Mar 29, 2022
By Paul Karch, Financial Secretary, First Congregational UCC, Madison
One of my primary takeaways from the Cultivating Generous Congregations course was the importance of appreciating and encouraging pledgers and donors. Having been involved in our church’s stewardship and financial work for several years, I knew that we were good at some things, but that our follow-up and thank-you efforts were sometimes incomplete. When I learned that many churches had a financial secretary, I felt called to become one. “Financial secretary” seems old-fashioned name and might better be called something like “generosity catalyst,” but what matters is the personal touch a financial secretary brings to members and their generosity. Here is what the financial secretary does in our capital and annual campaigns:
Campaign communications. Initial congregation-wide communications – written or delivered during worship, in person or virtual – come from the Stewardship Board and clergy.
Thank you for pledging. Once the campaign is underway, I send thank-you emails every week for pledges received (the Stewardship Board also follows up with handwritten thank-you notes). I use Realm, our online church database, to send the emails, sometimes sending to groups addressed as “generous friends” and sometimes to individuals with personal notes or greetings. Using Realm, all emails are sent on church letterhead, with my name and email address as a signature block, so people know the note comes from a person rather than a committee.
Questions. Pledgers with questions about their pledge, or who want to say “you’re welcome” or send any other return message, can reply to the email and address things to me directly, which often leads to interesting and fun conversations. These conversations have been especially rewarding during the COVID pandemic, when we were otherwise unlikely to see each other.
Reminders. Two weeks into the campaign, I begin sending reminder emails to people who received the campaign materials and had pledged in the prior two years but not yet for this campaign. These emails are pretty straightforward, saying something like, “Thank you for your prior generosity. We haven’t received your pledge for this year, please send it when you can,” and inviting people to contact me with questions. I receive quite a few responses at this point, most often asking about the process, explaining that they couldn’t find their pledge materials, etc. I reply to these personally and emphasize that we are happy to receive pledges in any form, including by email to me or our bookkeeper. The number of people pledging by email is growing.
More reminders. After four weeks, I send personal reminder emails and, again, get quite a few responses, some apologizing for losing the materials or for their slowness is making a pledge, and some pointing out mistakes we made in recording a pledge or payment (usually lump sums to be allocated to different years and accounts). I get a couple of substantive questions about the budget or finances that I answer as clearly as I can.
Automatic transfers. Also at four weeks in an annual campaign, I review our donors who make regular electronic donations, either through bank transfers or by credit card. If any of them have not yet pledged, I send a personal note asking whether they intend to continue their regular transfers and whether we can consider that amount as a pledge. The answers to those questions are almost always yes, and many younger members seem puzzled at my asking. I reply with enthusiastic agreement that automatic transfers are a great way to pledge and explain that we want to confirm that people do mean to contribute.
Tracking and looking for problems. During the pledge year, I use Realm to track pledge contributions, to report totals to the Stewardship Board and to look for individuals who have not been making pledge contributions. I exclude folks who usually contribute with a single payment of stock or lump sum late in the year. Any others, I first talk with the pastors about known life challenges experienced by the pledgers and then, if we are aware of none, write and ask whether there is anything we should know, including any unhappiness with the church. While I believe this last action could be helpful in meeting member needs, it has not yielded much useful information so far.
Thank-you notes for pledge completion. Periodically during the campaign, I send email acknowledgements and thank-you notes to members who have fulfilled or are making regular payments on their pledges.
Analysis and trends. Finally, I analyze trends in giving, particularly by age cohort, giving pyramids and adds, drops, increases and decreases. In my periodic reports to the Stewardship Board, I ask if there are any trends or facts they would like me to report or analyze.
Paul Karch is financial secretary at First Congregational UCC in Madison.