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The 5% Solution! Fundraising and Stewardship in Our Congregations

UU University 2007 Event
Presenter: Rev. Laurel Hallman

The Unitarian Universalist University welcomed programming leader, The Reverend Laurel Hallman, for a two session series on fostering our generosity in congregational life. Rev. Hallman is the Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, TX (1000+ members), the author of Living by Heart: A Guide to Spiritual Practice, a veteran of over thirty years of fundraising campaigns, and a frequent presenter on diverse topics of interest in religious communities.

In each session she spoke to more than a hundred congregational leaders, responding to their questions and concerns around implementing successful stewardship programs and campaigns. These leaders represented congregations of varying size, geography and governance models. They came with the common interest in making their congregational fundraising efforts more effective.

In the first session, titled Generosity 101: Starting from the Beginning, Rev. Hallman drew upon her three decades of fundraising experience, as minister and lay leader in the congregations she has served. She described her understanding of the foundational elements of successful fundraising, learned from the late Jack Jones, a professional fundraiser who worked with her (then) employer, Unity Church of Minneapolis/Saint Paul. Key among these elements, are what Rev. Hallman refers to as credibility and clear, consistent "asking". In her presentation, she encouraged the attendees to first 'do church well' and establish credibility in support of fundraising efforts. Establishing credibility includes inviting pledging leaders to ask, a "don't ask anyone for less than you are pledging" ethic. The consistent asking (in Rev. Hallman's examples and practice—5% of income, or what she referred to as a half tithe) is applied to all potential giving, regardless of capacity and income.

Rev. Hallman challenged the leaders in the room to consider conversations about money as religiously valid as conversations about ethics and spirituality. She returned frequently to the theme of "We are a generous people, we are a generous church and our commitment follows our values." After the introduction to the elements of Stewardship, Rev. Hallman responded to questions, insights, and concerns from the group. At one point she responded to a question about excess income with the rejoinder, "If you have enough to do everything you want to do in the church—you're not doing enough!" She went onto explain that in part, the work of the church is to give individuals a context and a vehicle for their philanthropy. And finally, she invited the attendees to consider the messages implied in silence about money. Rev. Hallman asserts that celebrating the financial generosity of individuals is as valid as celebrating contributions of skill, interests, time and talent. She maintains that all give within their capacity, and for some, their gift is the greater amount of money they have to give to the work of the church.

In the second session, titled Beyond Basic Structures, Rev. Hallman acknowledged the realities of contemporary life, changing cultures, and technology which influence our current stewardship practices. The foundational elements, while still valid, may be applied through a different set of strategies. Rev. Hallman suggested that once the foundational elements of fundraising are in place, possible changes and adaptations become more readily apparent. As during the earlier session, she responded to attendees' questions, concerns and insights, expressing appreciation for the reminder to look to cultures and traditions in which high levels of generosity are evident. In response to one question, she repeated the challenge to all fundraisers to create moments of commitment and pass them forward, to encourage families to have conversations about the nature of their commitment, the price tag they might apply to those values, and to pass those commitments on to others and to subsequent generations. In closing, Rev. Hallman commended the additional resources, Beyond Fundraising: The Complete Guide to Congregational Stewardship, UUA, 2007, Wayne Clarke; Asking Emerson and Church, 2002, Jerome Panas, and Creating Congregations of Generous People: Money, Faith and Lifestyle Series, Alban Institute, 1999, Mike Durrall.

Both sessions were well received. Scott, the treasurer of a small mid-sized congregation reflected "I got less of the nuts and bolts I was expecting, but a lot more in terms inspiration and framing." In a room full of lay leaders, heads nodded, pens worked furiously and laughter erupted in response to Rev. Hallman's relaxed and storied presentation.

In a post session interview Rev. Hallman explained that the structure of her presentation is a model for the type of conversations she encourages in the congregation. Her hope and expectation is that normalizing and demystifying congregational conversations about money will create an environment where the integration of money and values becomes the culture of that congregation.

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This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, June 22, 2011.

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