May 23, 2013
Five Ways to Survive Summer with a Balanced Church Budget
These ideas can help turn a traditionally difficult season into a blessing.
Churches have historically dreaded summer due to one thing: giving. That's because activities and costs peak with summer missions trips, camps, and Vacation Bible School just as regular weekly contributions wane. The challenge for every church leader is to survive slow summer giving with a balanced budget.
The good news: It's possible. The bad news: It will require more attention than you've likely given it in the past. If you want different results, you must be willing to shift your thinking, planning, and strategy.
There are, of course, the obvious tactics like boosting participation in online giving--especially recurring giving. As attendance during the summer months proves to be inconsistent, traditional giving during the weekly worship service can be dramatically affected. Recurring online giving can solve that.
Another often-overlooked idea to boost summer giving is to keep everyone connected to the church and church needs via e-mail. Too often, church communication is limited to what is spoken from the platform or what is printed in the church bulletin. While that is certainly efficient for the church, it is not necessarily effective when a portion of your congregation is expected to be transient.
These two ideas are a good place to start, but there is so much more you can do to boost your giving this summer. Consider these five ideas:
- Update your church database with accurate data. This may seem like an odd suggestion to address summer giving, but incorrect data will negatively affect giving. Use the weeks leading up to summer to sift through your church management system and clean up your data and make sure all addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and names are correct. You can even enlist volunteers to collect the information with a personal touch! Everyone likes to know they matter.
- Diversify your communication with video messages. Video e-mail is a great way to personalize a message from a pastor or ministry leader. In one to two minutes, you can share not only information but also inspiration transferred through nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and posture.
- Mail ministry updates to regular givers with a postage-paid courtesy reply offering envelope. Send three mailers throughout the summer: one to explain what will happen, one to describe what is happening, and one to celebrate what happened. Direct mail still draws a large percentage of nonprofit and religious giving. And the courtesy reply offering envelope prompts the act of giving.
- Communicate ministry results through the lens of life change. People are less interested in event attendance rates as compared to news about lives transformed. Make sure you clearly connect summer programs and events to life change.
- Construct spending habits to match giving patterns. This takes a little more planning. Budget larger expenses when giving is higher, maybe in spring or fall. Then, commit to watching actual giving and actual expenses every 30 days. Make adjustments as needed.
Benefit to Church: Data integrity is essential to the value of your database. Your givers are people. Databases help leaders ensure no one gets lost or overlooked. Without accurate data, you cannot monitor, measure, and manage mission-critical information such as giving patterns, attendance habits, and event participation.
Benefit to Church: Not everyone consumes content in the same way. Some people are visual. Some people are verbal. Either way, video messages are a great way to change things up and make your givers feel connected even if they can't be present with you in real-time. Giving is always an emotional response to a present need.
Benefit to Church: Most regular givers still prefer printed forms of communication. Reach the people who have already proven a preference to giving to your church, and prompt giving related to ministry updates or progress reports. Givers are more confident in giving--and giving a little extra--when they see ministry results.
Benefit to Church: Givers want to know they are making a difference. No other institution on the planet has been given the ability to facilitate spiritual transformation. Life change provides a soul-satisfying return on investment no dividend statement could compete with.
Benefit to Church: Planning expenses to match cash flow is something every organization must do to remain financially viable. The closer you can keep actual expenses to actual giving, the more likely you'll have a balanced budget at summer's end instead of a deficit you'll have to overcome.
Summer doesn't have to be a financial roller coaster. Instead, it should be a time to celebrate life change, plan for the fall ministry season, and build momentum for the coming year. If you'll take the necessary steps to adapt to your congregation's shifting summer attendance and giving patterns, you can survive the slow summer giving season with a balanced budget and be fully prepared to move forward with confidence into what God is calling your church to do next.
For more help with financial performance measurements, check out the Essential Guide to Church Finances.