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David Heetland’s New Book Helps Church Leaders and Seminary Students Learn to Create Generous Congregations

Rev. Dr. David Heetland and the Creating Generous Congregations Book Cover

In his 35-year tenure as vice president for development at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. David L. Heetland learned a thing or two about effective fundraising. Under his leadership, Garrett-Evangelical consistently ranked as one of the top seminaries in the nation in dollars raised and in percentage of alums supporting the institution. The seminary also completed three major capital campaigns, including the most successful capital campaign in the seminary’s history, which raised more than $100 million.

In his new book, Creating Generous Congregations: A Step-by-Step Guide (Cascade Books), Heetland shares his fundraising expertise to help church leaders – both pastors and laity – gain the knowledge and confidence they need to lead boldly and create generous congregations.

Heetland, now senior vice president for planned giving at Garrett-Evangelical, said he decided to write the book because he had heard church leaders tell him over the years that they felt uncomfortable and unprepared to deal with financial matters. Few, if any, had training in financial stewardship while at seminary. Furthermore, many pastors said they feared talking about money might offend their parishioners, and they didn’t feel comfortable with some of the high-pressure fundraising tactics used today. Heetland said he knew he could help church leaders, as well as seminary students, by teaching them how to talk about financial stewardship in a Christian way and outlining the elements of a well-rounded fundraising program.

“I’ve learned a lot over the years about what makes for good fundraising,” said Heetland, an ordained pastor and a certified financial planner, with a specialization in charitable giving. “I think that educational institutions understand how to motivate people to give, but somehow, these lessons haven’t translated to the local church level. Churches need to learn how to put these principles to work in their own settings.”

“The lack of strong leadership in the area of stewardship, particularly the stewardship of financial resources, is a major problem facing many churches today, and this has negative consequences for the church,” Heetland continued.

To begin with, fewer charitable dollars are being given to churches. “Religion’s share has declined substantially in recent decades, from nearly half of all charitable dollars in 1988 to about 29 percent of charitable giving in 2018,” Heetland said. He attributes the decline to an increasing number of charities, but also to the church’s inability to create a compelling vision, communicate the vision, ask for the gift to fulfill that vision, and thank people for the gift.

“When you stop to think about it, what other organization do you know that expects a weekly gift from their donors and doesn’t even bother sending a thank you?” he asked.

The second and even more devastating consequence to the lack of strong financial leadership, Heetland said, is church members no longer understand the relationship between their giving to the church and their own spiritual growth. “Our need to give is more important than the church’s need to receive,” he said. “We need to invest ourselves, our time, talents, and treasure in things beyond ourselves, in programs and projects and people that will outlast our own lives if we are to become fulfilled human beings.”

Heetland lays out the argument that resource development is an essential part of ministry today and will become increasingly important in future decades; therefore, it is in the best interest of pastors and church leaders to learn the basic principles of Christian financial stewardship.

“Leaders must now be willing to move beyond their embarrassment, timidity, and fear to gain expertise and confidence in the development of financial resources,” he said.

In his book, Heetland teaches church leaders about the five major steps in the fundraising cycle: (identifying potential donors, gathering information from and sharing information with these persons, learning about their interests, encouraging meaningful involvement in the life of the church, and inviting their investment of resources. He also talks about the importance of getting organized, developing a mission statement, assessing the fundraising environment, formulating goals, developing fundraising goals, and preparing a case statement.)

“Getting organized might be the hardest step to take,” Heetland said. “Churches need to ask themselves, Are we really willing to make the commitment to take stewardship seriously?”

In addition to getting organized, Heetland said, a church must have a compelling vision that is big enough and bold enough to really attract people’s attention and commitment and goes beyond maintaining the year-to-year budget. Churches need to stop seeing financial stewardship as a once-a-year event and start thinking of stewardship education as a year-round activity, Heetland said.

In his book, Heetland also explains in detail each of the essential components of a well-rounded fundraising program – annual gifts, capital gifts, and planned gifts – and why they are important. “To begin with, churches need those annual weekly gifts to meet the needs of the church and carry out the mission of the church,” he explained. “In addition to that, there are always going to be the things that come up and are over and above the annual budget, like needing a roof on the church or endowing a program, so churches have capital needs from time to time.”

Heetland urged congregations to think creatively about what more they could do in terms of outreach and vision if they had the resources to do it. “A capital campaign can be very motivating and can cause people to want to do more and give more,” he said.

The final component of a well-rounded fundraising program is a planned giving program. According to Heetland, this is an area that receives little or no attention by most churches, much to their detriment. “Most churches have not learned what educational institutions have known for a long time: a consistent planned giving program can produce significant dollars over time,” he said.

Although Heetland wrote the book prior to the pandemic, the book’s message is particularly important in this current environment because more churches are struggling financially.

“This is a great time to rethink church and to focus on vision and meeting the needs of the people and the community,” Heetland said. “My hope is that pastors and laity will find the book a helpful resource in these challenging times, and also that students and faculty might use it to begin training up the next generation of pastors who aren’t embarrassed to talk about money and recognize that it is one of the most important parts of ministry.”

Creating Generous Congregations can be purchased at Cascade Books (541.344.1528), www.wipfandstock.com, and www.Amazon.com.

Rev. Dr. David L. Heetland is senior vice president for planned Giving at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He is also the author of Happy Surprises: Help Others Discover the Joy of Giving.

“David Heetland’s writings have been foundational to my understanding of fundraising. They provided an education I wish I had gotten in seminary but did not. I am grateful for his work.” —J. Clif Christopher, Founder and CEO of Horizons Stewardship and author of Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate

“Creating Generous Congregations offers a welcome gift to church leaders. In addition to a wealth of pragmatic resources, one of its most compelling aspects is the theological understanding of stewardship as a way of life. Defined as fundamentally a spiritual matter, the committed practice of stewardship will necessarily lead us into a closer relationship with God.” —Lallene J. Rector, President, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

“Heetland describes accurately and persuasively the role of clergy and laity in advancing stewardship. I recommend the book to anyone thinking seriously about enhancing the philanthropic potential within the local church.” —Russ Weigand, former Co-President, Campbell and Company

“Here you can learn from a master in the art of fundraising. . . . Before you spend several thousand dollars on a fundraising consultant, study David Heetland’s method in Creating Generous Congregations and see if it might be your congregation’s ticket to a renewed plan for congregational fundraising.” —Ted A. Campbell, Professor of Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

“Heetland, a national leader in fundraising, outlines ways in which congregations can be formed into communities of faithful and joyful generosity. I admire the book’s theological integrity, its practicality, and its encouraging and optimistic tone.” —Neal F. Fisher, President Emeritus, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, and author of The Parables of Jesus