Church fund-raising

How can a church raise the funds for its ministry without resorting to human pressure or guilt-inducing tactics? You will be amazed at this simple but powerful plan.

Mel Rees, a "retired" stewardship educator, continues to hold workshops on stewardship for pastors and laymen both in North America and beyond. He writes from Woodland, Washington.

My friend and I were driving to a college board meeting. I was glad when he asked to ride with me on the two-hundred-plus-mile trip. A brilliant person, he punctuated the miles with bits of philosophy, reminiscences, and observations. I was savoring the last bit of information he had passed along when he asked, "Do you know anything about these church fund-raising programs?"

"A little," I replied. Having been a director of such programs for ten years, I felt this was a modest reply. "Why do you ask?"

"Because I was sutured into being the general chairman of one at our church."

"Sutured" seemed an odd expression, but probably the right word for a doctor to use. And the more I thought of some of the methods used to enlist canvass leaders, the more appropriate it seemed.

I was about to ask his opinion of the program when an eighteen-wheeler dieseled past, making conversation futile. When we had safe running room again, I did ask.

"Never again" was his reply. The tone of his voice left no doubt about his opinion.


"Because pressure is no way to raise money for the Lord's work. And I'll tell you something else. If they ever start one of those in my church again, they can count me out. I'll come back when they are finished."

I had come to this same conclusion for myself some years before, but his reaction to a program that had received such high praise for its success surprised me. I began to wonder how many other good church members felt the same way. He was right; pressure is often the name of the game in fund-raising.

Perhaps the very term fund-raising indicates what is wrong with the method. Accepting money for God's work would be more appropriate. Earthly authorities raise money for the needs of their governments by assessing their subjects, but the whole principle of Biblical finance is based not on raising but accepting funds given from the heart--freewill offerings.

When He gave Moses the task of building the tabernacle God directed him to "accept whatever contribution each man shall freely offer" (Ex. 25:2, N.E.B.). Centuries later, when David was preparing materials for a house for God, it is recorded, "The people rejoiced at this willing response, because in the loyalty of their hearts they had given willingly to the Lord" (1 Chron. 29:9, N.E. B.). They gave to the Lord, not to a building. There is no way a person can make a case for the pressures of church pyramid fund-raising from these experiences. The offering was heart-motivated and freewill--therefore acceptable.

Modern church finance has been marked (often marred) by a variety of schemes for raising money. I even heard of one church that secured pledges from guests at a wedding reception, when their hearts were a bit more than merry from the spirits served. When some of them reneged on their commitments, the church took them to court and forced them to pay! I recall another church where I was handed the materials used in their church building program. The membership was organized like an army with sergeants, lieutenants, majors, colonels--even a general. In the fierce competition for funds, the leader of the winning "wing" each week won a cash prize. According to the records, one captain had already, won $300!

While most churches would not stoop to such questionable methods, many have fallen into other non-Biblical approaches to fund-raising.

Every-member canvass

Without question, one of the most respected plans for raising money is the every-member canvass. This carefully planned, organized, and orchestrated method enlists the support of each member. Its salient points are professional direction, a thorough survey of the project and church potential, the enlistment of key members into leadership roles, a saturation contact of the membership, and an effective follow-up monitoring.

However, there is a factor in this plan that is opposite to God's plans: the pressures that form the basis for every procedure. The subtle (and not so subtle) pressures overemphasize the merit motive and play upon social and guilt feelings, as if the end justifies the means. It does not. The grace of Christian benevolence, so essential to spiritual development, must be protected from every influence that would adversely affect it. Motive is more important than the urgency of the need or the merit of the objective. The only true motive is love and gratitude to God.

Consider some of the pressure points: The canvass director: This professional director, brought from outside the membership, is not a spiritual leader. People should be led into the spiritual grace of benevolence, not just directed.

