Throughout my career as a fundraiser, most people outside the profession seem to think that fundraising is about asking for money. Of course, money is part of the consideration, but it isn’t really what the conversation is about.
In the fundraising context, I like to think of the giving and receiving of money as a kind of sacrament – it is the outward and visible sign of a spiritual covenant between donor and recipient. This covenant is based on shared values, goals, and trust, and it signifies the coming together of donor and recipient in support of a purpose much larger than any one person or organization.
This is part two of a two part blog in which I address a question I hear frequently: “But, what will happen to our annual stewardship pledging if we hold a capital campaign? Won’t it go down? We can’t afford to have our annual stewardship pledging decrease!” This fear is common among so many congregations because, often, adequate time has not been spent talking and educating about the different ways we can give to the church.
In part one, I addressed annual stewardship. In part two, I will address capital giving and planned giving.
Last weekend, as I do several times per year, I was standing in front of a group of parishioners at an Episcopal church introducing the process ECF uses to guide a faith community in deciding if a capital campaign is in their future. As the rain poured down outside the window behind me and my PowerPoint presentation shined into the dim room, a man in the back row asked a question I hear from someone at almost every church I visit: “But, what will happen to our annual stewardship pledging if we hold a capital campaign? Won’t it go down? We can’t afford to have our annual stewardship pledging decrease!” This fear is common among so many congregations because, often, adequate time has not been spent talking and educating about the different ways we can give to the church.
The short answer to his questions is, if we (the campaign leadership from your parish supported by me, your ECF capital campaign consultant) do our jobs right, the total given through annual stewardship pledges will not decrease over the course of a capital campaign.
The question I am often asked when I am making a presentation to prospective clients is usually related to making “The Ask”. “The Ask” is the moment when one parishioner invites another parishioner to join them in giving to a fundraising appeal. Whether Capital Campaign, Annual Giving, or Planned Giving, this question is a common concern raised in parishes. While I am not surprised at the question I do enjoy answering it. I usually start by saying “I know I am biased because I do this for a living but this is actually one of my favorite parts”. With ECF’s 3 phase methodology for a Capital Campaign, when you do the first two phases right (Discernment and Feasibility), an ask is just coming together in fellowship to celebrate all of the work that has lead up to this moment.
It is in this moment that I see a sense of relief in most of those in the room. There are sometimes those who may still be skeptical.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation with conducting a successful capital campaign. Please share this digest with your parish leadership and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices’ to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
“Doesn’t having a capital campaign negatively impact annual stewardship?” This question is one of the most frequently asked by churches anticipating a capital drive.
And “No!” is the most frequently given answer when ECF Capital Campaign consultants respond! In fact, we have found that annual stewardship usually goes up in tandem with capital fundraising.
“That is certainly our experience at Church of the Advent,” reports Nancy Junk, Senior Warden of this small southeast Florida congregation. “Our annual operating fund is up more than 7% since we launched our building campaign in August of 2015,” she notes.
In 2009, the Property Commission of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was again raising red flags about the condition of the church’s aged boiler. “It could blow any minute, and that could cause a fire… etc.”
There were many other needs at this historic downtown church – needs that were, in fundraising terms, sexier, meaning more alluring to potential donors. These included the beloved organ, which would NOT blow at any given minute. Getting into and around the church was a physical challenge for anyone physically challenged.
It had been at least twenty years since a capital campaign was conducted. Leadership decided that’s what was needed. The Episcopal Church Foundation was engaged to help.
Ever thought of a capital campaign as a form of 'evangelism'? No, a campaign is not just about money, it's about cultivating new and existing relationships that nurture the vitality and growth of your congregation. A capital campaign offers a variety of creative ways for parishioners to interact both inside and outside the parish. Building relationships is as important for the future of your church as receiving monetary gifts in a campaign. Here are three groups you should intentionally reach out to in your capital campaign.
In my corporate work, I used to facilitate a workshop called the M.A.G.I.C .of Customer Relations, which emphasized communications and relationships as two of the keys to delivering exceptional customer service. Early in the program we pondered a quote by Virginia Satir, the American social worker and author who is widely regarded as the pioneer of family therapy. According to Ms. Satir, “Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships he makes with others and what happens to him in the world about him.”
If you’ve never done it before, asking someone to contribute their money for a cause, however good, can seem scary or uncomfortable. As a philanthropy and fundraising professional, I’ve made numerous “asks” and written countless grant proposals. And yet, the first time I faced the challenge of making a face-to-face, personal request for financial support of a project to which I was deeply and passionately committed – my own parish’s capital campaign – I was incredibly nervous.
