A DIFFERENT kind of “long Covid” looms over churches and charities: there are concerns about a lasting effect on their finances. Will givers be able to offer a cure?
According to the Church Army’s fund-raising team leader, Paul Critchlow, individual donors responded “incredibly well” to appeals during the first lockdown, in spring 2020. “However, we haven’t had the same response this year, and that might be an indicator of fatigue, given that we now know that Covid isn’t going away.
“It may also show that people are concerned about the long-term sustainability of their own finances post-Brexit and -Covid. Typically, our donor demographic reflects the Anglican church congregation, retired and on a fixed income. For some, this may be a concern, especially now we are hearing of soaring gas prices and seeing shopping bills and petrol prices rising.”
A number of supporting churches have told the Church Army that their own reduction in income has meant they have been unable to give to charities in the way that they have in previous years. “This meant that our income from churches in 2020-21 was less than we had budgeted for,” Mr Critchlow says.
“Covid restrictions on churches have also meant we have been unable to physically visit churches to raise our profile and giving, and many are still reluctant to receive visitors. So this will no doubt hit our income for the current financial year, too. While some churches have received speakers via Zoom, these are very much the minority.”
The Revd Richard Hayes is Rector of Clymping and Yapton with Ford, in West Sussex. They have held reflective worship events in ancient buildings, and more recently on YouTube, amid this network of village communities of flint cottages and country lanes. But Covid has cast its shadow.
“I think that, among my folk here, they’re not immediately thinking ‘Oh, the Church must be short of money: we will give more,’” Mr Hayes says. “There’s a lot people are having to process — including personal financial pressures.”
During lockdown, the churches invited people to give in different ways. “A few responded, but, like all charities, we took a big dip in giving. However, we are beginning to raise the spectre of having to increase giving, due to the demands from the diocese to go above and beyond.”
Parishes are being asked to increase their giving if they can: the emphasis on trying to give 100 per cent or more of parish-ministry cost (PMC) for 2022, and to aspire to giving up to 120 per cent of PMC by 2024.
“We are ramping up stewardship campaigns, now. It’s acknowledged this is the wrong time to do this. We were able to pay 100 per cent before the pandemic, but have no idea how things will pan out now. But this is how our diocese feels it has to approach the financial crisis every diocese is facing. Others are doing things differently but equally, if not more drastically. We, as a benefice, are now waiting to see what the response will be from our folk.”
Chris O’Donovan/Children’s SocietyThe Children’s Society has facilitated various approaches to Christingle this year to accommodate inside, outside, or online servicesBECAUSE of Covid, the Children’s Society has seen its community and retail income fall. “Yet the number of children and young people needing our help has grown,” the director of community mobilisation and local engagement, Nikki Pawsey, says.
“What we have been really touched by is the innovation of our supporters’ adapting their activities, so they can still raise crucial funds for vulnerable young people. Our online and contactless giving continue to go from strength to strength. Even our traditional house-box collectors have moved online for the first time.”
The Children’s Society says that more churches than ever have chosen to support them through their mission giving. “This has performed really well during Covid,” Ms Pawsey says: “it’s online, safer and, from our point of view, a brilliant way to give.”
She refers to one “real shining example” — St Helen’s, Wheathampsted, in St Albans diocese — which has supported the charity over a three-year plan.
Legacies turn up from “many individuals” who may have previously supported the Children’s Society through their church, and from independent donors who have not. “Covid meant our legacy-administration process was slowed down, which was reflected in our income, but 2021-22 is already shaping up to be a much better year,” Ms Pawsey says.
Some churchgoers are reluctant to make plans, and are worried about another Covid wave, she say. Others feel the need to connect more than ever and come together as a community. In response, the Children’s Society is offering a blended approach to this year’s Christingle, so that people can come together inside or outside, or take part online.
“In general, we’re seeing that people are planning less for the long term, but, instead, focusing on a more flexible approach to short and medium term.”
Christian Aid believes that legacy giving has never been more important. “These largely unrestricted donations have helped many charities weather the storm of reduced income at a time when demands for their services have increased, owing to the pandemic,” a legacy partnerships specialist, Kerry McMenamin, says.
A recent survey by Christian Aid suggested that only 15 per cent of churchgoers had heard at church about leaving gifts in their wills. While 73 per cent of church leaders talked about stewardship giving, only 24 per cent had ever talked about gifts in wills. “While charities have been talking to their supporters about gifts in wills for some time, churches still have a way to go,” Ms McMenamin points out.
Christian Aid says that legacy gifts are set to increase by 30 per cent over the next decade, making space for even more charities and churches to benefit. “Legacy Foresight [a legacy analysis agency] has forecasted £43 billion in gifts over the next decade,” Ms McMenamin says. “Now is the time for churches to get comfortable talking to their congregations about leaving a gift in their will.”
Two-thirds of people who leave a share of their estate to Christian Aid also leave a legacy to their church. “Christian Aid are working with churches to make it easier to talk about gifts in wills. We know that by equipping churches to talk about gifts in wills, together we can transform both our local and global missions.”
