Adventures in Generosity

The occasionally coherent ramblings of a Stewardship Advisor in the Church of England

Archive for giving

Living below the Line – Why ?

So as of next Monday I’m challenging myself to eat and drink on a budget of no more than £1 per day – why ? well here’s a very short introduction.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EdY_M-rKjKw

You can sponsor me by going to http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/twurchsteward and all that I raise will go to Christian Aid.

I’ll be blogging next week on how I’m getting on.

Oh, and if you notice me being a little more cranky than usual you can always send emergency chocolate (for after the challenge) care of Church House Towers.

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Storing up trouble …

Those who follow my twitter stream may have witnessed me getting somewhat ‘snippy’ at Scope last night.  Having been chugged on my doorstep at 8.50pm on the coldest night of the year I suggested to them, via Twitter that this might not be the best way to build relationships with potential donors.  I got a response from them almost immediately apologising for ‘disturbing me’ and asking me for my address so that they could avoid doing so in future.

Which somewhat misses the point.

I wasn’t upset at the disturbance – let’s face it 30 seconds on the doorstep was hardly going to make an impact on my evening. What I was trying to say was that seeing a clearly idealistic 20 yr old freezing to death on my doorstep for what I assume is a commission does nothing to enhance my opinion of Scope.  The fact that the girl then started telling me about Scope ‘working with disabled children’ – clearly from a script designed to appeal to the emotional buttons of someone who has children (note the children’s toys in our yard) created still further disappointment.  Ok I’m unusual because I’m ‘in the trade’ as it were, but I am also informed enough to know that Scope do excellent work with people of all ages – and I therefore know that this script is designed to emphasise the emotionally and socially acceptable work of Scope without troubling the potential donor with anything like, you know, the facts, the underlying issues or indeed the cause for which Scope stands (and which might turn off a potential donor).

You see, we have a problem which has been growing worse over the last decade and which impacts directly on my work , and is exemplified by my encounter last night.  We have allowed fundraising to become an industry in its own right, and as industrial practices have come in, and we have become more and more strategically sophisticated in our understanding of what makes people give – we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture.

We know that emotional and engaging stories motivate people to give, we know that chugging produces a rate of return for the charity which is predictable and measurable and we know that the loss of good will that accompanies these practices is outweighed, at least in the short term, by the financial returns which Fundraising Managers and Directors can then gleefully report to their trustees as success.

But we have grasped these short term measurable gains at the cost, in my opinion, of the long term health and generosity of our nation.

We have trained donors that charity is only worth supporting if it pushes our emotional buttons.  That giving is something we do to make us feel good about ourselves when we hear a sad story or see a doe eyed picture of a starving ‘victim’.  We have also allowed potential donors – and therefore everyone, to believe that a small token gesture somehow ‘solves’ underlying problems, when rather it ‘absolves’ us of having to truly consider the issues.  “ a small gift of £2 per month” allows us to retreat from our duty to our communities without the inconvenience of having to consider how what we have, and what we choose to give and to keep, impacts on the rest of our world.  There is no sense in this transaction that giving is a benefit to the giver, no sense that how we give, how much we give and why we give is something we should take seriously if we are to build a better society and improve our relationship with our material wealth.

The more people are encouraged to ‘Give £5 to save the world’, the more they give on the doorstep out of sympathy for the freezing chugger, or because they like the latest script; the less engaged they will become in how much we actually have, how much we could actually do if we acted in a truly generous way.  Instead the new donor, having filled in the direct debit, closes the door on the problem and experiences a short lived warm glow which divorces her still further from the real need and the real sacrifice needed to heal our world.

True generosity does not start with sympathy for the victim, it starts with ourselves.  It is a recognition that we have been given much and that the truly human, the truly fulfilling response to that gift is to share it whole heartedly in pursuit of building better relationships with one another –  rather than simply in response to a growing sense of guilt and disconnection from our fellow man.

I hope that we as fundraising professionals will come to recognise the long term impact of what we do, and I hope we do it before it is too late and we are faced with a generation of ‘donors’ only capable of generosity when they are guilted into it.

Entering the debate.

I was asked two questions this week at PCC’s that stuck out for me:

The first; “but there’s only a few of us, even if we give much more we can’t keep this place going – what we really need is bums on seats – so how do we get that ?”

The second; “how can we possibly talk about giving money away in a recession ?”

The two might not seem all that closely related, but actually I think they might be – and I think, watching current developments in and around St Paul’s Cathedral this week – it’s time we put two and two together.

You see, I think that now is the perfect time to be talking about giving.  The current recession/depression/economic meltdown – whatever you call it, is final, concrete, proof of what happens when we place our faith in the material.  Easy credit, pensions, life savings, stuff – it promises so very very much security – and can deliver none of it.  So, isn’t now the time to declare our independence – to put money back in it’s place and say – thanks, but no thanks.  And a good place to start is by taking some of that cold, unfeeling cash – and giving it away – to those who need it more than we do.

This week, with the eyes of the worlds media focused upon it, the Church establishment had an opportunity to widen the debate and offer another possibility.  That we might have got it horribly wrong.  That the answer is neither anti-capitalism, anarchy, free sandals for all (as the protesters might have it) nor is it more quantitative easing, austerity measures and the IMF as the politicians want us to believe, nor is it more capitalism, freedom from regulation and bigger better hedge funds, as the City claims – the answer is, in fact, in where we place our trust – in the fickle hands of Mammon or in the loving embrace of God ?