Something I quickly learned when I began working with Episcopal churches was that often, we do not think of ourselves as “nonprofits” or “charities.”
While their exact words might vary, congregational leaders seem to ascribe to a view that churches are fundamentally different:
Nonprofits are secular organizations out in the community providing food or healthcare to people who have fallen on hard times, providing enriching cultural activities to our residents, or providing educational programming for children. Nonprofits are the recipients of our Christmas offering and are partners on our annual day of service, but WE are different.
Angels in the Bible often say, “Fear not!” as they are about to deliver some awesome news from God. In my role as a capital campaign consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation, I also have found, “Do not be afraid,” is a needed preface to many conversations.
It is natural to be a bit fearful, or at least skeptical, of the unknown results of a major undertaking like a capital campaign, especially if a congregation has not conducted one for several years, or ever. I can offer assurance that, “92% of the capital campaigns assisted by the Episcopal Church Foundation meet or exceed their campaign goal.”
Yet the lingering fear of failure can loom large as reflected in concerns such as:
“We can't possibly raise as much as we need.”
“You say we can raise 2 to 3 times our annual giving? We barely cover our budget in pledges, how can we expect people to give more?”
“We don't have wealthy parishioners like we used to.”
“Our needs aren't sexy. No one cares about boilers and the mortgage.”
This is when I must echo angels in response: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news about a process that will guide you to success.”
One of the blessings of working with different congregations on their capital campaigns is the opportunity to hear the amazing stories of the commitment and generosity of the saints whose passion for the Gospel brought these communities into being, built the buildings they now meet in, provided the pews they now sit in, and birthed the ministries that still continue.
St Peter's Episcopal Church in Honolulu traces its roots to a group of Christians of Hakka Chinese ancestry who immigrated to Hawai`i in the 1870’s. In 1914, the congregation built the church in which they now worship.
In 1908 the Sunday school of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania sent a generous donation to Hilo to build an Episcopal church and construction was complete in time for Christmas services that year. Out of gratitude the congregation renamed itself Church of the Holy Apostles.
St. Francis began in 1927 as the Willow Glen Mission of Trinity Church in San Jose. The Mission’s founders remodeled a former butcher shop and established a Sunday School. In 1941, celebration of the Eucharist began after creation of a chapel inside the building.
One of the most oft-cited reasons for hiring a campaign consultant is the desire of a parish campaign team to test the feasibility of raising the dollars needed for the projects being proposed. It’s a great reason! The ECF model offers the answers to five key questions during the feasibility phase of a campaign:
Does the community understand the need for the campaign?
Do they agree with it?
Will they work to support it?
Will they contribute financially?
If so, how much?
There is a little bit more to the feasibility process in my experience than these strictly dollars-and-cents issues, though. The study process provides the opportunity to really refine your campaign’s message and to structure a campaign process that will help further build a sense of community and cultivate new and emerging leaders in the congregation.
Do they understand and agree?
During feasibility interviews and via confidential questionnaires, congregants can provide candid feedback to the outside consultant without worry that they might be misunderstood or judged by their fellow parishioners or clergy. Reviewing the issues and concerns that arise during this process enables a campaign team to address questions from the beginning in a positive way, letting prospective donors know they have been heard and that their opinions and input are included in the final projects presented. This also helps a congregation decide not to pursue a project for which there is low support or, perhaps, engage in additional communications efforts so that there is greater awareness and understanding of the need for that particular project.
Sometimes a study shows that there are not sufficient funds available to support the overall goal of a campaign. This outcome can result in prioritizing the goals and even scheduling them out over time. An Episcopal school with which I worked had $4 million in goals, but only $1.5 million likely once we conducted the study. They devised a 10-year program in three phases and developed a communications plan to support it. They exceeded their first phase goal by $500,000; they exceeded their phase two goal by nearly double the amount sought; and they concluded the third phase of the campaign two years ahead of schedule! Not being able to raise the full amount at the start does not mean defeat. It often leads to a plan that results in even larger goals being realized over time.
Will they work to support it?
Motivational speaker Simon Sinek stresses that WHAT we do, and HOW we do it, are LESS important than a clear understanding of WHY we do things. Here are two key reasons ‘why’ we do a capital campaign:
1. A capital campaign is a vehicle for gratitude, service, and sharing
In church we can get caught up in the weeds of committee work and volunteering simply to get things done. There is often no time to ask the fundamental question: “Why is this work important?”