PGSThe C of E’s national adviser for giving and income generation, Jonathan de Bernhardt Wood, interviews Chris Gray, the treasurer at St John’s, Egham, at a seminar held in partnership with the Parish Giving Scheme at the CRE
GRANT FORREST is the new chief executive of the Parish Giving Scheme (PGS), which he describes as “a simple, safe, secure solution for regular giving”. Donors can give through the scheme, and their giving is restricted to the parish that they specify. PGS also sorts out the Gift Aid process.
So far, 30 out of England’s 41 dioceses have signed up, and 3500 parishes are using the scheme. There are signs of more coming on board. “We’re really pleased with the uptake from the dioceses,” Mr Forrest says. “We’ve got 30 now who are active. We actually have in the pipeline two or three that are just working out their timescale to come on board.”
While he is upbeat, he is also “fully aware” of the present climate and the challenges that it presents to Church and society. “We are all being squeezed in every way, but what we are seeing and hearing is that the generosity towards our churches is there,” he says.
In response to Covid — and the lockdowns, which meant that donors were not going to church — PGS set up a direct-debit phoneline service in April 2020. “We’re not in our church buildings: how can we give?” Mr Forrest says. “What the Parish Giving Scheme has done is set up the service so you can set up your direct debit over the phone.
“What’s really encouraging is that over 4500 people since April 2020 have set up a direct-debit mandate, using the phone service. What that equates to — which is really important — is that’s over £300,000 per month committed giving from those 4500 people.” He calls it “a generation of generosity” who can remain anonymous, and who are in control of their electronic donations. PGS says that giving is on the increase.
In the shadow of Covid — and whatever else is waiting down the line — Mr Forrest is choosing to look on what appears to be the encouraging results of the scheme. He is in touch with treasurers who are changing the culture of their churches. “We are in a really uncertain world, and regular giving is bringing certainty to the life of the Church,” he says.
A team from PGS managed a stand at the recent Christian Resources Exhibition, which was an in-person event again after lockdown. PGS engaged with treasurers, church leaders, and members, Mr Forrest says. “One church leader said how using PGS as a catalyst for generosity means he can talk about money a little bit easier.”
What about those people who are still in pain? “I have the privilege of working with a brilliant team based down in Gloucester in the office,” he says. “And I’ve listened to some of these calls that are coming in on the phone line, and just seen how the team respond, and I’m just blown away by the pastoral support that the team offer to the givers.
“We’ve just gone through the pandemic, and inevitably some people have passed away. There’s some admin for family members, who have to phone up and go through that process of cancelling direct debits. That’s a really hard thing to do. But the pastoral support from our team means we are an extension to that finance team at the church.”
Church ArmyPeople looking through a Church Army legacy brochure
MARK BRAMPTON is the ministry-area resources adviser of Llandaff diocese, doing the same job as a stewardship officer. One third of the population of Wales live in the diocese, which includes Cardiff and the country’s poorest and richest parishes.
“We have, in the past, had very generous donors and very generous parishioners; so we’re holding up well,” Mr Brampton says. “We had the highest rate of payment of fairer share [parish share] in Wales, and I think in England as well.
“Ninety-eight per cent of parishes pay the full fairer share that we ask them. That’s just slipped a little bit in Covid. We thought it was going to collapse, but it didn’t.
“So, on the whole, like every parish, we’re not quite sure what situation we’re in, because you can’t get all the information in. But we’re certainly not cutting staff. We’re using our reserves for our vision, a five-year strategy for growth; so that will be most of our reserves gone. But that’s our mission.”
During lockdown, a resource church in central Cardiff was launched, planted by a team from Holy Trinity, Brompton, and Harbour Church, Portsmouth. “It’s not the best time to do it,” he says, “and already it has 500 worshippers on a Sunday. I heard it was the fastest-growing Anglican church in Wales and England. So it’s just tremendous.”
There are stories of parishioners battling bravely through the Covid storm, handing gifts to the churchwarden in the street — because they weren’t meeting in church — or saving up their planned-giving envelopes until they could go back to church. But no one will know the full picture for some time. “Until we really start to settle down through next year, we won’t really know quite where we are,” Mr Brampton says.
What about legacies? The post-Covid advice in Llandaff is not to be embarrassed about it: people are glad to leave money to parishes that ask.
“All we recommend is that the parish has a legacy policy to explain to people what they would do, how they manage legacies, and how they spend the money, and so on, and that they make that available,” Mr Brampton says. “That’s easier to say — ‘We have a legacy policy’ — than ‘Please will you give us a legacy.’
“The few churches who’ve done that — we can’t absolutely say those legacies wouldn’t have come in anyway; but they have had legacies left to them. Don’t be so shy about it. The RNLI aren’t shy about it, and no one gets angry with them for saying, ‘Do remember us in your will.’”
Clive Price is a freelance writer and editor, provides PR support for music artists and charities, and is Communications Manager for the Methodist Ministers’ Housing Society.