Stewardship Kaleidoscope speaker: Getting to the ‘why’ of stewardship motivates giving

‘This is about God’s kingdom and the powerful ways that God is working in our church’

by Chuck Toney for the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Peter Reuss (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

“It’s not about the money — it’s about the mission.” That was the theme of the Rev. Peter Reuss’s session, “You want me to donate? Why? Building blocks for an impactful appeal.”

Reuss, a Partner at GSB, presented at Stewardship Kaleidoscope, an annual conference held Sept. 25-27 in Minneapolis.

“In church, we are very good at talking about what we need, but we are not so good at talking about why it matters to our mission,” Reuss said. “People want to know that their gift is making a difference in the lives of people through the grace of God at work.”

After asking attendees to discuss with each other why they thought people give to their churches — and why they give themselves — Reuss shared that the most common reasons that people give to their churches are shame and obligation. “Stewardship has for too long been out in the realm of The Law,” he said. “This is what you should do.” And while that may prompt giving initially, it does not inspire people to give over the long term.

Reuss shared a five-step approach to successful fundraising programs for churches and religious organizations, pointing out that the ask is not the first step: Identify, Inform, Motivate, Ask and Thank.

  • Identify — Churches have an advantage that other nonprofit organizations do not — they know who their donors are. Within that known pool of donors, churches can access public records to conduct wealth screening and identify congregants with the potential for making significant gifts.
  • Inform — This is the “What?” What will be done with the money that will serve the mission and have a positive impact on the lives of people both in the church and outside its walls? This step can be informed by data — Sunday school attendance, youth group participation, mission/outreach budget — but that is not the way to motivate people to give.
  • Motivate — “People don’t care about your budget,” Reuss said. “They want to be inspired by the outcome.” How can you create excitement about what will be done with the money and how people’s lives, inside the church and outside it, will be made better in the name of God.
  • Ask — Many churches move from the need (our budget, the roof is leaking) to the ask without creating motivation. The key here is to make the request as personal as possible. Know your givers and what inspires them in their faith. Blanket requests are not generally successful. “If you are asking everybody the same thing, you’re not really asking anybody” in an effective way.
  • Thank — People don’t have to give, and when they do, they should be thanked. And there are many ways to thank people: handwritten notes, letters from pastoral staff, phone calls. Showing them the impact of their gifts is another way to thank them, and also loops back into motivation. One church dedicates a worship service to youth sharing their mission trip experiences, so that members can see what their gifts have done.

Making the case for support

“If we are going to help people take the next step on this journey of generosity, we have to give them the ‘Why?’” Reuss explained. “Everyone in your congregation is on a journey of generosity, and we have to meet them where they are.”

It is important, he said, to understand the difference between Goals and Tactics. Goals are spiritual (for example, “We want to support our youth and help them grow in their faith.”). Tactics are practical (for example, hiring a youth minister). Too often, Reuss pointed out, churches lead with the tactic — hiring another staff person — instead of the spiritual goal. It is easier to motivate people to support a spiritual goal than a practical one.

“People can be motivated to support a spiritual goal even if it doesn’t affect them personally,” he said. Contemporary worship services aren’t for everyone, but members who prefer a traditional worship service for themselves might support the creation of a contemporary service as a means to achieve a spiritual goal.

“If people don’t understand the ‘Why?’, we are not going to be successful in our fundraising program,” Reuss said in conclusion. “No one in the history of the church has been moved to give by a budget deficit presentation. This is about God’s kingdom and the powerful ways that God is working in our church. Are people’s lives different because we exist? That is what excites people.”

Chuck Toney is the founder of C. Toney Communications in Athens, Georgia and an elder, usher, and lay reader at First Presbyterian Church of Athens. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation, at

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