Congregation in “Rust Belt” Increases Pledges 30%

You don’t have to be in a growing area to see growth and vitality in your congregation. What you do need is energy, focus and a strong sense of purpose. Recently, Andy Crabb, the President of the First Unitarian Church of Youngstown, OH, posted how his congregation had a significant increase in pledges this past Fall.  -Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Primary Contact

UU Youngstown Congregation

The First Unitarian of Youngstown, Ohio just had our pledge drive in the fall and got an almost 30% increase in pledges.

We are going to present a balanced budget at our congregational meeting later this month.  The keys for us were to have an integrated pledge program and to be as transparent as possible about what we were spending money on and why we wanted more.  That doesn’t mean we buried people in financial details, but rather that we explained key points:

  • that we wanted to increase our UUA contribution to be closer to fair share,
  • that we wanted to have more hours for our office administrator to do the routine communication tasks that everyone asks of her,
  • that we wanted to continue to support involvement in community activities,
  • that we want to give raises to our staff (including our new, freshly ordained minister) so they see that we have a viable career path for them,
  • that we need to operate the building, and
  • that we have had shortfalls for the past several years that required late year special appeals and we don’t want to have to do that anymore.

Anyone who wants financial details can have them, but most people don’t need or want them, at least at first, so we didn’t bury them with numbers.

One of our stewardship co-chairs is a new member and she observed that we never talked about money when she first came to us.  We’ve changed that.  We now bring it up regularly as a fact of life.  Again, transparency is the key.  No one is trying to get away with anything or trick anyone or be cute about pledging.  We all want to see UUYO do well and we are being clear and open about what it takes to make all of the things that we came to UUYO to do, happen.

Key elements of our Stewardship Campaign:

  • We had a plan and a financial goal before the campaign started.
  • We made a brochure that focused on what we do and why, then stated the costs and the income needs.  We spent a little bit ($200 or so) to print up a very nice, quality color 11×17 single fold brochure with lots of relevant pictures and mission stories that really impress.
  • During the stewardship drive, we had a special dinner for our biggest givers to thank them and encourage increased giving, especially to help bridge the gap until newer members can reach higher giving levels.
  • We personally contacted and where possible met with all other members to review our plans and clearly state our financial plan and goals.
  • We promoted automatic giving as a prominent part of our pledge campaign with great success (we use Vanco).

Stewardship is integrated into the life of the congregation by:

  • Having an active membership program for new members that gets them involved right away and that presents the same information as we give our members about money.
  • Having active worship associates and hospitality teams with broad participation to keep all members involved and feeling connected to and invested in our vitality as a group and promoting this in the pledge campaign.
  • Making as many opportunities as possible for members to do things and feel connected to and valued by the church because that is how people come to where they want to give to and support the church.
  • Looking for where we had entrenched individuals and/or groups always doing “everything” and bring new people in to help.
  • Separating “governance” activities from “mission” activities.  Both are necessary, but most people came to us for “mission” activities, so we focus on making sure there are plenty of them and keep “governance” to just where it is really needed.
  • Creating opportunities to learn leadership skills.  These are valuable in all aspects of our lives and provide great opportunities for personal growth and enrichment of our lives.

In closing – it seems to me that whether we do year-round-pledging or all at once pledging, closely tying the pledge campaign with the members and the activities of the church is critical for the success of the pledge drive.  If the pledge drive doesn’t clearly tie to the mission and activities of the church, it will be less effective because the connection with the members and what brought them to UUYO is what really made the pledge campaign a success for us.

-Andy Crabb, President, First Unitarian Church of Youngstown, OH. (UUYO)

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Update on the Annual Program Fund

We are thankful for your support of all of the congregations in our Association through your contributions to the UUA Annual Program Fund and your Central East Region. Just think about all of the lives reached by Unitarian Universalism nationally, and the important, painful and necessary conversations that find a home in Unitarian Universalism, where we transform ourselves in hopes of transforming the world.

As we continue along the path of regionalization, we are further streamlining our system of Associational stewardship in the coming fiscal year. We want to communicate clearly what this means and how it will affect the way your congregation contributes to both the Central East Region and the UUA.

