Likely, your congregation is in the middle of your annual response program/stewardship emphasis. You’ve worked hard introducing the program to your congregation and collecting pledge cards. Now what? Hasn’t the stewardship committee earned a season of hibernation?
While planning and launching an annual response program is important, the follow-up is just as significant. Here are my top-four tips for closing out your annual response program strong:
- Tip #1: Follow-up with people who didn’t turn in a pledge card. There are many reasons for not turning in a pledge card, and forgetfulness is often a big one! Personal follow-up allows any lingering questions to be answered and increases participation. Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in Emmaus, Pa., uses a three-part follow-up process: a general email reminder from the church secretary two weeks after the response program has started, a personal email from the stewardship chair two weeks later, and finally, a hard-copy reminder letter with another pledge card two weeks after. Many congregations choose to make personal calls to those who have not pledged – this can be a great way to build relationships and have a deeper stewardship conversation.
- Tip #2: Say “Thank you!” often. Find a few different ways to say thank you – both publically and personally – right after the annual response and all throughout the year. Augustana Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, Minn., sends a personally addressed thank-you letter to each person who made a commitment, which includes the amount that was committed. This allows them to thank members for their pledges while also confirming the amount members pledged. The council at Hillside Community Lutheran Church in Spring Hill, Kan., takes 10 minutes out of each council meeting to thank people for their generosity. They review gifts given (i.e.., money, time or service) over the past month and write heart-felt notes to the givers.
- Tip #3: Measure your success (not just with numbers!). After you collect pledge cards, record your numbers: How many households responded? Any new households? Any increases in pledging money or volunteer hours? Did you meet any goals that you set before the program started? The numbers are one important way of measuring your success, but they can never tell the whole story. Also consider recording how you’ve observed your congregation’s culture change (if at all) in response to your annual response program.
The first year that I led a stewardship program was in the fall of 2011 at the end of the economic downturn. In the midst of the bad news, I chose to make the stewardship program more focused on abundance and gratitude. While pledges remained the same, the culture of stewardship was changed. The language of abundance really stuck with congregants and helped them to grow in their faith during a tough time.
- Tip #4: Share the impact through stories. What’s the best way to inspire giving? Telling stories that illustrate how your members are making a difference with their offering before, during and after your annual response program. Stories should and can be shared all year-round. Likely, your congregation already sends quarterly financial statements. Why not use that as a storytelling opportunity? Lebanon Lutheran Cooperative Ministry, a cooperative of four congregations in Lebanon County, Pa., encloses a letter with their quarterly statements that highlights ways in which member offerings have been used in the past quarter and new opportunities that they are excited about for the next quarter. They’ll even send this accompanying letter to members with no record of giving. This letter does not ask folks to give but rather highlights what member gifts are doing, thanks members for their generosity, and invites all members to participate. They’re also a great way to connect members with new volunteer opportunities.
Follow-up can often be the hardest part of the annual response program, but with these four tips, you can keep the momentum going. Remember: Once you finish your follow-up efforts, don’t stop thanking people for their gifts and telling stories about how their offering is making a difference. Stewardship is a year-long faith practice for all members.