Perhaps, if we were less timid, and less willing to hang on to our own establishment credentials, we might actually have something positive to bring to this debate – and perhaps then we might see a few more bums on seats; not in our churches, but in the Kingdom we so badly need to bring to our world.

No words necessary.

I really don’t have to say a single word about giving ever again – this man has said it all

Help ! send money now !

I read a letter today that made me angry and sad in equal measure.

The letter was from a vicar, writing to a Parish in another Diocese  as a plea for financial support.

The problem was, the first page of the letter outlined all the heartfelt frustrations of the parochial share system.  This system was in turn characterised as unjust, cumbersome, un democratic and impossibly demanding.  It then went on to outline the ever rising costs of the staff team and the endless need to pay the bills of the church and set these in opposition to the paying of the dreaded ‘Diocesan Tax’. The letter finally invited congregation members to contribute to the church on the basis that this was a distasteful reality that nevertheless had to be faced.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand frustrations around the share system, I am no wholehearted apologist and I do believe that too many Diocese communicate the share principle appalingly badly and provide an inadequate vision of what being a Diocese is.  But at the same time I passionatly believe that the underlying message of mutual support  is a positive one that we should spend serious time and concerted effort reviewing and improving.

To publicly air essentially political frustrations to church members, some of whom may be new to the church, or blissfully unaware of the administrative arrangements of the Church  is in my view deeply damaging for the church concerned and can only lead to disillusionment with the Church as an institution.

But this wasn’t really what upset me, or even surprised me.  What I found so tragic was that here was a letter from a member of the clergy that equated giving to the church wholly and entirely with paying the bills.

It reduced the offeratory to an exercise in taxation.

Lets be clear.  Christian Stewardship has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘keeping the show on the road’.  If Bill Gates turned up tomorrow and agreed carte blanch to pay the entire running costs of every parish church in the country forever more, not one member of the church would be absolved of the responsibility to give, and give sacrificially.

Stewardship is about partnership.  It isn’t just about an occasional donation of cash, it’s about offering all that we are into a relationship with God.

In Genesis 12  Abraham is told by God ‘I will bless you’  that ‘all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’.  Our gifts, be they financial, spiritual or practical are given to us for a purpose.  That purpose is to live out the life that God has called us to and to use our gifts to bring about the transformation in our world that we receive for free through Grace.

When a letter goes out to a congregation that leaves them with the idea that giving is an exercise in paying the bills or is brought about by external demands for tax, it diminishes the discipleship of everyone who reads it.  It is a call, not just to financial disaster, but also to missional mediocrity – in ‘giving to need, rather than needing to give’ we refuse the offer of partnership in the Kingdom that is offered us.

So I have a plea – to any clergy currently pondering an ‘ask’ letter.  Please,  share your frustrations, air them at the deanery, shout at the Archdeacon, bring your concerns to Synod and fight for change, even call your friendly Stewardship Advisor for a good moan and a bit of support.

But please, when you communicate the call to generous living to your congregation, make it about life, make it about love and make it about bringing Gods Kingdom to every corner of His creation.

Investing or Giving ?

I’m in a quandry.

Other Half is a local councillor and as such is approached from time to time to get involved in all sorts of community action.  It’s one of the great priviledges of the job..

He’s just been sent some information on a new local charity that’s wanting to set up to support the education of children in the care of our local authority.  Starting with the little ones being provided with additional books and pre school support, the fund will aim to provide opportunities to keep cared for children in education as they grow up, and ultimatly support them with bursarys for university. A worthy cause indeed given that less than 4% of looked after children go on to higher education.

We’re being approached as ‘prominent local people’ (sorry, it makes me cringe too!) to become ‘founder donors’ of the new fund.

And there’s the rub.

When we decided to commit to planned regular giving we set up an account, some of the money goes every month to the same causes but we decided to keep some back so that we could give to special appeals when they happened, and we could support this, in fact would love to.

But.

It has to be said that being a ‘founder donor’ of a charity that’s targetting the local great and the good would do no harm at all to OH’s political profile, especially when the basis of the appeal is that founder donors ‘will be invited to a special gala launch’.

SO …

Is is really a charitable gift? should we be using part of our Tithe, which after all is supposed to be sacrificial, or is it in fact an investment for us as much as for the charity ?

We could give anonymously.  There’s a thought, problem solved.

But.

As a fundraiser I understand that for the charity, the fact that we are supporting it is as important (in fact probably more important) as the gift, and I know how I would feel as a fundraiser if an opportunity for raising the profile of my cause was lost because of pompous and abstract moralising.

I’m pretty much sold on the fund being a good idea, and I’m certain that I’d want to support it regardless of it’s political benefits for OH – am I deluding myself ? Am I just being a pompous arse ?  I just can’t shake the image of the rich bloke rattling up to the temple with trumpet fanfares, silently followed by that widow ….

Would really appreciate your thoughts.

Parish Funding Newsletter

Latest newsletter for Parish Giving Officers et al is available Parish Funding News January 2011.

Bit of a dry edition I’m afraid – much information about tax to be got out at this time of year (and especially this year !) , but feel free to nick any of the info for your own purposes if it will help.

Headline I guess is the end of Gift Aid Transitional Relief – if your PCC don’t already know this they need to know it now !