“Fearless Fundraising” is a series on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising and now, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-making. For more information, videos and model documents go to fearlesschurchfundraising.com.
I have found that too many parishes are unnecessarily squeamish about asking for people to make the final payments on their annual pledges. I feel the tension too, so I really do get the discomfort. It is Advent and we have just barely finished the pledge campaign for next year’s pledges. The ink is not yet even dry on those thank you letters for the 2018 pledge and yet we still have to collect the final payments on the 2017 pledges and at the same time consider the year-end campaign as well as all of those donations of flowers and decorations at Christmas. It is a lot.
What is perhaps helpful is that we are asking for payments on pledges which were voluntarily made by pledgers this time last year. We are helping people to do what they need help remembering to do. The only time donors gets angry at the attempts to collect a pledge is when we have the wrong numbers or misspelled names. This is why this final letter asking for the balance of a pledge needs to be done very carefully. Donors/ Pledgers ARE NOT upset by being asked to fulfill their pledge by making a payment but they DO know exactly what their balance is – so you should too! Secondly, you must be very clear in your letters and emails about exactly what you are asking for. The letter needs to differentiate the payment of 2017 pledge versus the acknowledgment of the recently-made 2018 pledge.
When I am doing collections letters on pledges I keep a few things in mind:
- When possible, try to use different themed stationary for the two campaigns so that you and the donor can clearly see what is being asked for. It is very easy, with today’s desktop technology, to adapt stationary by adding a color and design theme which reflects the colors and designs and themes of each year’s campaign. Last year we used flowing ink as a visual theme. This year we used spices as a visual theme. It is not hard to get a teenager, handy with a computer, to design the two letter-heads. I did it in 12 minutes just to see how long it took.
- When sending letters, triple check their accuracy and do so with different people (people you trust for confidentiality) so that you do not make mistakes on names. This is VERY IMPORTANT. Nothing is so offensive to a member of your congregation than that you do not really know their name and a typo pushes you into that category even if you are innocent. Worse is sending a letter to a deceased member. If you have an incompetent secretary or lay volunteer doing letters, then politely switch their jobs away from donor correspondence.
- Never, ever, ever make the collections letter anything other than a letter. Never make it look like a bill or invoice. If your computer system spits out pledge invoices then use them to create letters and (only if you absolutely must …and I suggest you not!) send the offensive-invoice-looking-grotesque-thing along with the letter (Not that I care…). A simple excel mail merge will insert all the pertinent information into the letter.
- And lastly, adapt letters for differing realities of the donor:
- a letter for those who paid some and owe some
- a letter for those who paid all …and thank you!
- a letter for those who have not paid any and need to pay it all now in December (gently written).
It is impossible to overstate how essential it is to manage donor relations (stewardship relations if you need to drape reality in ecclesial language) with great care and frequency. The only way to alienate a pledger is to treat them carelessly in correspondence. Here is a sample letter(pdf).
Jesus came as the WORD, not the idea. Words are important to God. It is how God creates and liberates. So use words with care as you help people to do what they said they would do. Nobody has ever, in 35 years of stewardship and fundraising leadership, been upset at me for asking them to pay their pledge. They have, on the other hand, been very upset at me for forgetting to help them to do so.