The daring, risky, but oh-so-necessary art of the ask

Most congregational leaders would rather do anything than ask God’s people for money. On the avoidance scale, it ranks up there with cleaning out the cat’s litter box or dealing with that food-storage freezer that stopped working last month (but nobody noticed until just today!).

Is it because of how some folks recoil when approached for contributions … like you’re asking for one of their kidneys or for details of their sex life? You get an icy stare and a shoulder that’s colder than a polar vortex. No wonder congregational leaders throw up their hands and say, “I’ll never ask for money again!”

Is it only me, or is there a double-standard when it comes to seeking donations for the church? People never seem to grouse about the direct-mail dumps or phone calls from Habitat for Humanity, the American Cancer Society, the Red Cross or the Wounded Warrior Project. And they still listen to public radio despite those annoying pledge drives.

Maybe the problem lies in how churches tend to ask for money: Sheepishly, reluctantly, apologetically – begging, really. And then, only when it’s a really dire problem, so that we can really push the “guilt” and “shame” buttons. No wonder folks are offended.

Here are some ideas for how to be more effective in asking for money:

Don’t apologize. People know the church needs money to fund its ministries, and they know that as members they are responsible for keeping it in the black. So don’t apologize for asking for money. A hat-in-hand attitude can actually discourage giving by implying that your church isn’t deserving of support.

Be bold. National Public Radio isn’t shy about asking for money, and neither is the Red Cross. They do important work and are proud and loud in their requests. (See above.)

Be smart. Make a case. Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just ask for money; they tell you about their mission and explain exactly why you should give, how your money will be spent, and how your support will make a difference. Lots of churches ask for money to “make budget” or fill a deficit hole. Yawn! People would rather give it where they know it will be used well.

Be creative. You’ve been mailing the same stewardship letter for the last 22 years? Then you know about the law of diminishing returns. Find new ways to ask. Use technology. Employ humor. Tell stories. Take pictures. Post videos. Print flyers. Make posters and banners. Write articles for the newsletter. Talk one-on-one.

Avoid threats. I’ve heard stewardship appeals that imply the church will close in three years unless people cough up the dough. It’s like a ransom note. Even if the threat is real, it’s totally not motivating. It’s like asking for money just to keep a rickety old car on the road. Would you want to invest good money to keep a jalopy from going to the junkyard? (Me either!) Frame your requests without veiled threats.

Be positive. While asking for money, celebrate your church’s ministry and what you’re doing, even if it’s just being a good family church. Emphasize how your church, small and challenged though it may be, is nevertheless achieving wonderful things for its members and beyond.

Ask invitationally. So a friend asks you to lunch, but you’re busy and politely say no. She says, “OK, maybe next time.” No big deal; no guilt or shame. It was just an invitation, right? Make your asks similarly invitational, with no hard sell. If people say yes, great! If they say no, that’s OK, too. No problem. Maybe next time they’ll be reading to accept the invitation to give … and there will be a next time, right? (See below.)

Ask regularly. Some churches ask for money only when it’s absolutely, positively – desperately! – needed. A last-resort, a “Hail Mary” pass. Big mistake. Asking only when the devil (and the bank) is at the door trains people to keep their wallets in their pockets until and unless things are really dire, because then and only then the church will beg them for more. Get people accustomed to being asked regularly for money – intelligently, creatively, positively, wisely, etc. If the stewardship train stops regularly at the church station, they’ll get on board when they are ready.

Asking is hard. But the important thing is that no matter how you ask, you do begin asking … and that you make it a part of your ministry. Regular, intelligent, creative, non-threatening requests will help break down resistance and develop a culture of healthy generosity.


© Copyright 2019, the Rev. Robert Blezard. All rights reserved.

Reprint rights granted for congregations for nonprofit, local use. Please reprint with the following copyright notice:
© Copyright 2019, the Rev. Rob Blezard. Reprinted by permission.
Other uses, please inquire: rob@thestewardshipguy.com 

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