’s that time of year. UUs all over the country are “coming home,” catching up with each other from Summer adventures, and starting to think about the coming holiday season. If you are part of your congregation’s stewardship team, now is the time you should be thinking still further ahead.

If your primary budget drive or similar activity takes place soon after the first of the calendar year, you should already be well into your planning cycle. If your campaign begins in the Spring, now is the time to start laying the ground work. Why plan so far ahead? Let’s take a look.

Some congregations go into their campaign with two handicaps that need not exist. Don’t let yours be one of them.

First, they start too late in their planning cycle, resulting in a rushed program that is exhausting for the stewardship team, amateurish in the eyes of the congregation, and unsatisfactory in results. Do the math when looking at the calendar; it may appear that there are weeks and weeks ahead of you. But subtract holidays, other church activities that make demands on volunteer and leader time, personal and working obligations of key people – before you know it, there is little or no time available to carry out a good campaign.  A good rule of thumb is to start planning 6-9 months out before your campaign begins. Allowing enough time changes everything – better results, better energy, better everything.

Second, some congregations suffer from what I call the “One Year Syndrome.” They don’t have 10 or 20 years of experience (or however long the congregation has existed). They have 1 year of experience 10 or 20 times. Every year seems to carry some surprise in what a good campaign requires. This is not unusual in volunteer based organizations, but it’s not all that difficult to ameliorate.

Start a good information capture process by ending every campaign with a team session (including at least some of your visiting stewards if that was, as I hope it was, a part of your campaign) dedicated to a lessons learned review. It need not be a long and complex review. Just review the components of the campaign, what went well or less than well, what needs to be preserved or changed, and who will own the process of ensuring its right next year. When the planning for the next campaign starts, begin with reviewing these notes.

Now, institutionalize those lessons learned by building a reference book over the years. Review the set every few years to isolate trends, both good and bad. This provides institutional memory and builds on success.

Follow these guidelines and you can expect to have a better campaign, have more fun doing it, and help institutionalize excellence in your congregation. Enjoy!

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 Learn more about the CSN at

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, August 15, 2014

Do You Have a Stewardship and Resources Farm Team?

Thoughts on Growing Our Own Stewardship and Financial Leaders

Bill Clontz, UUA Stewardship Consultant

You don’t have to have been a participating member of a congregation for very long before you realize a couple of very important truths:

  1. While all our volunteer efforts are genuinely important, some constitute the lifeblood of our congregation; if they go poorly, we all suffer the consequences. Foremost among these is our Resources Team: Stewardship, Budget Drive, Finance, Endowment, Fundraising, Treasurer, and the Endowment.

  2. We often put good people in bad situations. For example, we ask them to serve on our Board and to assume financial oversight and responsibility for the congregation, with little or no preparation.

Both of these situations are all too common, put congregations at risk, and stress out good leaders. Fortunately, both can be resolved fairly easily, using the same tool.

I grew up in a minor league baseball town and so baseball analogies come to me often. Some years ago, I was pondering the problems noted at the outset of this blog and a baseball analogy came to mind that anyone, sports inclined or not, can readily grasp. I was pondering these challenges and found myself thinking “We need a farm team.”

Here is the structure for solving these problems. It doesn’t happen overnight, but quicker than you might expect, it gets the congregation on the road to strength and wellness in dealing with resources and leader development.

STEP 1: Recognize that not everyone is born to be a treasurer or on the stewardship team. People need some help getting into the task at hand, so provide them with good, accurate position descriptions, a good list of references and reading, and perhaps some counterparts in the congregation or in your cluster to talk with when they hit a speed bump along the way.  The Congregational Stewardship Network, the UUA web site, the MONEY email group based out of the UUA web site, and the Stewardship Facebook Lab all can help provide these resources. Consider developing a short training program as a cluster project.

STEP 2: When recruiting someone for one of these Resources positions, let them know they will have help and guidance and they are joining a multidisciplinary team that works together. Accordingly, at some point in 2-3 years, they may be invited to take a break and then join one of the other Resource Team components. For example, serve on the Stewardship Committee for 3 years, take a year off, then come back for 2-3 years on the Finance Committee. And so on. No one is obligated to follow the multi-track path, but they are invited to do so, to become part of your congregation’s resources brain trust. They can decide one invitation at a time.

STEP 3: Provide a forum for these various teams to work together and to get to know each other in terms of their respective responsibilities. Some congregations bring them together 2-4 times a year under a Resources Council, chaired by a board member, others have the finance committee call a gathering periodically. By whatever means, they share goals, processes, best practices, and talk about possible rotation of some members over the next year or so, as well as shared lists of potential new members. I am a big fan of such teams having an explicit objective of adding at least one new member every year, rather than starting to look around when someone is ready to leave. Refresh and rotate on a planned basis.

STEP 4: Charge the leader of each of these resource teams to keep an updated and useful transition notebook to share with her/his successor. The book should have, as a minimum, the minutes of meetings, any work products developed during the leader’s tenure, and lessons learned during their tenure.

STEP 5: As farm team members go through two or more rotations, ensure your nominating or leader development team knows they have this experience and begins to consider them for nomination to the board in the near future.

That’s it. Not very complicated, is it? It does take a bit of planning an some monitoring, but once the system is in place, its almost self-perpetuating and yields outstanding results. As a side benefit, once the model begins to show results, other parts of the congregation are likely to develop similar models, to everyone’s benefits.

So, let’s...PLAY BALL!

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 Learn more about the CSN at

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, July 14, 2014

One Thousand Points of Light or a Mighty Grid of Connections?

Reflections from UUA General Assembly 2014
by Bill Clontz, UUA Stewardship Consultant

This year’s General Assembly is now in the history books, and a fine one it was. A record number of workshops (including one co-hosted by yours truly), a healthy turnout, and an air of transition, as many long time leaders at various levels of the UUA are retiring or ending elected service about now.

One of the best things about GA is that it encourages, almost forces, us all to get out of our shell and think about the broader meaning of being a UU beyond our campus, experiencing being in community with thousands of other UUs. It’s a lesson we can apply in stewardship as well.

I am always a bit surprised when I find a congregation struggling with some aspect of its stewardship program as though they were all alone and they were facing a completely unique problem. Each situation does have unique aspects, but so too does each have aspects that many others have faced successfully.

GA is the physical embodiment of the connectivity that awaits us, if we choose to reach out. It is a reminder that we have help all around us. There are hundreds of UU congregations out there ready to share their lessons learned with you as well. Here are some of the options available to you right now to tap into that collective wisdom.

The Congregational Stewardship Network (CSN): The Congregational Stewardship Network has provided stewardship consulting services to hundreds of Unitarian Universalist congregations since 1985. CSN provides a variety of services to individual congregations, clusters, Districts, and Regions, including Next Steps Visits, support for Annual Budget Drives and Capital Campaigns, advice on Planned Giving, Financial Feasibility Studies, Mission and Vision Development, Strategic Planning, and advice on Building Loans and Grants. Find CSN at

UUA Email Groups (list serves): Over 200 specialty groups exchange ideas and archive discussions. Two of the best are those dedicated to LEADERSHIP and MONEY (stewardship included). Find them at

UU Facebook Labs: There are well over two dozen of these , one in particular focusing on stewardship. Good discussions often lead to private follow on exchanges of helpful information. To find them, sign into Facebook and enter “UU Lab” in the search window and you will find a list of sites you may join.

FORTH: FORTH is a stewardship development program designed to help Unitarian Universalist congregations grow a year round culture of stewardship. The program includes FORTH Partners, an interactive community of congregational leaders who meet online, on the phone, and sometimes in person. Find out more about FORTH at

Clusters: Clusters are, in my view, the wave of the future. They are small groups of congregations that come together to share information and ideas. Most are located close to each other to facilitate face to face meetings, but some are focused on particular issues and may be thousands of miles apart. They communicate quite well using Skype, Zoom, AnyMeeting, or any number of other tools ready to use. Clusters also pool their resources to sponsor stewardship workshops with their Regions and the Congregational Stewardship Network. Send me a message at if you have questions about such workshops.

