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Making giving easy during uneasy times

Presbyterian Foundation’s Day of Learning offers up lessons learned during the pandemic

by Nancy Crowe for the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Ellie Johns-Kelley and Karl Mattison, both with the Presbyterian Foundation, spoke this week during the Foundation’s Day of Learning.

JEFFERSONVILLE, Indiana — When the togetherness of a worshiping community is ripped out, churches have to create doorways for giving, said Karl Mattison in the second of three Presbyterian Foundation Day of Learning events: Virtual Campaigns and Online Giving.

Mattison is Vice President of Planned Giving Resources for the Foundation. He and the Rev. Ellie Johns-Kelley, Ministry Relations Officer for the Foundation’s Northeast Region, offered a few lessons learned during the pandemic.

Focus on a year-round plan

The massive financial impact of COVID-19 is, of course, felt in churches, Mattison said. Churches whose buildings are empty on Sundays continue and are still at work. However, members don’t see that when church, pew and offering plate are reduced to a computer screen, Johns-Kelley said.

With digital worship predicted to continue, “a year-round campaign is a more critical piece,” Mattison said.

That means showing members what their gifts have done — and can do.

Sharing a narrative budget is especially helpful here, Mattison said. He described a narrative budget as “a representation of the line item budget in simple, easy-to-read terms.” It tells the story in a way the numbers alone cannot.

As an example of a line item, he gave the following: 7 people + 1 dog + 1 car. Then he showed a Norman Rockwell painting of a family on a road trip. You see the two adults, five kids and a dog in the car, but you also see Dad’s cigar, the dog and at least two kids with their heads out the window and the boat named “Skippy” on top of the car. This offers a more lasting feel for what’s really going on.

The ministry continues

Such stories can be shared in pamphlets, Johns-Kelley said, adding that the Foundation can help with this.

“Members need to hear what they cannot see — that ministry is still happening,” Mattison said. Brief reminders about this or that project or accomplishment happening because of members’ gifts can be inserted into the bulletin, newsletter articles, minutes for mission and videos during the offering.

In a similar fashion, asking people to contribute energy also can incorporate brief messages, such as: “This all depends on us!” and “Join us now to provide more.”

Online giving as an option

Then there are the challenges of a worship service without a physical offering plate. A large percentage of gifts to churches are given during worship, Mattison said.

Digital offering should be part of worship — even virtual worship — and it needs to be easy, Johns-Kelley said. For example, a QR code lets mobile users donate without navigating away from an online worship service.

On a church’s website, giving options should be prominent and clearly explained. Members should be made aware that they can contribute via appreciated securities, IRA distributions and donor advised funds. Because many churchgoers use them, “cash and checks should still get top billing,” Mattison said.

If you do only one thing, Johns-Kelley advised pastors, do this: Address stewardship in your sermons throughout the year. “When a topic goes unsaid, it goes unheard,” she said, recommending Henri Nouwen’s “A Spirituality of Fundraising.”

Gratitude — organized and intentional — is important, too, they said. Letters to parishioners can go out with pledge statements. “Thank-you team” members can write notes (without having to know amounts) of thanks for gifts, especially for unexpected gifts. “People remember these,” Mattison said.

“Thanking deserves a system,” Johns-Kelley said.

The two discussed several resources available to church leaders and members. Each region has a Ministry Relations Officer. The Foundation also offers an Online Giving Program churches can use whether or not they have a website, and Stewardship Navigator, another online tool.

Nancy Crowe is a writer, editor, and animal wellness practitioner based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing, at

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