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Who is Giving? Part 2

Last week, Erin Weber-Johnson called us to be mindful of the particular people who we’re inviting to give. This week, Erin shares how such an approach can face challenges given the brokenness of our institutions. She also suggests ways we might counteract these gaps by asking better questions. Intrigued? Read on.

Yours truly,
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders


Who is Giving? Part 2

by Erin Weber-Johnson

Stewardship is a contextual ministry. We bring our whole selves into the act of inviting, giving, and thanking. The language we use when talking about giving—moving from a paradigm of obligation to a paradigm of inspired choice to draw closer to God is deeply relational.

What don't we know about stewardship…and why?

I’ve spent the last seven years teaching others about generational characteristics and their impact on giving to the church. About four years ago, I was leading a national training on this subject. After the lecture, a participant stood up and said, “This information reflects what I know of congregations that are white in my diocese. Do you have information that reflections faith communities of color.”

I did not have this information. Up to that point, I had made the assumption that national data would include people of color. This assumption proved false.

After searching for national data from all denomational bodies and likely national sources, I came to realize that there is a great hunger for this information, but also significant barriers. To begin, information provided by faith communities of color has been consistently misused in the past. Understandably, pastors of color that I spoke to didn’t feel comfortable filling out surveys without knowing how their information would be used—and especially if there were no clear benefits to the people they were serving.

The impact from the lack of data is profound. Consultants, teachers, and pastors utilize data in order to create strategies for fundraising. Currently, we are working with partial data which means we keep creating and teaching strategies to raise funds for only part of the Church. This negligence is the (im)perfect intersection of money, race, and systematic practice.

Currently, a non-profit, The Collective Foundation, has started to address the gap in fundraising data. In the meantime, without the benefit of data from communities of color, how do we begin to develop strategies that are appropriate to specific congregations?

The best answer is to engage in intentional conversations and data collection from within the church. Recognizing that we bring our whole being to the discipline of stewardship, we can begin by asking the following of those in our pews:

  • When have you felt most inspired to give?
  • Why have you given in the past?
  • What would make it easier to give?
  • How would you like to be asked?
  • What are your earliest experiences of giving?
  • What words can be hard to hear and why?
  • What can we pray with you about?

Whether in surveys, small groups or one-to-one conversations, answers to these questions can provide the foundation for how to communicate, invite, educate, and thank people.

Stewardship is a contextual ministry. It is clear we bring our whole selves into the act of inviting, giving, and thanking. The language we use when talking about giving—moving from a paradigm of obligation to a paradigm of inspired choice—to help repair the world is deeply relational.

Utilizing these questions and others about money relationships provides space for leaders to better know who are in our pews, their needs, their history, and how best to engage them in this transformative work.

For More Information

Erin Weber-Johnson works with faith-based organizations in areas of fundraising/stewardship and strategic visioning as a consultant at Vandersall Collective. She is co-founder of the Collective Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to address the gap in giving data for faith communities of color. Previously, she worked nine years the Episcopal Church Foundation as senior program director for strategic resources and client services. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"Cambridge Bridge" image by Martin Stewart. Creative Commons licensing via Flickr.

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