UUA, Regional and District References: Many districts and Regions have substantial online resources in the form of samples, on demand workshops, etc. , as does the UUA ( Take a few moments to peruse UUA, regional, and district sites for information on stewardship. By the way, you can usually gain access to the information available in other districts and regions, not just your own. The Central East Regional Group (CERG) in particular has a vast library you may wish to check out (

So you are not all alone out there! Reach out, learn from others and offer your lessons and experience to others 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 Learn more about the CSN at .

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.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Suffer the Children to Come Unto Me" or "Hey, You Kids, Get Off My Lawn!"

Wondering Why You are Losing Youth Members?
There Might be a Stewardship Connection.  

By Bill Clontz, UUA Stewardship Consultant

Many congregations report that after their Youth graduate from high school, the congregation and the denomination lose them. Some return in a few years, some not until they have children of their own, some never return. This is not a uniquely UU problem, but that is cold comfort, and we should not be willing to accept this as inevitable. How you approach stewardship with these valued members may be a part of the problem you may not have considered.

I am struck how many congregations have no approach at all to engage their Youth in stewardship. The dominant thought, to the extent it has been raised at all, is that teens don’t have many resources; expecting any financial contribution is unrealistic.  This is problematic.

First, it communicates that a Youth member is not a real member, but some sort of junior affiliate. Membership should entail some commitments; to exclude an entire group from this part of membership leaves them outside the circle that connects the rest of the members.

Second, this devalues membership. People value something to which they commit resources more than something that comes free and without commitment. I worked for several years on programs providing training for developing countries. Without exception, we found the recipients far more committed and more demanding of themselves and others when they made even a modest financial investment in the program. The same usually applies to individuals as well as communities and governments.

Third, this approach fails to start a life-long pattern just when it should be in place. It is certainly true that most teens have very few resources; the amounts are relatively unimportant.  Living the ideal that we share what we have and we invest in those values is what is important. Not doing so communicates we don’t mean it when we say being a part of a UU community is a major decision.

Some congregations get this; the difference it makes is striking. I have visited congregations in which even very young children are a part of the stewardship process, helping collect food donations for special Sunday collections. It is clear to Youth members at the time of joining that they are expected to share and contribute as they can. Young members serve on the stewardship committee, provide testimonials, and serve as visiting stewards. In other words, they are full members. Their contributions are valued. Youth who mature in such an environment know they are respected and are full members of their communities. How about your young members?

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
 Learn more about the CSN at

This blog has a new posting each mid-month. You may check this site directly, or add it to your RSS feed.

Comments and discussion are always welcome; share your experiences with us.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On What Foundations Do We Build Our Stewardship? Part 2

By Bill Clontz, UUA Stewardship Consultant

Last month we introduced a set of stewardship principles developed by a UU lay leader and a UU minister that lays out in clear language what a healthy stewardship environment looks like and what standards such an environment called for from UUs.

We reviewed the first five principles last month. Herewith, are the remaining five.  Enjoy and reflect – this is good guidance.

Principles for Healthy Stewardship

6. Human and financial resources are precious, and must be used responsibly.   
Our stewardship program must not depend on large numbers of volunteer leaders or hundreds of hours of professional staff time; nor should it ask our members to make substantial time in their schedules for stewardship activities.

7. A ministry of stewardship needs the consistency and support that can only come from professional leadership. 
Stewardship is such an important ministry in the church that its leadership should come from a minister and/or other professional staff member.

8. Different people are motivated to give for different reasons, and prefer to make their gifts in different ways.  
A complete ministry of stewardship needs to appeal to a variety of motivations, and provide a variety of avenues for giving throughout the church year.

9. Our children are our future, and we need to include stewardship in programs for children and youth. 
The goals of stewardship education are similar to the goals of sexuality education: to remove the stigma through openness and factual information, and to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors.

10. Everyone needs to be part of the conversation. It’s not OK to opt out. 
Practicing liberal religion is at least as demanding as more dogmatic faiths. We believe that talking about stewardship one-on-one or in a small group every year or two is a necessary condition for the health of this church and for our own development as members of a religious community.

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 Learn more about the CSN at .

This blog has a new posting each month, at midmonth. You may check this site directly and you may add it to your RSS feed. Comments and discussion are always welcome on this site; share your experiences with us.