3/4 of NFL teams leading after the first quarter go on to victory. I find the same is true when it comes to churches. In my experience, if a church struggles financially in the first quarter of the year, it will struggle financially all year. Your first quarter is crucial to the success of your year. As my old mentor in stewardship, Dave Sutherland, used to say, “You never have to recover from a good start.”
We are coming up on two of the most significant giving periods of your entire year, end-of-year giving and the start of New Year’s giving. So, I have focused on preparing you for your end-of-year appeal for the last few weeks. Now it is time to turn our attention to starting the New Year strong. This edition of the Coach is entitled How to Be Ahead at the End of the First Quarter. Here is my practical advice for your best first quarter of giving.
Be aware and stay aware. Most pastors don’t keep up with the giving trends at their church. If you are reading this, you have me to keep you aware. So, let me speak from experience to share with you that January is the second worst giving month of the year, behind July. The Holiday Hangover (metaphorically speaking) now runs almost through the end of January. Attendance and engagement are not back to normal, which impacts giving. Poor weather also keeps many from attending. At the same time, your members are getting the bill for all the holiday celebrations they put on their credit cards. These two factors, the decline in attendance and engagement and tapped-out donors, are what put stress on giving. The question is, what will you do about this annual stress on giving? Let me give you two recommendations.
First, manage your budget spending. The operating budget you set is simply an estimate of what you feel you will need to fund the missions and ministry of your church. I’m more concerned about cash flow in the first quarter than hitting some spreadsheet numbers. One of the biggest reasons churches struggle in the first quarter is an overly inflated budget, usually set months before January. Most churches doom themselves to failure with an increase to their budgets far beyond what they can meet. As a result, many churches will be behind at the end of the first quarter because the budget for the New Year was set too high. Now is not the time to be overly aggressive with your budget. I recommend managing spending in the first few weeks of the year while adjusting to your new budget need. Remember, just because it is in the budget doesn’t mean it’s in the bank!
Develop a plan for success. If every time you got in your car for a trip, it was out of gas, wouldn’t you work to correct that problem? Why is it that, despite every January being a difficult time for giving, most churches do nothing to head that decline off? If you do not plan to avoid this, you are planning on failure.
After years of having clients fall behind in the first quarter, I developed my start of the New Year plan called Six Weeks to Giving Success. The plan has two primary focuses. First, we focus on recurring giving, encouraging people to make their giving automatic and recurring. I like to do a similar push in May before the slump in summer giving occurs. Recurring giving will help even out your giving, helping you avoid the cash flow slumps of January and July.
Secondly, I like to hold a special “I Love My Church” offering in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. This gives a church the opportunity to connect vision with giving. We work to help attendees and members see the value of a dollar given to your church. My goal with special offerings is to see new donors begin their generosity journey and raise an additional week’s worth of offerings.
I realize that you are reading this in mid-November. However, I believe you can start now to change your future. Let’s end this year well to set the stage for a great beginning to the New Year with a solid first quarter of giving. Start planning now!
Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach