One of the best parts of my job is working with parish leaders to help them achieve their financial stewardship objectives. This continuous engagement helps ensure that my work is dynamic and life-giving. Prior to the pandemic, my normal pattern was to visit parishes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Although my schedule was not always full, I was able to meet with clergy and lay leaders from about 40 parishes each year. Zoom has improved the capacity to do this but it is nowhere near as stimulating as meeting people in person.
Typically, I present an array of statistics to clergy and volunteers regarding church growth, giving and observed best practices from across the diocese. We discuss attendance and giving patterns over several years and try to discern a plan to respond to any number problems the parish might be encountering. Most of the time, my expertise is sought not because of a difficulty in finding choristers, but for a lack of financial resources and engagement.
In my fundraising training days more than 25 years ago, I was taught an important piece of practical wisdom: giving is done from top to bottom, inside and out. This means that for any fundraising effort to be successful, the leadership team must project and model the vision of the organization. Attendance at church services and meetings is insufficient. Clergy, churchwardens and everyone else sitting around the advisory committee table need to be givers. They must be able to speak with credibility about that which they expect others to do. If you want your congregation to give proportionately, you need to be doing it as well. Likewise, if you are launching a drive to increase the number of pre-authorized givers, make certain you are doing the same.
Can you imagine how any sort of campaign – fundraising or otherwise – would fare in reaching it is objective if its primary architects and visionaries were not on board 100 per cent? How can you expect others to do what you cannot and will not participate in yourself? Paul’s Letter to Timothy makes it clear what is expected of church leaders. And although the letter is written in the context of behaviour for bishops and deacons, it is equally applicable to any person of service in the Church: “Now a bishop must be above reproach… temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher… not a lover of money. They must manage their own household well…” (1 Timothy 3:2-4). Credibility rests entirely on modeling the behaviour and leadership one expects of others.
This same pattern of behaviour needs to span the breadth of church leadership: bishops, clergy, lay leaders, etc. The generous giving of our time, talent and treasure – in abundance and without question – needs be understood as a part of leadership, as a requirement to hold the office. It is normative practice in virtually every not-for-profit organization that board members are expected to give. Not only is it made clear in the position description, but the chair makes it clear at the first meeting of a new session. Giving by leaders is normative, expected and viewed as an honorable practice.
The credibility of the Church requires that its leaders emulate the very behaviour we expect of others. In doing so, we can be bold in our endeavors and proud of our accomplishments. I would never be able to encourage others to be generous if I were not living that example as well.
I am often surprised when people suggest that I am too enthusiastic in asking for money; that perhaps I am asking too much of others or being too direct. I am secure in my request because the Church has something worth giving money to and I delight in giving to its mission and presence in the community. It has value. The mission of God’s Church requires that we be generous givers and that begins with leadership. I cannot be any other way.