Saturday, January 14, 2012

Of Collections and Congregations

I am called in by organizations to answer what seems to be one question: “How can we raise a lot more money – and very soon.” It is, in fact, two different if not competing questions. The secret to raising a lot more money is to not let the need for the “soon” be the enemy of “a lot more.”

It is not what leaders of many organizations want to hear but the role of a consultant is to tell the truth as politely as possible. Rather than say, “that won’t work,” I look for a metaphor that will help a client understand why it won’t work and how it can be fixed. For instance, I might say, “If you want the collection basket to be fuller, you have to build a bigger, more fervent congregation.” The metaphor is an apt one for evaluating the health of any philanthropy-seeking organization.

In many cases, the cause of meager collections goes to the very core of the institution. They haven’t defined or articulated their deepest beliefs. They talk about what they do, but not why. They tell you about the functions they perform, not the higher purposes they serve. They fret about what needs to be done now, not the difference that can be made years and years from now. What kind of congregation can you expect to assemble and sustain, if you preach only about the management of the church, not the living of the faith?

In other cases, I find there is an inspiring faith but it is too rarely expressed or reduced to a form of conversational shorthand. The faith is alluded to as if everyone understands it and a word or two will suffice to remind us of its importance. Vibrant congregations remind themselves weekly of why they exist and why their faith matters.

In still other instances, I find a compelling calling to higher purposes and the faith convincingly articulated by the ministers but the congregation building has been left to those who pass the collection basket. Of the powers-that-be, I ask, “If you moved to a new town and were considering which church to attend, would you be most likely to join the one that sent the basket-passer to recruit you? Might not you be more inclined to join the one whose pastor first approached you or that you were introduced to by a neighbor? If you went to a church only to find the preacher asking for money and the basket passed incessantly, and each time shaken more assertively in front of you, would you be eager to go back? Would it matter if the basket passers were particularly nice looking, well-dressed, affable or well-spoken?” By this time, my points are taken or they’re looking for another consultant.

Whether you’re in the business of faith, education, science, technology, medicine or a host of other worthy causes, the success of your collections will be in direct proportion to your willingness to work assiduously at building a congregation of passion, purpose and determination to live out your faith in meaningful ways day after day, year after year.

1 comment:

Tom Whalen said...


Even coming from a decidedly more secular perspective, which I do, your post really resonates with me. The comparisons between all sorts of not-for-profit fundraising and health care (higher education, healthcare, you name it) and 'the congregation' are powerful, simple and straight on.