The Pony Express Stewardship Program: An Alternative to the Every-Member Canvas

By Diane Dorosa

This article describes one way a parish addressed the financial aspect of Stewardship with successful results.

I. Background

The formal stewardship program implemented by St. Nicholas Orthodox Church of Greater Akron was two years old when we realized it wasn’t providing satisfactory results. Beginning with small discussion groups, the parish moved on to an every-member canvass program.

We immediately encountered several problems, the largest being resistance to the every-member canvass technique. Too many parishioners associated the every-member canvass and pledging with recent building fund drives. Involvement with the stewardship program was limited to a small portion of the parish, and new solicitors were reluctant to enlist. Difficulties compounded when key people were relocated out of state. A mail campaign, tried the following year, produced more disappointing results.

What was needed? First, a comprehensive campaign that not only had a clear objective, but also a well-planned means to meet that goal. An organized program would ensure a smooth turnover as administrative responsibilities changed each year.

Second, more involvement by a greater number of parishioners was needed. The role of Steward extends to each individual of the parish community, not the same group each year.

Third, the program should, of its own, generate excitement and enthusiasm. Stewardship isn’t a chore, but a task performed willingly with the joy of personal giving and involvement.

II. What is the Pony Express Stewardship Plan?

The Pony Express Stewardship Plan is a unique approach to parish financial planning and budgeting. As with the original Pony Express mail system of more than a century ago, the key to success is a common objective and the knowledge that each individual must do his part to complete the endeavor.

The Pony Express program utilizes a relay system among local, active, mobile families of the parish. The families are divided by geographic area into Saddlebag Routes of ten families each. A Saddlebag is prepared for each Route, bearing a Route list and containing a Stewardship reading booklet and personalized commitment cards for each family in an unsealed envelope.

The Pony Express Run is a time period of approximately two weeks during which the Bag is relayed from one family to the next on the Route List. On the Sunday the Run begins, the first family uses the Bag by reading the enclosed material, completing their commitment cards, returning the sealed cards to the Bag, then hand delivering it to the second family, which uses the Bag within 24 hours and delivers it to the third family, etc. until it has made the complete circuit. A key campaign worker called a Trail Boss oversees the relay of the Bag on the Route. He and his family are the first family on the Route List and the first family to use and relay the Bag. One Trail Boss is needed for each Route of ten mobile families.

Another key worker called a Station Agent supervises the Trail Boss, making sure he checks daily on the Bag’s movement along the route. Each Station Agent oversees five Trail Bosses.

The campaign head is called the General Manager and is chosen by whatever means the parish uses to appoint its Stewardship Chairperson. In large parishes (500 or more) the General Manager recruits and supervises a General Manager Assistant. Each General Manager Assistant, in turn, recruits and supervises five Station Agents. (In smaller parishes, the General Manager would recruit and supervise the Station Agents.) Each Station Agent recruits and supervises five Trail Bosses.

When the Route relay has been completed, the Trail Boss returns the Saddlebag to the parish office. A routes Secretary maintains a Trail Boss Report-In Roster posted there. The Finance Leader and the General Manager (or other designated officials) tally the commitment cards as these come in. Progress reports on the Pony Express Run are shared with the parishioners on each of two Sundays. On Appreciation Sunday, at the close of the Run, the General Manager makes a final report on the success of the campaign.

Later, each participating family is mailed a Thank You Letter that confirms the amount on the commitment cards. Families on the Routes who were “missed” during the Run are mailed a letter with a commitment card and a return envelope. Shut-ins and geographically scattered families are mailed a letter, prior to the Run, with a commitment card and a postpaid return envelope.

Teenage youth and elementary-age children are included in this “family-centered” program. Unless the parents prefer otherwise, young people fill in their own commitment cards and place them in the Saddlebag along with the parent’s card. Their interest is stimulated by Church School materials about stewardship designed specifically for them.

The strengths of the Pony Express program are twofold. First, it provides maximum participation in the parish financial planning and budgeting process. The relay system gives many parishioners the opportunity to help with the campaign in a way that is comfortable and rewarding to them.

Second, it is a program of total accountability within a sound organizational structure. The various key workers rely on tasks performed by other workers, and the program is executed according to schedule. Not only is each key worker in a responsible position and held accountable, but each is provided the appropriate support.

The Pony Express Stewardship program had been used successfully by another local Orthodox parish, as well as numerous non-Orthodox churches. Based on their recommendations, the Stewardship Committee decided to investigate further.

III. How the Pony Express Stewardship Program Was Used.

The first step was to acquire an introductory packet of Pony Express materials at a nominal cost. The packet included samples of promotional material, guidelines, timetables, cards, letters, envelopes, and instructional material used in conjunction with the program. (It should be noted that all materials entitled “The Pony Express Parish Finance Program” are protected by copyright laws. Purchase of the introductory packet includes local release of copyright for twenty-four months.)

The Stewardship Committee reviewed the preliminary material and recommended the Pony Express Stewardship Program to the parish council, who approved its use.

Several modifications were required. For example, the Run is scheduled to begin on a Sunday morning with a Breakfast meeting where the Trail Bosses receive their instructions, their route, and their Route Saddlebags. With many persons regularly receiving the Sacraments on Sunday mornings, the Breakfast was easily revised to an evening briefing during the week preceding the start of the Run.

The program also had a provision to publish the names of all parishioners who participated (excluding the committed amount.) The Stewardship Committee, in conjunction with the parish council, preferred not to publish all names the first year.

The Pony Express Program provided many excellent materials in areas the Stewardship Committee had not previously considered, such as the inclusion of school-age children and the addition of Building Fund contribution estimates. Not all the available materials were used. While we ordered some through Stewardship Resources Inc., we reproduced others locally.

The parishioners responded very positively. We easily recruited volunteers, gave detailed instructions to the whole parish, and found that participation was more than double that of previous years. The Program went according to schedule without any problems and the Parish Council was able to prepare a financial plan in time for the annual meeting based on a reasonable estimate of giving from the parishioners.

IV. Conclusions and Recommendations.

To say that the Pony Express Stewardship Program worked in our parish is an understatement. A parish Stewardship program should not be a frustrating responsibility, or fail due to lack of materials or expertise. It is unrealistic to expect local Stewardship Committees to develop a comprehensive program without extensive training and resources.

The Pony Express Stewardship Program provides a viable alternative to the every-member canvass approach. It can solve the administrative nightmare of a Stewardship Program and is easily adaptable for Orthodox churches.

While much of the Pony Express material is “Protestant-oriented,” perhaps an effort by the OCA to work in conjunction with Stewardship Resources Inc. could produce an Orthodox version.

For more information on the Pony Express Stewardship Program, write the Reverend Don English, P.0. Box 75205, Oklahoma City, OK 73147.

Questions For Discussion:

  1. What do you think might be the benefits of such a program in most Orthodox parishes?
  2. Considering the present system in your parish, do you think you could use this program?

Portions of “What is the Pony Express Plan” were adapted from the Master Instruction Manual and Presentation Outline provided by Stewardship Resources Inc.

Diane Dorosa is a member of the Church Board of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Akron, Ohio and this past year was Chairwoman of their Stewardship Committee.