Every capital campaign is an expanded opportunity to serve others. The collective work of defining God’s vision for a capital campaign is a focused and practical way of inviting people to share their hopes, needs, skills, and questions. It is an exciting call to be inclusive and to do more than just the ordinary.
Henry Nouwen describes our gratitude for Christ’s life, death, and resurrection: “Gratitude flows from the recognition that who we are, and what we have, are gifts to be received and shared by all”.
2. A capital campaign creates opportunity for friendship and community
“I’m not sure we can do this…”
Often when I first visit a parish in my capacity as a capital campaign consultant I find that folks are hesitant about fully embracing a capital campaign. There is usually some fear about impact on their annual stewardship efforts (“Will we be able to maintain current giving levels?” “We’d hoped to increase annual giving this year.”), finding enough volunteers, (“People are so busy…), and, most of all, being able to raise enough money (What if we can’t meet our goal?). While some might find these concerns daunting, I find them comforting because these fears are normal. This is why I love what I do and why I believe fundraising is an important part of the ministry of the Church.
While I may be biased, I do believe when the time and energy is put into the discernment and feasibility study phases of a campaign, your community will arrive at the solicitation phase with a sense of contagious excitement.
I saw this contagious excitement most recently with a parish that adjusted their goal coming out of the feasibility phase. They were raising money to build a new parish hall, repurpose their existing parish hall, and create a maintenance fund. They entered into the congregational gifts phase having already met their initial goal and were well on the way to their challenge goal! By the end of their campaign, both goals were met and they had raised an additional $17,000 to seed their maintenance fund. Not only were they able to complete their new parish hall, but they could do far more then they imagined.
Why do relatively few parishes mount capital campaigns or have planned giving programs?
Well, it is very difficult to work toward a goal you don’t think is possible. It is impossible to work toward a goal you don’t even believe exists.
The leaders of most parishes are consumed with the difficulty of funding the operation from month to month, year to year. With the strong cultural headwinds that face institutional religion today, many leaders have lost touch with the idea that God wants a long-term future for their parishes, and that they have a role in bringing that future to birth.
Capital campaigns and especially planned giving efforts grow out of a sense that we have a future for which we need to prepare.
We mount a capital campaign because we want to maintain and update our facilities so that they can support future ministry possibilities. Capital campaigns are forward-looking, even if most of the projects have to deal with deferred maintenance.
Capital campaign planning includes both thought and study about a church’s 'To-Do' list. As people gather data, the project list may soon dominate the conversation. Yes, it is important to build the new wheelchair ramp with the required 1:12 ramp slope ratio that equals 4.8 degrees slope, but, is that going to stir the hearts of parishioners to support the capital campaign? Wouldn’t it be better to…
Tell me a story
Of how it will be.
When the work is complete
What will I see?
Will I see people with new ways to welcome their guests?
Will I see the hungry in new ways be blessed?
Will I see holy space transformed to be accessible
Or designed to make God's house joyfully flexible?
Will I see new ministries for serving the poor?
Will the church be a beacon for neighbors once more?
Will strangers find light where once there was dark?
Or will they at last know where they can park?
Will children have safe classrooms for learning and play?
Will young lives be challenged to love God and pray?
Will young families be welcomed with their needs in mind?
When all generations seek, what will they find?
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chatham, New Jersey was considering a capital campaign; ECF consultant, Gerald (Jerry) Keucher was working with them. As Jerry tells it, the driving force behind a campaign was two-fold: First, to improve the accessibility of the church’s existing facilities and second, to address the deficiencies in its organ obvious to the musical members of the congregation.
What happened here is a powerful story of listening and education.
Phillip White, a self identified “nonmusical” member at St. Paul’s, tells the story:
“Several years ago, I was invited to join a committee at St. Paul's to consider what to do about the organ. At the time, I couldn't imagine why. I am not musical. I don't play an instrument. I quickly concluded I was asked to join the committee as a representative of the others like me in the congregation - the ones who would be skeptical about spending money - any money, really - on replacing or repairing our organ.
“The committee had already met several times when I attended my first meeting. They had visited a few other churches to hear their new organs, had collected some proposals, and met with a few organ salespeople. I quickly learned the cost of a new organ was quite high and the debate was mostly about whether to buy a new pipe organ or a digital one or some combination of the two. As I listened to the discussion, I was confused by the jargon: What's a stop or a console? After a time, thinking that this group of music lovers had never considered the obvious third alternative, I blurted out: ‘Wait, why would we spend so much time and money on an organ when ours sounds fine to me?’