Stewardship and Leadership, Part I: Traits for Success

This article is the first in a two-part series about Stewardship and Leadership, with the focus of Part I on leadership traits as applied to stewardship.

When we think of stewardship, oftentimes money is top of mind. It’s a much broader concept than money, as most of you know, and has many facets. Today we focus on effective traits of leadership and how they can positively impact stewardship. 

Much has been written about what makes a leader effective, whether they are a leader of a business, a non-profit, a church, some other entity or a team within one of those entities. Some leadership qualities may be appropriate only for certain types of entities. Here we highlight four important leadership traits that should be applicable anywhere, and especially so for stewardship teams during the current pandemic and its resulting financial impacts.

Does each member of a stewardship need to embody each of the traits outlined below? Ideally, that would be wonderful. We live in an imperfect world, however, and it often takes a team of diverse folks with different skill sets to achieve success. An example is when a minister asked me to do a True Colors session as part of the retreat we designed to launch the work of a Building Team (BT). That minister wanted each of the folks on the BT to appreciate each other’s differences. They went on to successfully shepherd the building project through to completion! To be clear, they deserve all the credit for their hard work and as a team they embodied the leadership traits of Trust, Transparency, Compassion, and Hope.


Important in any role and relationship is trust. When dealing with the complex and sometimes taboo topic of money, trust is essential. Congregants need to trust their stewardship leaders to keep their pledges and gifts confidential and also trust the messaging about stewardship.

These days, your messaging is online, through video clips on Facebook, via your website, live during your Sunday online service, and via e-news and other means. You can still build and maintain trust in your stewardship leads when you cannot connect in person. 

Another component of building trust around stewardship is the creation of safe space to discuss money. I am always enlightened by the varied responses I receive from folks across the economic spectrum when I ask:

“What is your first memory of money? Is it positive or negative? How does that impact your thoughts and actions around your money today?”  

Offer the opportunity to discuss money in a way that aligns with our principles. For example, a book discussion about Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance, by Edgar Villanueva or a follow-up Zoom discussion following the virtual UUA General Assembly 2020 session Money as Medicine: Rooting, Inspiring, Readying Congregational Stewardship, by Rachel Maxwell and Mark Ewert. Start the conversation and begin to build trust.


Along with trust, is a level of transparency about your congregation’s current financial situation and what that means for your ongoing stewardship efforts. People often fear what they don’t know. Provide multiple ways for people to access and understand how your congregation funds its mission and vision and what it takes to be successful. Not everyone will want a lot of detail, but some people will, and the information will be there for them to process and understand.  

Be truthful about how the pandemic has impacted your congregation’s financial health and then highlight your successes and your hopes for what you want to accomplish together in this new reality. 


The act of showing empathy and concern for others, showing compassion, is key for many aspects of our personal and professional lives. For our congregational relations and the overlying umbrella of stewardship, it is also essential.

Pre-pandemic, stewardship teams always needed to be compassionate for those members and friends who could not step up to support financially the operations of the congregation. Pledge waivers, and financial help for those in need, both within and beyond our walls, has been important for our denomination. 

Today, as many people face a grim financial present and uncertain financial future, our stewardship needs to reflect our heightened awareness of this new reality. Some members and friends are able to continue their paid work or have a steady income stream from retirement or other sources, and some do not. Strive to get the message out that all are welcome, no matter their financial circumstances and their ability to pledge. And you can message that while some people may no longer be able to make a large pledge or pledge at all, others more fortunate need to step up their pledging to hold those who cannot.


In these times, as during many other challenging times in history, it can be difficult to be hopeful. Hope can help your congregation see a way forward when facing uncertainty about our financial futures. You can still maintain optimism as we continue to adapt to changes in the way we gather and connect and provide support, faith, love and friendship to each other and the wider world. Our congregations have done an amazing job with stewardship during this pandemic – see the survey results. There is reason to be hopeful that we can continue to inspire generosity and carry out our missions and visions.

The words of a favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, remind me of our devoted stewardship leaders and teams who continue their work to help our congregations thrive.

“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul and sings the tune
without the words and never stops at all.”
– Emily Dickinson

So build trust, be transparent, model compassion and continue to inspire hope for what you do and can accomplish in your stewardship ministry.

Stay tuned for Part II on Stewardship and Leadership where we delve into incorporating stewardship into all leadership roles.

Liz Coit, Kay Crider, Mark Ewert, Barry Finkelstein and Rachel Maxwell are part of the Stewardship for Us team. Please send your questions and topic suggestions for our blog or online Friday Forum discussions to