Guilt pressure: This feeling, conscious or subconscious, is developed when the church solicits outside help because of its own unwillingness to give freely. This guilt feeling produces a willingness to "go along" with whatever plan is presented.

Financial pressure: In major fund-raising drives (United Fund, Heart Fund, et cetera), a community financial leader is usually chosen to head the drive. This obtains the leader's financial involvement plus his or her influence with financial leaders.

There is some Biblical basis for this pyramid method. When David made preparations to build the Temple, he first testified to his personal commitment. After David's commitment we read of the commitments of "the chief of the fathers and princes of the tribes of Israel, and the captains of thousands and of hundreds. . . . Then the people rejoiced, for that they offered willingly" (verses 6-9). But nowhere in this account do we find that funds were solicited. They were given willingly.

Social pressure: When one member visits another, soliciting a pledge, there is pressure, no matter how adroitly the interview is conducted. The following remarks were heard during one of these programs:

"When Brother ___ called I kept wondering how much he thought I should give. I got the impression that he wasn't entirely satisfied with the pledge I made. I suppose he'll think about it every time he sees me--I know I will."

Or this from a visitor:

"When I saw the new color TV and the new station wagon in the driveway, I felt he should have given more."

It is really unimportant what Brother ___ thinks. What God thinks is what is important.

Another problem with the canvass is that its actual success rate may not match expectations. Success stories are often based on signed commitments rather than on actual cash turned in. Sometimes the money comes in during the three-year period (the usual life of the program), but in many cases it does not. In fact, in two large conferences in which I worked, less than 50 percent of the money came in during the commitment period--an appreciable amount never did.

It is true that many people receive a blessing as they become aware of their stewardship responsibilities and respond accordingly. Many of these experience unusual blessings during the canvass period. But too often the awareness and blessing do not extend beyond the period of commitment and herein lies the real danger: when the wellsprings of benevolence stop flowing, they become clogged with the debris of selfishness. Giving should be systematic and continuous--not limited to a period of time, like payments for a new car.

No one can say that many of these programs are never financially productive. Many churches, buildings, schools, and other facilities testify to their productivity. However, in spite of this, one must question the element of pressure and the motivation associated with these programs. The observation of Luther P. Powell is apropos: "Nevertheless, there is something lacking in the spiritual life of the church when secular professional money raisers have to be employed. One's giving should be a manifestation of his faith, and it seems to be a reflection on the church that the faith it proclaims has not produced the necessary funds for maintaining and extending its program." *

The psychological efficiency and organization of the every-member canvass should not be downgraded. Its strengths are basic--planning, organization, communication, and solicitation. The question naturally arises, Can a church conduct a program that incorporates these basics and is still in harmony with God's plan? The answer is Yes. Many successful church programs have been conducted and serve as proof that God's way works best.

The Anonymous Commitment Program has all the basic positive elements without the negative side effects.

Anonymous Commitment Program

As a prelude to an introduction to this method one must recall that Jesus never endorsed any pressure structure. He repeatedly emphasized the privilege, right, and responsibility of the individual. By His praise of the "mite gift" of the poor widow, it would appear that His pyramid of influence was inverted; it flowed uphill instead of down. It was based on sacrifice rather than amount.

And although He said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your goods works," these were not to be paraded for the praise of the giver or concealed underneath the cloak of false humility. If He was to endorse a "top dollar man" approach, He missed a golden opportunity the night the wealthy Nicodemus came to Him. What a chance to ask for a large gift for His fledgling work! This would have been impressive at the head of a donor's list. Instead, the burden of His message was "except a man be born again."

The Anonymous Commitment Program has all the basic elements of planning, organization, communication, and solicitation, but is a nonpressure approach. (See advertisement for a detailed procedure booklet in this month's Shop Talk.)


This approach differs in organization because it is simple and its material requirements are few. Three members form the committee in the small church, no more than eleven in the larger ones (the pastor and church treasurer are always ex-officio members of this committee).

