Tuesday, January 29, 2013


  • Guidestar is an online non-profit company with one purpose. It publishes the Form 990 that most non-profits are required to submit to the IRS each year.
  • A 990 is a legal doc which states the total expenses and income for a non-profit. It breaks the expenses down into sub-categories and even lists the salaries of the five highest paid employees and their benefits. The 990 also shows the various sources of revenue for a non-profit from programming receipts to investment income. Finally, a 990 lists all recipients for organizations who grants from the non-profit whether these were small gifts or very, very large ones. All 990s on Guidestar are in PDF format so they can be downloaded and/or printed for further analysis.
  • Guidestar has a cool tool which enables people to search the hundreds of thousands of non-profits for any category which interests you. This makes finding your specific field of interest that much easier.
    • For example: your church is working with nearby elementary schools and wants to find money to expand a literacy program. A Guidestar search on "children's literacy foundation" shows over 150 non-profits which have literacy as one of their interests. Not all of them write grants so further research is required. This is time-consuming but eventually you'll find a dozen or so foundations to which you will write a compelling grant proposal/request. You may not get much or as much money you want/need the first time you ask, but be persistent and over time you'll develop relationships with the foundations that will open some doors.
  • Use Guidestar as a research tool to find local and national foundations which can provide additional resources for your efforts.
Lead On!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sloppy Church

My guess is that when you go to a fast food restaurant, you look for a clean or mostly clean table at which to eat. I avoid tables that are piled with stuff from a previous customer that wasn't considerate enough to put his trash away. I appreciate when the staff comes out to wipe down tables so they are clean for the next customer.

That is true for churches, too. Churches should be clean and free of clutter. We don't need last week's bulletins scattered everywhere, or every flat surface piled with flyers and postcards about upcoming events. We don't need Bibles and study guides in stacks on ledges, tables, and chairs in classrooms. I've seen rooms with tables and chairs tossed around as if no one cared about the room and what it looked like. I've seen members walk right past trash on the floor; actually, they looked at it and probably thought that was someone else's responsibility to clean up. I could go on and on, but you've likely seen the same thing in your own church or in one you've visited.

Bottom line: if a place of business were as sloppy and messy as many churches are, you wouldn't give them your business. Why then are churches so sloppy?
  • Is it that no one really sees it? Yes, there are some people who see messes and some who just don't. I'm one of the first group. I see messes, and they bother me a lot. Here's a way to know what group you're in: look in your car. If you have empty drink cups, wrappers, and other trash on the seat or floor, you're in the group that can't see messes. If that's the case, you ought to find someone with a really clean car and get them to point out to you the messes in your church. They'll show you what you "can't see."
  • People think someone else is responsible for that. Some members actually believe that they pay staff to do those menial chores and that they should not have to stoop to pick up trash or straighten bookshelves or ask why there are old books and Sunday School quarterlies which make the church look bad. Keeping the church clean and straight should be everyone's responsibility; not just the custodian's job.
  • Do some people not even care? Unfortunately, yes. It's not a large number of people, but some just don't really care or appreciate how a church looks. That kind of problem requires a bigger solution than just becoming aware of how sloppy the church looks; those folks need to experience a change of heart so they'll value their church and its property.
Next time you're in church, look around with really open eyes. Check out your surroundings very intentionally. If it were a restaurant, would you eat there, or go to the next restaurant down the road? Guests and members appreciate cleanliness and orderliness, and you do too. Make it a point to help your fellow members understand how little things such as picking up old bulletins, straightening tables and chairs, not having piles of materials everywhere, and other things like that can have a positive effect on people--members and guests alike.

Lead On!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Star Trek & Star Wars

Pick one of those two space sagas - I don't care which one, choose your favorite. Okay, now, name the seven major (good) characters in each one:

Star Trek
  1. Kirk
  2. Spock
  3. Sulu
  4. Chekov
  5. Scotty
  6. Uhura
  7. Bones
Star Wars
  1. Luke
  2. Han Solo
  3. Leia
  4. Obi-wan Kenobi
  5. Chewbacca
  6. C3PO
  7. R2D2
You may not be a fan of one or the other; you may not like either series. There are a few similarities and many, many differences between these two groups of characters but let me focus on one in particular as it applies to churches and their leadership: #6 in each list.
  • Uhura is more than the sex appeal for Star Trek, she's the communications officer. She is on the bridge, sitting just behind the captain and ready to carry out his orders but also making suggestions based on her experience and knowledge of language and culture.
  • C3PO is the golden robot and comic appeal in Star Wars. He is also conversant in "more than 6 million forms of communication." He talks non-stop to everyone especially his buddy and fellow robot R2D2.
Both are utterly critical to the success of each mission. Uhura and C3PO ensure that the message from the leader is spoken clearly and without misunderstanding (well, C3PO does mess up a few times) so that the story is moved along and that everyone knows what is going on.

Transition: who is the communications person in your church? Are you like most churches, relying on the pastor who is already doing everything else (preparing sermons, marrying, burying, counseling, helping members, leading staff, going to meetings, etc.)? Or are you intentional about using someone who is gifted in this area to take the message from the leadership and craft it in a multitude of forms so that the message is transmitted to everyone in every way possible? That person may not know six million forms of communication, but he or she is probably more knowledgeable than the pastor about how to disseminate the message.