What will remain the same for Fiscal Year 2018 (July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018):

  • Your financial support of our Association through our UUA Annual Program Fund (APF) and through your Regional dues will remain vitally important. The vast majority of the budget for Central East Region programming and staff operations comes from your APF and  Regional dues contributions. Your support provides services not only to your own congregation, but also to other congregations who count on your full participation.

What will be different for Fiscal Year 2018:

  • This week you will receive your annual pledge form from us, and it will look a little bit different.
    • There will be a message from our three Interim Co-Presidents.
    • The forms will list the amount requested for your Region, as well as for the UUA, and then a total combined amount. There will be a space for you to enter the single total amount that you pledge.
    • We will ask you to make your FY2018 contributions by sending single checks made payable to UUA-CER rather than by separate checks made out to UUA and to your Region.
  • The amount of combined dues you owe will be based on the district your congregation historically belonged to and your contribution to the UUA.
  • Please note that for the remainder of the current Fiscal Year 2017, you will continue to receive Regional dues invoices from the Central East Region as well as invoices from our UUA for any remainder of your FY2017 Annual Program Fund pledge.

We would be happy to help with any questions you have about Associational stewardship. You may reach out to Andrea Lerner (484-201-4384, [email protected]) with questions about the nature of the program or Cristina Sanchis (302-377-8971, [email protected]) with specific financial questions.  Norrie Gall, UUA Congregational Giving Manager (617-948-6514, [email protected]) is also a resource as we transition to her office for invoicing and record keeping.

Friends, we are congregations in covenant. When each congregation becomes part of the Association, they pledge their support to the UUA. Your gifts to your Region and the Annual Program Fund are the fulfillment of a promise already made. Your contributions are used to provide programming and services to your own congregation, as well as to those throughout our Association, which we are faithfully providing. Thank you so much for your faithful giving, on behalf of all Unitarian Universalists.

In Stewardship,
Rev. Megan Foley, Regional Lead, Central East Region
Andrea Lerner, Associational Giving Program Manager, Central East Region
Cristina Sanchis, Financial Manager, Central East Region

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Congregations Create Unique Stewardship Plans Part 3

This month we are featuring the innovative ways congregations handle stewardship issues. This was started with the Up Close issue for November where featured three congregations with unique stewardship plans. Last week we featured two more here, today we feature the last along with some quote from staff and a congregational member about APF and District Fair Share. If your congregation has a new way of handling stewardship, please let us know in the comments.

First Unitarian Cleveland Changes Its Style

First Unitarian Church Shaker HeightsAfter nine years conducting its annual stewardship campaign by letter and phone/email follow up, the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland changed to personal solicitation for the 2014 – 2015 fiscal year.  The reasons for this included a desire to:

  • Increase the number of donors, average gift per donor, and overall support.
  • Build relationships and understanding through conversations that were about more than just fundraising.

Leadership came to understand that one of the keys to a successful personal stewardship campaign was the availability of volunteer “callers” –  who would approach fellow members to discuss the church’s impact and needs and ask for a specific level of support.  They also learned that these callers must have an understanding of the case for support and, most importantly, the ability to listen to better connect members to their church and the church to its members.

Church leadership recruited 39 volunteer callers who gathered for a Saturday orientation where they learned more about the campaign theme “Celebrate UUnique!”  and  received support material, tips and techniques for  conducting meetings, and engaged in role-playing sessions. A campaign kickoff celebration followed a week later to “officially” introduce the campaign and volunteer callers to the congregation.  Also, a “Why I Am Here” campaign enlisted members to briefly address the congregation on Sunday to share why they valued First Unitarian.

The results were heartening:

  • Average per-member giving increased by over 12%.
  • The campaign raised $27,456 more than the previous year.
  • Members developed and renewed relationships with fellow members.
  • Lines of communication were opened to ensure better fellowship for years to come.

This coming year, First Unitarian will expand on this success and make “Why I Am Here” a year-round program.

APF/District Fair Share

Staff are often asked about how congregations should present APF or District Fair Share in their budgets and to their members. Here are two responses to this question, one from a UUA staff person, one from a CERG Threshold Congregation member.

From Stefan Jonasson’s comments that congregational scarcity mentality is the CAUSE, not the EFFECT of financial decline.

