News Articles

Dutch denominations finetune fundraising with coordinator Kerkbalans

Fewer members contribute larger amount

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

UTRECHT, the Netherlands - Dutch generosity one day easily may brush aside the widely held notion that Dutchmen are frugal and cautious with their money. Perhaps it is the challenge of getting cautious people to open their wallets, that other Dutchmen have become experts at fundraising for a wide range of charities. There is even an agency which rates such organisations for efficiency and effectiveness, alerting the public for those they should avoid. In recent years, the people of the Netherlands have contributed substantially to of all kinds of worthy causes, often in concert with telethon publicity. None of those campaigns however match the annual drive of the country’s mainline churches.

The largest month-long, national fundraising campaign, dubbed “Kerkbalans,” largely relies on a door-to-door approach by an army of local volunteers. Lke other large campaigns, Kerkbalans, made up of tens of thousands of fundraisers, has specific beneficiaries, namely local congregations belonging to national denominations. Kerkbalans serves as a national coordinator which produces an entire range of advertising material, posters, windows signs, colouring drawings for children, pens, envelopes, business cards and not-home notices, and more while the local congregation organizes its own volunteer force which then visits their members for an annual pledge.

Since it was launched in 1973 to jointly draw attention to the churches’ need for money, every year tens of thousands of volunteers go door-to-door in January. “Kerkbalans” (it translates as “Church’ Bottomline”) plans the details for the next joint effort during the rest of the year. A typical Dutch institution, the national coordinator assists the independent, local campaigns, serving seven church denominations which together represent over 4,000 parishes and congregations. The joint campaign draws the attention of the churches’ memberships to the need to support their work which - with decreasing constituancies - requires more money per member.

The aim of Kerkbalans is not new, since every parish and congregation already required funds to operate before it raised awareness of the church’ role in society. The participating church communities - the Roman Catholic Church, the Netherlands Reformed Church (NHK), the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN-s), the smaller Old-Catholic Church, the Mennonite Society (Doopsgezinde Sociëteit), the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, and the Remonstrant Brotherhood - all have their own volunteers - as several did before 1973 - canvass respective memberships for their annual contributions for the local Kerkbalans. Each parish and congregation eventually reports via their own channels.

Proceeds from the campaign on average cover about 80% of such costs as building maintenance, salaries (clergy, organists and support staff), and a range of associated activities. The other 20%, Dutch churches raise from collections, gifts, rental income and investments’ revenue. The 1999 campaign totalled over 900 million guilders but does not include the 170 million yearly collected for deaconry, missions, and evangelism.

Kerkbalans is not the only service bureau to get involved in the campaign. The Foundation Mechanical Registration and Administration (SMRA) especially assists NHK canvassers by arranging membership lists per district and walk.

Dutch churches no longer receive government subsidies for their regular work - for clergy stipends and administration, any such support was phased out after WWII which particularly affected the NHK - even though at the kickoff NHK’s synod chairman Rev. Van Vreeswijk in his speech noted that they jointly make a significant contribution “to keep society-at-large livable.” The Dutch government along with provincial and local levels still aid churches financially when monumental houses of worship require restoration. Notably NHK congregations often are burdened with the increasing maintenance cost of architectual treasures and monumental/historical buildings, many of which were built centuries ago. To ease the burden of the congregations, local governments also have assumed responsibility for church towers, reasoning that these landmarks are for the enjoyment of the broader community.

The smaller orthodox church groups usually promote regular giving as part of membership obligations. None of these are part of the Kerkbalans campaign.