Figuring out how to build a culture of generosity is, for many, both exciting and full of uncertainty. Sufficient generosity is essential for sustaining current ministries and implementing new initiatives that impact your mission field.

Yes, achieving a fully funded ministry spending plan can be challenging, but identifying and avoiding common mistakes can make the journey less daunting.

We want to share 12 common mistakes church and faith-based nonprofit leaders make, so you can avoid them and take generosity to the next level. We’ll also outline our recommendations for a targeted approach to ministry funding that reinforces the principles of Next Level Generosity and the disciplines we observe in financially thriving churches.

Next Level Generosity and the Disciplines of Financially Thriving Churches

Horizons guides churches and faith-based organizations to, what we call, Next Level Generosity, a process that has consistently resulted in double-digit increases in annual giving. 

Our experienced International Coaching Federation-trained ministry strategists present you with a clear picture of your present realities and establish a measurable action plan to bring your ministry vision to reality.

Our work is grounded in these disciplines that are consistently present in financially thriving churches and faith-based organizations.

  1. Keep it spiritual
  2. Tell your ministry story
  3. Build strong donor relationships
  4. Make the ask
  5. Consistently measure effectiveness

Successful ministry funding and donor development also require vision, strategy, planning, effective communications, and commitment. You can count on Horizons to help you navigate these challenges as well.

Horizons can help build a culture of generosity, fulfill your ministry funding plan, and avoid these common pitfalls.

The Top 12 Mistakes in Ministry Funding

You may be hesitant to broach the topic of money and feel uncomfortable considering new ways to ask your donors to increase their giving. But without a clear plan to engage your donors, giving will likely become apathetic and stagnant.

Our experience in working with thousands of churches and faith-based nonprofits has proven that growing giving requires the same investment in quality planning, networking, communications, and marketing found in secular fundraising and for-profit organizations. It takes an intentional and measurable action plan to achieve and sustain Next Level Generosity.

You can begin by avoiding these common ministry funding pitfalls.

Mistake One: You don't have a plan.

An effective plan is of the utmost importance no matter the magnitude of your ministry objectives. Keep in mind that simply following a template that may have worked for another church is unlikely to work for you. To be successful, your plans must reflect the specific culture of your church and the idiosyncrasies of your community. An effective generosity development plan should also address specific processes to develop all four forms of giving:

  1. Annual giving
  2. Capital giving
  3. Special giving
  4. Planned giving

An effective generosity development plan is a clear roadmap toward both your spiritual goals and ministry needs and built upon relevant, timely, and specific objectives.

Mistake Two: You aren't engaging financial leaders.

Many churches aren’t effectively engaging their financial leaders. Financial leaders are those households that comprise 35-60% of your ministry funding but are typically only 5-15% of households. It’s important to cultivate meaningful relationships with these families by encouraging them to build deeper connections with your church’s ministries.

Likewise, high-capacity donors, many of which may not be among your financial leaders, have different giving patterns than the majority of your donors. High-capacity donors typically want to be asked personally and directly — something few churches take time to do. As a result, many high-capacity donors re-direct their giving to other nonprofits that have spent the time and energy to build quality relationships. Horizons has the expertise to guide you in effectively engaging both financial leaders and high-capacity donors. It’s never about favoritism. Rather, it’s about tailoring your engagement strategies to meet the unique needs of these donors who are also being cultivated by other nonprofit leaders who are highly skilled at this work.

Mistake Three: You aren't adapting your ministry spending and giving plan (budget) on a 90-day basis.

Many leadership teams establish a giving and ministry spending plan (budget) and never modify it to respond to the rapidly changing church environment. That’s risky business. It’s important to reassess income and spending plans every 90 days or so. This will give you the opportunity to carefully examine and adjust giving levels and ministry spending needs, as necessary. A 90-day budgeting cycle offers protection against overspending or over-investing in less effective ministries and underinvesting in those having the most impact. It also means you’ll always be operating within your financial means. Your giving and ministry spending review is also a great opportunity to examine your ministry goals and assess whether you’re on track to reach them. If your church must approve the budget annually, ask for permission to make and report quarterly adjustments in the spending plan based on giving and changing ministry needs.

Mistake Four: You don't have a plan for cultural philanthropic events such as Giving Tuesday and year-end giving.

Cultural philanthropic events like Giving Tuesday and year-end giving are great opportunities to garner contributions that would otherwise be invested elsewhere. Almost 35 million people made a charitable contribution on Giving Tuesday in 2020. Many of these donors are likely members of your church! Planning for these events in advance is key to rallying support for your ministry’s cause. After you’ve established your goal and determined what ministry to highlight, be sure to create a timeline for communication. You’ll want to use your email distribution lists as well as your website and social media platforms to promote #GivingTuesday.

As the big day approaches, ensure you are sharing your story and keeping congregants updated with announcements about your giving campaign. Keep your supporters updated throughout the day and thank them for their generosity. For more information on how to prepare, look for year-end giving resources in Horizons free on-demand library

Mistake Five: You aren't maximizing offering talks as a way to communicate impact.