This body: (1) estimates the financial potential of the church, (2) gathers all data needed to prepare the budget (or other project), (3) prepares and submits this tentative budget to the authorizing bodies, (4) prepares the final draft of the budget, (5) prepares the canvass materials, (6) enlists the canvass personnel, (7) directs the visitation, and (8) implements and monitors the financial part of the plan.

Good planning cannot be overemphasized. Jesus said that a wise man, intending to build a tower, sits down first and counts the cost. As far as is possible the general membership must be given the opportunity to become involved in planning and implementation. Once the plan has been authorized by the church body, it becomes the church plan. At this point each member, as a member of the group, is obligated to support it.

Visitation: In most fund-raising programs, it is recommended that only men be used as visitors. In this approach, anyone (man or woman) who is enthusiastic about the plan and actively supports it will make a good visitor. Personal testimony and enthusiasm far outweigh the most skillful sales presentation. Also the visitor does not ask for or accept any commitment.

The reasons for visitation are: (1) to explain the plan in detail and answer all questions regarding it, (2) to personally invite participation, (3) to explain the need for establishing a "rate of income" (so the implementing bodies will know what funds will be available to them), (4) to explain the anonymous commitment card, its purpose and use. The visitor leaves the card with the member, who is asked to prayerfully consider his or her proportionate share, indicate it on the card, and place it in the offering plate at the next general church service.

Because the commitment is anonymous, only the individual and God know whether or not a commitment was made. Thus the only pressure possible is the Holy Spirit speaking to a delinquent member like this: "Because you are responsible to God as His steward, and to the church as a member, don't you really think you should do your part?" Someone suggested that this is the most intense pressure--but it is the right kind--the communication between God and the soul.

While the member is left anonymous, he is not left anonymously comfortable (if he has refused to share in the group plan). For three successive weeks following the visitation an announcement is made listing the number of cards that have been returned in relation to the number left in the homes of the members. Those who have not returned their cards are urged to do so. If a person can sit through this series of reminders and remain anonymously comfortable, he has more serious problems than nonsupport.

Some interesting observations have come out of these programs. Most people give more than they pledge, because they tend to be conservative in making sacred pledges. Then, of course, there is the distinct possibility that the individual receives unusual blessings from his decision.

Another plus factor in the plan is that it works just as well in a budget program as it does for a building fund. This was not always true with other canvass methods in which a new church building had a much greater appeal than the budget.

Some may wonder why visitation is necessary--why not mail out the materials and let the member bring the commitment back? First, the member needs to understand the church project thoroughly and to have his questions regarding it answered.

Second, few members, although they are painfully aware of the costs of running their own homes, have any idea of the costs of operating a church. One of the principal aims of the visitor is not only to make it possible for the member clearly to understand the church program but to make it impossible for him not to understand.

Third, although some mail-out plans are quite successful (sometimes they are necessary in situations where it is difficult to enlist the membership in the undertaking or in large cities where visitation is impractical), some of the authors of these programs have said there is no real substitute for member contact ing member in an "eyeball" situation. The most carefully prepared mail-out can never do the same job of answering questions and inviting participation as effectively as a fellow member can.

The most important ingredient in any church plan must be a thorough education of the membership in the principles of Christian stewardship. They should be taught to give to God rather than to things. Giving then will be regarded as a privilege, rather than a duty--a divine exercise.

Such persons will not wait for things to give to or wait to be asked to give. They will look at needs as opportunities to express love and gratitude to God for His manifold blessings.

By following God's plans we can develop Christians, and build and maintain buildings and programs in that order. Our offerings will be acceptable, our plans assured of divine approval.

* Luther B. Powell, Money and the Church (New York: Association Press, 1963), p. 182.

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Mel Rees, a "retired" stewardship educator, continues to hold workshops on stewardship for pastors and laymen both in North America and beyond. He writes from Woodland, Washington.

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