Churches need to have a clear, consistent, comprehensive, and cohesive communications cohort. The pastor and other leaders must develop the message in a succinct manner. Then, they must work with and trust the communications specialist to send the message out in every way possible to the broadest possible audience.

The audience will see, hear, and read it in multiple ways. Marketing experts say that it takes a person seven views before the person will internalize a message. Communications people love the challenge of finding ways to tell things; most non-communications get weak-kneed at the idea of telling the same thing seven different times.

Even Hollywood recognizes the importance of communications in a leadership group. How much more should the church recognize the importance of communications since the church has the greatest message in the world? How intentional is your church in its communications? And what do you need to do to be more intentional about it?

Lead On!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How to Calculate a Church Budget

Every church I've worked with has struggled with determining the amount at which to set the subsequent year's budget. Everyone wants to increase the budget in order to provide more funds for staffing and programming (rarely for building needs, but that is another matter). But Finance Committees know that even if they put a figure out there, it means little if the income/receipts/revenues don't come in to support that budget target. Committees want to step out in faith, but they also don't want to be caught overstepping (and dropping into a financial void). So, what's a church Finance Committee to do?

Here's my idea:
  • In the month that you set the budget for the next year, look back 12 months and calculate how much money came in during that period. That figure is your budget for the next year.
  • For instance: 
    • Your fiscal year is the calendar year
    • In July and August, ministry areas work on their respective budgets with a deadline to get their requests to the Finance Committee by August 31
    • The Finance Committee gathers all the data to finalize the budget by September 30 so that it can be voted on in October
    • At their July meeting, the Finance Committee looks at the total undesignated receipts for July 1 through June 30 (the previous 12 months). That figure is the new budget for the fiscal year that starts in January (six months away).
    • Whatever that increase (or decrease) is over the current fiscal year, that percentage (up or down) is communicated to all the ministry areas as to how much they can increase (or decrease their budget.
This has many benefits:
  • This is a conservative or fiscally prudent way of budgeting - churches should receive at least that amount in the next 12 months, perhaps a good deal more.
  • This means that you shouldn't have to go into spending freezes and hurt the morale of the staff and church
  • This enables the church to continue to plan well for its ministries and not feel it is over-reaching financially
  • If more money comes in than was budgeted, the extra money can be used for capital needs, rainy-day or reserve fund(s), money for unforeseen opportunities, additional money for budgets that were shorted, etc.
This process makes short work out of deciding how much you'll budget for the next year. That will enable the Finance Committee to focus on more important things such as assisting ministers, ministries, and members with good stewardship practices.

Lead On!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Saying Thanks!

Here is a link to a good article about thanking your donors. Thanking, explaining, sharing stories, and helping others know what is going on in your church is vital to your church's finances. People liked to be thanked - please do it often and use as many platforms as you possibly can:
  • Personal letters
  • Articles in the church bulletin
  • Social media
  • Webpage
  • Hallway conversations
If you make this part of your daily attitude, that same attitude of gratitude will flow into your staff and your church members. After all, it is well known that every organization takes on the attitude of the top dog. So, be grateful, tell others thanks, and encourage everyone to follow your lead.


1. Write a Greeting Card, Not a Business Letter
2. Share Recent Progress, However Small
3. Add an Invitation—But Not to Something That Requires Another Donation!
4. Use a More Creative, Personal Opening
5. Include Results-Oriented Photography
6. Record a Video Message
7. Send a Postcard from Behind the Scenes
8. Be Specific about How the Gift Is Being Used
9. Change Who's Saying Thank You   Lead On! Steve

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mobile Giving Apps

Mobile giving apps are good but have limited value.

They really "hit the big time" with the Haiti earthquake when tens of millions of dollars were raised. Since then, mobile giving has been mainstreamed into countless fundraising efforts: Japan tsunami, presidential campaign, Hurricane Sandy relief, etc.

  • Here's the good thing about mobile giving apps: you get money pretty quickly
  • Here is biggest negative: most apps have a cap of $10 per gift but some will go as high as $25. To my knowledge, at the present time no giving app has a "fill in the blank" amount to give. All have caps. One way around that is for people to give 10 times $10 - but that is a pain.
See these articles about the ups and downs of giving apps. Things may have changed since the articles were written, but I've not heard of any major changes.
SOLUTION: create a QR code that links to the giving site on your church's webpage. Print that code in your bulletin each week. Smart phone apps scan the QR code and links to the giving page on your website. Then people can fill in the amount of their choice (more than $10, I hope). Here is a link to a QR code generator (it's free).
  • http://goqr.me/
Parting comments:
  • The national fundraisers bring in the big bucks because of the size of their audience.
  • Find ways for people to give what they want to give - not a token amount
  • Don't leave money on the table - if all you're asking for is $10, you're leaving money on the table
  • Don't train people to give $10 or $25 - from then on they'll think that's all it takes to run a church
  • Ask some of your young techies in the church for ideas they've seen; they're more aware than most of us
Lead On!