Donors contribute because of the impact they hope to make. So, be sure to tell your donors how their generosity is making an impact. Offering talks, shared just prior to the offering in worship, provide an opportunity to tell your supporters how you are making a difference in the world and creating the impact they hope to see. Including stories in your offering talks communicates how you are changing lives and gives you the opportunity to connect ministry impact to financial generosity.

Authentic storytelling inspires people to give, reminds them of ways to give, and provides you the opportunity to say thank you. Frequently, your community won’t be fully aware of the impact of their collective giving. With a greater understanding of your life-changing impact, clarity on how easy it is to give, and a well-crafted invitation (an ask), you will be inspiring both new and existing givers.

Mistake Six: You haven't explored how analytics can help you make more effective decisions.

Data-driven decision-making might sound like something for the corporate world, but it’s a process that all churches and faith-based organizations can use to improve their generosity development. Your leaders are used to seeing very detailed information on church spending, but typically very little is shared about what is happening in giving other than contribution totals.

Total contributions aren’t the whole story. Horizons’ analytics help your leaders visualize the stories behind the numbers through a detailed dashboard that includes the same level of detail they are used to seeing around spending. With this new level of giving detail, your leaders can quickly identify if giving is growing in a healthy way and better identify any trends threatening future giving and ministry spending. There is no breach of confidentiality, as household names can be excluded from the data to allow a deeper understanding of church giving trends among church leaders.

Mistake Seven: You aren't including generosity as part of your discipleship strategy.

One key indicator of discipleship is generosity, so make sure you are including it as part of your discipleship strategy and teachings. Jesus is clear that financial generosity is the primary indicator of a person’s heart, so biblically-based stewardship, generosity, and financial management should be at the heart of your teaching. By filling key leadership positions with generous givers, you’ll encourage an ongoing narrative and culture of generosity in your community. To do otherwise greatly inhibits the development of a culture of generosity.

Mistake Eight: You aren't raising awareness by sharing philanthropic research with your leadership team.

Do you know what’s happening in giving outside the church? Many seeking to grow generosity fail to share philanthropic research with their leadership teams. Keeping up-to-date with philanthropic trends is a great way to make sure your leadership is making decisions that reflect the realities of the giving landscape. Our partner, The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, engages in research, education, and public conversation around the relationship between faith and giving.

Mistake Nine: You aren't communicating ministry effectiveness, life change, and impact.

Many leaders fail to help people connect their giving with the church’s ability to make an impact in the world. When congregations see that their money is contributing to real-life change, not only does it make giving more meaningful, but it also encourages future gifts. Offering talks may be the best opportunity to share in a congregation-wide setting, but to change the culture, it is critical that all communication channels are used to regularly reinforce this message. Using social media, emails, and other communication channels will ensure your donors understand how a gift to your church is making an impact.

Mistake Ten: You don't have a "thank you" to guide gift acknowledgment and donor appreciation.

Saying thank you is still one of the best strategies for growing giving. Not just your financial leaders or high-level donors. Everyone. Donor appreciation strategies include anything from a simple thank you phone call to a personal letter or even a donor recognition display. No donor has ever grown weary of being thanked. Always thank your givers for their generosity and the impact their gift will make, not for the gift itself. People want to be appreciated for who they are, not for what they give. Also, when thanking donors, be sure it is all about expressing gratitude and not about asking for another gift.

Mistake Eleven: You don't have a plan for planned and legacy giving.

Make sure you’re including planned and legacy giving in your generosity strategy. Many members of your community will leave a legacy gift, but few will give them to the church. The church receives almost 30% of all charitable giving, but unfortunately only about 10% of end-of-life gifts. Making a legacy gift is literally a gift of a lifetime and any person with assets has the ability to make one. You are involved in many other aspects of end-of-life decisions, so isn’t it appropriate to help with the financial decisions too? Now is the time to create (or reinvigorate) your legacy giving program.

Mistake Twelve: You aren't preaching and teaching frequently about generosity.

Finally, preaching on generosity, stewardship, and financial management is essential—but not just during the annual stewardship season. Preaching on generosity one season per year suggests that it only matters when the church needs resources. This misses the fundamental spiritual aspect of giving and generosity. Giving back to God out of gratitude for God’s abundance is core to our journey as disciples. One of Jesus’s most frequent teaching topics was our relationship to money and possessions. Preach and teach on our relationship to money as Jesus did and you’ll set the foundation for a strong generosity culture.

Transform Your Ministry Funding

If these mistakes sound familiar, don’t worry. There is no better time than right now to help you boost your annual, capital, special, and planned giving to the next level of generosity.

The perfect time to transform your ministry funding strategy is right now. Here at Horizons Stewardship, we provide consulting services for church and faith-based nonprofit leaders to help you fund ministry projects. We’ll help you operate from a framework-driven process, supported by expert teams, technologies, and analytics.

Curious how this might play out in your church? Learn how three churches increased their ministry impact by building cultures of generosity.

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