“Congregations which do not give away at least one-tenth of their budgets to something beyond themselves — including the denomination and community benevolences — will never have enough money to look after their own internal needs. Generosity to the denomination and the larger community they serve models generosity for congregants and inspires them to be generous in their giving, whereas withholding support encourages similar behaviours on the part of members. Members learn either generosity or scarcity from the priorities established by their congregation and its leaders.”

This quote comes from the UU Growth Lab Facebook group, when someone was asking whether to include APF/District Share inside a congregational budget or ask members to contribute separately, a Metro New York President of a Threshold congregation said:

“Mechanically we use the procedure xxx articulates (APF as integral to budget). But the relationship angle is important. The congregation (not the individual) is the member of the UUA, I highly recommend that you do not talk about UUA dues being assessed on a per “member” basis. Deciding to be a member of our association is a congregation’s job, not an individual’s job. (Individual members make this decision as a group through the “democratic process”.) When a congregation decides to be a member, it decides to pay dues. Other methods of determining dues could be used. Talking to individual members about UUA dues drives weird behavior on the part of congregants – like people deciding they would like to save the congregation some money and not be an official member…which is very unproductive. UUA dues are a very small part of the cost of our ministry at UUCMC, Lincroft. I want our congregants to financially support our whole ministry…which by the way includes being a member of the UUA. (Side note: Our 7 principles actually define the relationship between the congregations and the UUA and among congregations – they are not statements about individuals’ actions. Interesting, yes?)  I think of UUA dues like this: Whatever mechanism the UUA uses to determine dues will be artificial and subject to a certain amount of gaming. I have a vague preference for the head-count model, and I think transition to any new model needs to be handled carefully. But here’s the more important thing: The UUA provides valuable important infrastructure for our congregation, therefore I am always an advocate for my congregation paying our dues. (Ditto for our district).”

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Congregations Create Unique Stewardship Plans Part 2

This weekend, the Up Close issue for November featured three congregations with unique stewardship plans. Here are two more we’d like to share. If your congregation has a new way of handling stewardship, please let us know in the comments.

“Our Financial Health” at Marietta

FUUSM (First UU Society of Marietta, OH) has begun a regular process of educating our congregation about financial stewardship called “Our Financial Health.”   This initiative began Oct 19 with a short presentation before the offertory during the worship service. Our minister, Rev. Kathryn Hawbaker, gave a brief introduction,  noted our annual service auction and made the point that, although fundraisers are important,  77% of the income of our annual operating budget comes from pledges.

We shall continue this series of brief presentations at Sunday service. Subsequent presentations will describe the other features of our annual operating budget, then a description of our trust funds and how we use earnings from these funds to support improvements & renovations of our historic building.  In later presentations we will get into how the trust funds work, a new trust fund to support non-capital projects (“Funding our Values”) and special funds (outside of the operating budget and trust funds), such as our Community Meal Fund, Green Sanctuary Fund.
This initiative  was started by leaders who believe that it is not helpful to talk about finances only one time a year at the annual fund drive. The book “Cultivating Generosity,” by Rem Stokes, has informed much of the thinking on this subject.

Stewardship Team Works Year-Round

Wooster Stewardship TeamThis year, the UU Fellowship of Wayne County (UUFWC) Stewardship Committee has been:

  • Shifting to a year round committee – to create a culture of giving
  • Working with the Leadership Development Team (LDT) and Volunteer Coordinator – to increase the volunteer base
  • Working with Finance to determine the annual budget needs – to increase communication about financial stewardship between committees and to the fellowship
  • Working toward a definition of a successful campaign (dollars and participation)


  • We increased participation – 75% responded to the “how do you want to be contacted?” survey
  • We used a multi-prong communication approach – email, face-to-face, telephone; still worked out as an every member canvass
  • Faster & easier canvass – most people preferred email; 79% of pledge goal reached in 30 days (versus 80% in 70 days during last year’s drive) – very few visiting steward requests allowed for quicker pledge responses
  • We encouraged fellowship leaders (X-team, volunteer coordinator and committee chairs) to help communicate concrete examples of what a pledge actually supports and allows the fellowship to provide.
  • We created and presented a celebration of giving service to thank the fellowship for their generosity
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