Sponsorship: Weathering Tough Economic Times at UU Churches

Just about everyone is hurting in these very difficult economic times, churches included.  What is to be done about budget shortfalls at church?  This is especially a problem because many churchmembers suffer from pledge fatigue, having given much money already in the past and/or been “hassled” routinely by budget-conscious church folks asking for more giving (often such constant pledge driving is necessary, but that doesn’t mean it fails to take a toll on the pledgees over time).  Many budget committees are reluctant to ask for yet greater donations when they know that their parishioners are suffering economically, even though the church may be in serious financial straits.

There are many possible solutions.  One that can be attractive in certain situations is the idea of sponsorship.  A problem that many potential donors have is that they don’t know where their money is actually going to go, what sort of concrete results it will produce.  Running specific sponsorship drives parallel to the general pledge drive is a way to get around that.  For example, the Universalist Church of West Hartford is facing a budget shortfall due to the overall economic situation and other factors.  One program that is danger is the Universalist Bell Choir, an inter-generational music program that has been present at the church for decades and contributes much to the life of the congregation.  Their solution: a sponsor a bell drive.  For $50 donors can sponsor one of the church’s bells for the year.  With the money tied to such a visible and widely appreciated program, pledgees are more likely to give money they might have held back, and every time the bell choir performs, the donors can take satisfaction in the contribution they’ve made to the community.

Another case is the First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo, which is facing budgetary issues due to success–with the recent purchase of a full church building and installment of a new, popular, permanent minister, the congregation is experiencing growing pains as it expands rapidly.  One issue that has come up is the lack of service books: many Sundays there is only about one copy of <i>Singing the Living Tradition</i> for every three or four people in the pews.  Their solution: a sponsor a hymnal drive.  Donors can give money to the church that will be used to buy new copies of the hymnal, providing a direct service to the congregation (and ensuring that they won’t have to hoard hymnals jealously in the future).

Don Parker in the comments on the previous Well-Stocked UU History Bookshelf post mentions getting churchmembers to donate books off the list.  An obvious similar practice would be to have a sponsor UU history drive, with donors giving money that would be used to buy specific volumes for the church library.

For the first century and a half of liberal religion in North America, it was common practice for donors to buy or rent pews for their family to use.  In fact, this was one of the major ways in which many Unitarian and Universalist churches were initially built and funded year-to-year.  Sponsoring specific bells, books, and other items or programs at church is a latter-day application of this sort of fund-raising, applied to a new social and financial environment.  Perhaps your church is using sponsorship or should consider it, or maybe there are other inventive measures being taken to shore up the budget.  If you have useful/interesting/cautionary examples, please share.

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