The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has four Special Offerings (One Great Hour of Sharing, Pentecost, Peacemaking and Christmas Joy) and for over a year, Sam Locke has been responsible for the information materials that support these offerings.

Sam has been in the fundraising field for 10 years and worked for United Way before joining the PC(USA) staff. At the April 20 presbytery meeting, he led a breakout group to talk about PC(USA)’s special offerings.

After the meeting, he sat down with Grace eNews for an interview.

What are the big strengths of the special offerings?

The strengths to me are that most people know exactly what they are. In the breakout section today, there was a diverse set of opinions on how the dollars should be spent, on what should be lifted up, on whether any of that should be changed. But everybody knew exactly what the offerings were. They are very ingrained in the culture of being a Presbyterian unlike some other PC(USA) fundraising programs and new initiatives. People know what Special Offerings are and generally have a good feeling about them.

Another big strength is that people see massive collective impact from small gifts. It is easy today to think that to make an impact in philanthropy that you have to be someone giving at a five- to six-figure level. Those donors are great. The average gift size for each special offering is $2. Think about how many $2 gifts it takes to make between $14-15 million a year and the massive impact that it has. This is a great example of people offering what they have and it coming collectively together to make a huge impact for our missions though out the world.

What are some of the challenges in special offerings?

The challenges we face are not unlike the challenges that presbyteries and individual congregations face. We live in a world where it is very easy to communicate need. There are so many organizations doing so many amazing things. We want to support all of them.

Reality is that there is limited amount of resources. We have to do a better job of celebrating the work that we are doing. We are already doing amazing mission work at the local, national, and international level. We just can’t be afraid to celebrate our victories and the impact that we are having. In some ways, we have hidden our light under the bushel and are not telling our stories.

What are some new things that Special Offering is doing?

Quite a bit. One of the biggest areas of focus has been technology. We are very intentionally and deliberately reaching out to new constituents through social media and website who might not know about the special offerings.

I mentioned that one of the strengths of Special Offerings is that it is widely known. I am not sure that is true with the youngest Presbyterians. We are reaching out through mediums that people understand and are on every day. We have two separate apps for the iPhone and iPad.

One is Impact 365. It offers a daily story how the special offering dollars are at work in the world. It shows precisely the value of the offerings and why it is important for people to participate.

The other app is called Gracie’s Journey, a tribute to the long-time One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) mascot, Gracie the fish. It is tied to the coin banks that have been used for a long time. Each year, in the OGHS material, is a children’s story that features Gracie and her friends talking in a way for children to easily understand the issues of hunger, poverty and disasters.

This year’s story has been converted to a children’s book that is available in print for purchase or as an electronic reader that is free from the iTunes app store.

The story comes with some reflective questions that raise awareness of the offering and gives children the opportunity for conversations with their parents and church leaders about the offering.

When I travel across the church, particularly young adults, what they recall first about the special offerings is the coin banks. An incredible amount of resources have been raised by children using the coin banks. We need to celebrate that more, and this is one way we can do that by engaging them in the process with this book with its reflective questions and not just hand them a coin bank.

Some of the changes in our traditional materials: we are being very deliberate in telling stories of positive impact rather than talking about bureaucracy, structure and percentages.

Beyond that, we are engaging in an old-fashioned communication strategy. The Special Offerings over the last 10 years had become a stagnant process. Materials developed. Shipped to a church. Church takes the offering and sends the money back up. We are trying to reinsert the human touch.

We are making an effort to call every single church for every single offering to make sure they have the materials they need or want to conduct the special offering. It helps us to promote. It helps us build relationships. And it helps us to research if what we are providing is helpful for churches.

Are Special Offerings tied to a single day of giving?

With the recent General Assembly, no. They have encouraged us to promote and take the offerings through a season:

  • One Great Hour of Sharing during the season of Lent
  • Pentecost from the day of Pentecost through the season of ordinary time
  • Peacemaking in the weeks before and after World Communion Sunday
  • Christmas Joy during Advent season

The church can take the offering anytime during these seasons. It does not have to be in the context of the pew, but a Sunday school class could take the offering.

What has been the response to ability to give to the Special Offerings through texting?

Last year, we had about 1,000 contributors via text message. It is not a huge number in the context of 2 million Presbyterians, but it is a good start. What I think is more important is that these are probably outside the traditional construct of giving through church. It means that we are reaching other people and that our message of impact is being heard by different audiences and being cross shared with other audiences as well.