Mission Possible: Motivational Factors for Charitable Contributions

The number of charitable organizations in North America has been growing prolifically for more than a decade.  As a result, people now have more options when considering their charitable contributions.  In the church, we teach and preach about tithing and “first fruits” giving.  While some churches have spiritually nurtured a significant number of their members to tithe 10% of their income, the vast majority of churches receive on average a lower percentage from their members.  Certainly, church leaders and staff share a responsibility to cultivate the spiritual discipline of giving.  As Christians, we are called to be generous givers.  We are to encourage God-honoring personal budget planning.  We are to teach biblical financial principles to all generations.

In addition to this spiritually relevant foundation, a few key factors serve to motivate people’s giving in a large membership church.  The more a church has strategically woven these motivators into the congregational culture, the more likely church attendees are to maximize their gift.  One of the most cited reasons for not giving to a charity is a potential donor’s perception that the charity did not ask for a contribution.  But, what is one of the most cited reasons for giving to a charity?  It is a donor’s belief in the organization’s mission.  This principal is also a key motivator to people’s giving through the church.  Do people believe in the mission of your church?  It is important to note that this fundamental question presupposes that the church has a definable, well-marketed mission statement. 

Thus, a more basic question must be asked first.  What is the mission of your church?  One might recognize that the Church has a primary purpose – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  However, the process for living out this mandate may vary from congregation to congregation.  In fact, even within one large membership congregation, attendees may have different interpretations of this primary purpose.  Many churches have spent arduous hours preparing a well-intended, lengthy mission statement that incorporates complex theological terms.  These mission statements are easily forgotten.  If church leaders hope for the wider community to embrace the mission statement, then it should be: 1) clear and concise, 2) easily understood by people outside of the immediate community, and 3) memorable.  If you asked 100 people to interpret the mission statement, would at least 90 of them be able to offer an accurate interpretation?  If “yes,” great (of course, 100 would even be better!)  If “no,” continue to revise and to focus on the above three guidelines.

Once a mission statement has been finalized, then it can help to form the culture of the church community.  The mission drives the strategic plan.  Moreover, programs, activities, and ministries should be measured for alignment with the mission and vision of the church.  Unfortunately, this metric of effectiveness is not one used even by most large churches.  One benchmark to evaluate a particular ministry is to measure its alignment with the greater mission. 

So why do church leaders often decide to introduce a new program or activity?  New programs or activities are introduced for a wide variety of reasons – many of the reasons have minimal connection to the overall mission or purpose.  The reasons may be legitimate ones to begin a new ministry, but church leaders risk beginning and ending ministries based on arbitrary assessments, rather than strategic alignment.  In countless instances, churches that introduce many new ministries and programs without much thought to an overall strategic plan end up with a lack of focus.  This lack of focus inevitably leads to a disjointed fury of activity, rather than a clear strategic plan focused on a future vision or goal.

So, here is a basic outline of the process to form a strategic plan for a local church.  First, begin by defining the core values.  Core values provide a fundamental set of guiding principles upon which mission and vision are based.  They provide answers to the questions of: 1) who are we? 2) what do we believe? and 3) what is our behavior based on these beliefs?  These core values remain constant.  An entire congregation might be asked to participate in the initial formation of these core values, but the key church leaders and staff of large churches should finalize them.

Once the core values have been established, then church leaders can define the church’s purpose as it relates to the congregation and wider community.  What is unique about this congregation?  What is this congregation called to do, based on its core values?  Simply completing this statement, “We are called to . . .” will focus the mission statement.  In most instances, it is advisable to create a tag line or service mark that captures this mission, stirs interest, and drives marketing efforts.

The vision will encourage church leaders to dream.  Leaders and donors, alike, are motivated to work toward visionary goals.  With God all things are possible!  Do not underestimate the ability to accomplish great things for the sake of the Kingdom!  If the mission is accomplished, what will the church and the larger community look like?   

While the core values of a community will most likely remain constant over the foreseeable future, the mission and vision may be adjusted and grow as the community experiences success.  Yet, the greatest change will probably occur with the strategies that are selected to help the faith community achieve its mission and vision.  These strategies – ministries, programs, and activities – are chosen because of their ability to help the church achieve its mission and vision.  They serve to focus church leaders, staff, and volunteers on measuring ministries against the backdrop of the greater mission and vision.  Initially, one of the best methods to determine some of these strategies is to engage key leaders and staff in the process of asset mapping.  Asset mapping builds on the already existing assets within the faith community and provides opportunities to strengthen and to expand those assets.

Several factors contribute to the overall fiscal health of a church.  One of these fundamental factors is the church’s overall strategic plan and mission.  While we are led biblically to cultivate giving to God as a relevant, spiritual practice, we must recognize that people are presented with numerous opportunities to give financial contributions.  Their decision to give is often influenced by a key motivator – belief in the organization’s mission.  If people believe in the mission of the church, they will be more motivated to increase their level of financial and personal commitment to the community.  This increased commitment will lead ultimately to a growth in discipleship and witness for Jesus Christ and the transformation of the world.

This article also appears in Church Executive, a nationally recognized journal published for senior pastors, executive pastors, and business administrators of America's large Christian churches.  Click here to visit this journal.