Non Profit Technology and the sad state of churches and denominations

OK, I am just back from the National Technology Conference (#14NTC) put on by NonProfit Technology whatever whatever (NTEN) and I am, of course, psyched. You all know that I am easily aroused by energy and promise and the new, so 2000+ techno-saavy do-gooders is going to jazz me up.
But really folks in local UU churches and in the UU denomination! We have to change how we do things.
Let's just talk about money and fundraising.
We have capital campaigns on the local and on the denominational level. And we have the annual pledge drive in the congregation which feeds the Annual Program Fund which funds our programs at the denominational level.

So, a big chunk of our operational money, both at the congregational and at the denominational level, is raised through the time-honored, tried and true method of the church pledge campaign. Is it working?
No, we are broke in the local church. And No, we are broke denominationally. And we are not a poor people.

Now, don't come crying to me that you have had a great pledge campaign this year and the year before. I know you want to brag about how you and your local congregation are the shining star in an otherwise dark sky. Overall, it isn't working.

And when you think about it, the local church pledge drive is the fundraising amateur hour.

There are some larger churches that have begun to think about having a development director, which is fine and dandy, but are focused on capital campaigns. Like the local UU congregation was the local art museum.
But we are not a local cultural institution ! We are a religious movement, a spiritual movement of people, all sorts of people, who want to create lives of purpose and meaning for ourselves and our families and friends, and to contribute to creating a more humane culture. If asked, we will contribute real dollars, appropriate to our circumstances, to make that possible.
Fund-raisers for non-profit organizations know that you have to ask in a lot of different ways, over and over again, with compelling stories and narratives. They are professionals who know how to cultivate a group of people who give money to fulfill their beliefs and values. They are professionals who work at cultivating relationships with people, engaging them over and over again, listening to them, connecting to their deepest aspiration. And they raise money from people quite voluntarily. And believe me, most of these non-profits don't have a solid cadre of people who gather weekly for inspiration, and are bonded by covenants of love and care, to start with.

Do you believe that after a hundred years the annual pledge drive will start working radically better in the next decade?  Some new technique will come along that will change how it works? Some new theme? Some new joke in the pledge sermon will unleash a tide of money to fund the work that we see that we need to do?

It's time to re-think it all. Just like it is time to re-think the whole concept of membership in UU congregations.

I am humming with ideas. More to come.


  1. rock on with your bad self...

  2. Steve Cook9:04 PM

    I’ll agree that the local church pledge drive is the fundraising amateur hour—as are the various supplementary efforts throughout the year—service auctions, holiday fairs and the like. (Although those also carry along very important group building energies that the pledge drive doesn’t.) As an interim, I usually inherit an array of already used (and overused) fundraising tactics, including the “sermon on the amount,” the appeal from the minister letter; should we have a kick-off dinner or a wrap-up luncheon; how about a skit our two at the beginning of worship; should we use the old thermometer poster again or come up with something new?

    My opinion has been that none of this makes any difference, especially in a transition period (admittedly very different than the year in, year out ambience.) I believe members and friends give at the level they can and maybe a bit above because they feel deeply committed to the congregation’s work and vision, not because they had a kick-off dinner instead of a wrap–up luncheon. Focusing and releasing that energy is the challenge.


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