After attending several workshops on stewardship at General Assembly and being in the room for several very successful “asks” during worship services, here’s what I want to tell you about raising money for our operating fund, our annual budget drive, from my perspective.
All fundraising is relational. It is about your relationship with the organization and/or the person asking you for a gift. Yes, you read that right–the way this works best is to be asked by a person who truly believes in the worthiness of the institution they are representing. It is also about being able to tell a compelling story that shows the worthiness of the institution in (at least) one particular case.
At General Assembly’s Service of the Living Tradition (the one where Rev. Lisa was recognized as attaining Final Fellowship), a particular UU minister, Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, told his story of how money from the Living Tradition Fund was vital to saving his family after they were inundated by medical bills after the near-death of his son. At the Saturday morning General Session, Kenny Wiley, a quite amazing black UU, delivered an impassioned appeal about funding a relatively new group, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, being fairly specific about using funds for funding UUs of color to attend more UU gatherings such as General Assembly. This appeal resulted in a collection double the average amount collected at a Saturday General Session.
At a gathering of people who had no prior relationship to Meadville Lombard Theological School but were invited to a breakfast because they had registered for GA, Denny Davidoff described the programs of the school, showed a 7-minute video of a specific student’s financial journey through the school, and then asked for donations. Meadville Lombard left with $101,000 in donations before the end of the breakfast.
So why can’t we do that? Having been involved now in 4 separate annual fund drives at UUCA, I can tell you what I have seen. I have seen two dysfunctions in the congregation that have negatively impacted our fundraising. One is that many people in the congregation are highly resistant to any reference to money or fundraising at all. We hear, “All we ever talk about is money,” or “the only time I’m contacted is for the annual budget drive,” or “‘they are always asking me for money.” Non-church non-profits ask for support over and over and over. Maybe you won’t give on this ask, but then a different story, a different program, may resonate with you and you give. The organization requires money to operate, we need to ask for it. That’s all there is to it.
And then there’s that resistance to talking with a visiting steward about money. Yes, it is likely that we can only muster a contact of everyone in the congregation once a year. As we learned during the Combined Capital/Annual Campaign, it is a massive undertaking to organize an every-member campaign. So, we combine our objectives. A single visit incorporates a discussion about your commitment and connection to the congregation, a discussion about the worthiness of this organization (do you believe UUCA should exist? why?), and a request for support—usually an increase in support since our expenses continually rise if for no other reason than modest inflation.
As long as our church culture resists the “money” word and opportunities to discuss our congregation’s future, I don’t see how we will be able to 1) continue maintaining our current staffing level and 2) find volunteers who are willing to run an annual budget drive when it is such a frustrating endeavor and 3) eventually maintain our campus. I know we are better people than this. We understand that every charitable organization literally runs on money. No money, no organization. Is UUCA worthy of our time and money? Is it actually worth more to you, more to Asheville, more to the region, than you are currently giving? I would love to hear YOUR story of a time when you experienced the worthiness of UUCA. Because this is the conversation we need to be engaged in.
Linda is Director of Administration at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville.