September 28, 2015 by Linda Buskirk

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?

Continue reading...

August 6, 2015 by Erin Weber-Johnson

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?’

Continue reading...

April 9, 2015 by Erin Weber-Johnson

Have you ever heard, ‘if we could just solve the problem of x in our parish strategy, we'd be ready …”?

I was on the plane on my way to visit a client. I picked up a “Psychology Today” magazine which featured  this article: “Eureka: Is there a way to manufacture an ‘aha’ moment…or at least improve the odds of having one?” 

The article, by author Bruce Grierson, described a variety of studies that indicate that many of the moments we experience as transformational or life changing is a result of our brain in an “idle” or “prepatory” state of mine. Essentially, our subciousious spends time collecting information and the “aha!” moment occurs when the filter temporary allows the culmination of these ideas to the forefront of our conscious.

The author goes on to cite different ways of encouraging this state of mind—at one point noting “Instead of spending time on a mountain top incubating a solution, could you instead keep doggedly trying things?” In the process of trying things, we can then gain the experience necessary to prompt the “aha” moment.

Continue reading...

March 18, 2015 by Erin Weber-Johnson

A few days ago I was reminded that if you want to know what God is calling you to do---its important to actually spend some time together. This reminder triggered a profound moment in my experiences as a consultant.

About a year ago, a parish is a charming town in Wisconsin contacted me to engage in a discernment phase of a capital campaign (the first of the three phases recommended by the Episcopal Church Foundation). During discernment, a community utilizes a listening tool to ask all its members to answer the question, “What is God calling us to do?”

The theology behind this phase is rooted in the understanding that God still speaks to us today. It’s an important time of creating a common understanding, ensuring all are heard, and determining next steps toward a capital campaign.

The congregation was certain they wanted to raise money for their endowment, but was unsure if the parish had other priorities that needed addressing as well. Together, we created a survey and following the results planned to walk through the survey in a parish wide meeting after coffee hour.

The meeting started off as most normally do. We collectively agreed up some group norms for interacting and I began asking questions. At first, responses were slow but rapidly people began raising their hands as many wanted to voice their feelings and ideas. There were some funny moments, heart felt testimonies to what the parish meant to its members, and articulated feelings of frustration that there were diverse ideas about how money should be spent. And then…a hand popped up.

Continue reading...

February 19, 2015 by Erin Weber-Johnson

St. Aidan's Episcopal Church recently completed a capital campaign for debt retirement. Pastor Anna Doherty describes some of the key lessons the community learned from their experience:

We chose the theme "Crossing from Debt to Mission" because we wanted to be about more than simply pouring our financial resources into a mortgage on our building. We wanted to use our resources, the gifts God has given us, including our building, for mission, not for mortgage. Following our feasibility study, we expected to raise approximately $136,000 for debt retirement. We actually needed $164,000 to completely retire our debt, so we held that out to the congregation as a challenge goal. By the end of our campaign we raised $195,000, far exceeding both our initial goal and our challenge goal! This capital campaign has been an incredibly rewarding experience for the church leadership and the congregation, and it has energized and mobilized St. Aidan's for mission.

Here is what we've learned from our experience, and what we would like to share with other congregations contemplating a capital campaign.

Don't be afraid to think big.

Based on our feasibility study, the leaders at St. Aidan's knew we could reasonably expect to raise $136,000 to retire our debt. We weren't sure that full debt retirement was possible, but we thought we'd try anyway by setting out an additional challenge goal, of trying to reach $164,000.

Our Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) consultant asked us to think about how we might want to use any extra funds raised, over and above our debt retirement. We began to talk about and imagine what we might do with no debt. The conversation turned from mitigating our present circumstances, to getting excited about the future. We weren't sure quite how much money we would raise in the end, but we decided to take a risk and try.

Continue reading...

December 29, 2014 by Erin Weber-Johnson

What do you do when a gift received may not be the right fit?

With Christmas comes an ethos of increased giving in our country. Hearts are opened wide and the spirit of giving is encouraged. Yet, how many of us have opened a present to find that the contents were not exactly needed---or wanted? 

A few years ago I opened a gift to find a candle that made me sneeze. I had trouble thanking the giver as I fumbled for a tissue. The giver loved the smell and thought I would too, but I wasn`t able to benefit from her generosity.

What can we do when a gift isn`t right? 

I once worked with a client whose congregation received a large sum of money to pay for a new organ. A generous gift, except the current organ was in fine condition and didn’t need replacing. To use this gift as intended, this parish would have had to accrue debt by purchasing a new organ (which the initial gift didn`t completely cover) and changing the construct of the nave to accommodate a larger organ.

Continue reading...

December 10, 2014 by Erin Weber-Johnson
Why is it important for all voices to be heard?
I was at a midsized parish that was in the midst of a feasibility study to determine what support was available for capital improvements. The plan was to look specifically at building accessibility for people who use a wheelchair, walker, or cane. At the time, folks needing a ramp needed to go outside the parish hall in order to access either the sanctuary or the restrooms, which were not accessible for all.
A gentleman, when asked if he would name this as a priority, stated, “I’m not sure I understand why this is a problem. I mean, if someone is in a wheel chair, a couple of us guys can just hoist him up and away he could go. You know, building community in the process.”
You may be surprised, reader, to know that this man later noted that he was almost 85.
It seemed this gentleman was unable to connect with the need of others for dignity and accessibility. 

Continue reading...

October 9, 2014 by Erin Weber-Johnson

At the beginning of a campaign process I often hear, “If we could just raise this amount of money, we could get to doing real ministry. Imagine the transformation!”

During the capital campaign or special appeal, volunteers often reshape their image of fundraising and discover that transformation is in the process itself---and not something made possible only at the end of their campaign.

ECF senior program director Terri Mathes offers an example of this from her work with St. James’ Cathedral in Chicago. She worked with parishioner Laura Jenkins, who played a pivotal role in the planning and execution of the congregations special appeal designed to include both a special appeal for the Diocese of Chicago and to bolster their current annual giving.

In the midst of the campaign, Laura offered this reflection:

“I have to say that this whole experience has been transformative.

Continue reading...

July 18, 2014 by Erin Weber-Johnson
In my July 11, 2014 blog I asked the question “How much time can a Church leader anticipate spending on the day to day activities of a successful campaign?” If you missed it, you can access it here
If we consider fundraising as not just a means to an end, but a ministry with the power to transform communities then the question of time raises questions about not just the amount of time---but how do you effectively use it. 
ECF Capital Campaign consultant Jerry Campbell writes:
“First, the good news…
“A capital campaign has a very good chance of being successful if the priest, bishop, or executive director happily and effectively devotes at least 1/3 of his/her time to the campaign. Let me say a little bit about those key words. 
“Happily…
“If the priest, bishop, or executive director can’t develop some genuine affection for the process of cultivation, relationship building and solicitation, it will be obvious to one and all and a serious impediment to a successful campaign. If this means getting some training with regard to major donor fundraising, and/or shadowing an Episcopal colleague in the course of his/her fundraising efforts, then that should be a priority before the campaign is launched. You have to find the fun factor in the work…or leave the campaign to the next person serving in that role. 
“Effectively…

Continue reading...

July 11, 2014 by Erin Weber-Johnson

First of a two-part series...

Church leaders: How much time should one spend on raising funds?

I am a fan of healthy expectations. I like knowing what I`m committing to prior to jumping in---and how far I need to stretch to get intended results.

Recently I began exploring about how much time a given church leader could anticipate spending on the day-to-day activities of successful capital campaign.

Sarah Matthews, ECF capital campaign consultant writes, “I was recently at a meeting of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where it was suggested that during a capital campaign the president of a college needed to hand over one third of his or her calendar to the development director.

"One-third!! Part of the reason is that the donors who have the capacity for larger gifts often need several visits by the head honcho, and that is after staff and volunteers do other cultivation. This may be the single most difficult thing I have encountered in these larger campaigns -- the diocesan bishop has incredible demands on his or her calendar."

Continue reading...

June 9, 2014 by Jeremiah Sierra

For the past four or five years, my church, St. Lydia’s, has worshipped around dinner tables in a Lutheran church, an Episcopal parish hall, a congregant's house, and rented space in a Zen Center. Soon we’ll be moving into our own storefront.

Our liturgy combines liturgy and a meal, and this model both attracts people and presents some challenges. Over the past year or two we've had to ask ourselves some questions, including: How many people can fit around our dinner tables? How can our small, relatively young congregation support itself, a staff, and pay for meals?

This has required some creative thinking in order to achieve financial sustainability.

With our new space, we’re looking into co-working – allowing freelancers and others who would work from home to use the space on weekdays – that will help us cover our expenses.

We’ve found an empty storefront, so we’re currently raising money to install a kitchen. This has also required creative thinking about funding.

Continue reading...

April 1, 2014 by Erin Weber-Johnson

A few years ago I attended a life changing professional development training. Inhibited by worrying about how others would respond to hard truths, I asked how a leader determines the responsibility of caring for others and their response. The consultant uttered these words, ”The truth will just have to do.” 

Afraid to upset the apple cart, we often hold our tongue or only communicate half of a piece of information rather than allowing others the dignity of choosing their own response.
This applies directly to fundraising. What a congregation’s leaders don’t say about giving can be just as impactful as what is articulated. In the absence of information, new theories or ideas can emerge to fill the void of the truth.

Andi Tillman, ECF financial resource consultant, describes the following:

Continue reading...

January 7, 2014 by Erin Weber-Johnson

The Power of Community in Fundraising – it is NOT about the Money!

In previous blogs, I wrote about how fundraising is ministry. (If you missed them, you can find them here). Even in the preparation for fundraising, parishes can be strengthened and communities energized through this life giving work. ECF Capital Campaign consultant, Andi Tillman tells the following story:

“Once there was church in Long Island. They had been extremely blessed with the opportunity to build their church in a wonderful old stone school building the county was getting rid of it. For years they needed basic repairs and maintenance, yet kept putting them off, telling themselves a story of insufficient resources.

"Then God gifted them with a part-time assistant pastor who had worked with a consultant in 2008 - the hardest point in the economic crash. Her previous parish had not only reached their goals but converted several curmudgeons to passionate service. She relayed that experience to this group, and they reluctantly invited me to make a presentation one cold rainy night.

Continue reading...

November 21, 2013 by Erin Weber-Johnson
Often when people think about capital campaigns, they think about it as a necessary means to an end. Essentially, if they can only accomplish their financial goal, then they can go about doing ministry.
I believe that the process of fundraising is ministry.
I recently was at a parish in Michigan for a marketing presentation. I attended the early 8:00 am Sunday service and then, to my delight, was asked to join a group of parishioners for breakfast at the local diner. 
We talked a bit about history, children, and the weather. Then I asked each of my breakfast companions to describe what they dream about when considering a capital improvement to the parish.

Continue reading...

October 29, 2013 by Erin Weber-Johnson

There’s an adage that says “If you ask a person for a dollar you`ll get their opinion. If you ask a person for their opinion, you`ll get an opportunity for a contribution.”

When thinking about youth involvement for giving, ECF Capital Campaign Consultant Sue Fornabi tells a story of how to engage younger parishoners early on in the campaign process:

"A church wanted to be sure that the youth were invited into the ministry of gifting during all phases of the campaign methodology. During discernment at youth ministry meetings the youth leader facilitated conversations about the “wish list” of what is God calling us to do?

"In the feasibility study we asked in the communication plan that parents invite the youth to participate in the process of completing the survey.

"In the campaign the youth created a “coupon book”. They sold car washes, hosing out trash bins, baby-sitting etc. to parishioners and neighbors. They raised over $500 and that was celebrated at the Celebration Sunday and also discussed on the bulletin board (before we had our website offering!)"

Do you have a story of how youth in your parish were engaged in formational giving? If so, please post below in the comments. We`d love to hear from you!


October 24, 2013 by Erin Weber-Johnson

Telling your story, enlarging your potential audience, and making new friends: a lesson from the Sisters of the Community of the Holy Spirit.

Rebecca Earl, ECF Capital Campaign Consultant, tells of how an order learned how to tell their story more broadly during a capital campaign and made new friends in the process:

"The Sisters of the Community of the Holy Spirit had been busy, very busy, at Bluestone Farm and Living Arts Center learning sustainable farming and hosting others who wanted to learn about living gently on Earth. They had communicated with their followers in the usual way regular newsletters and occasional posts on their new website, but when it came time for their capital campaign, that wasn’t going to be far-reaching enough. They needed to tell their story to others.

"Through the use of Facebook (Bluestone Farm Fans), a beautiful on-line newsletter that connects to a newsier newsletter, the Sisters have found new friends interested in life on the Farm.

Continue reading...

August 16, 2013 by Erin Weber-Johnson
When asking another person to make a gift to a Capital Campaign, story telling isn`t just a powerful tool---it’s a gift we provide one another. Often the person making the invitation is surprised at how easily their story of connection/belonging/transformation pours out and shapes the conversation.
The reason is simple: you aren`t selling a used car. Instead, you are talking about a community, a church home, that you care about. 
Leslie Pendleton, Capital Campaign Consultant, tells the following:

Continue reading...

July 23, 2013 by Erin Weber-Johnson
“When renovating a kitchen, don`t forget who will use it!”
In my last blog, I talked about how the discernment phase of a capital campaign seeks to answer the question of what God is calling a parish to do. We use this phase to create a solid foundation for any capital campaign. We believe the Holy Spirit often speaks through the collective body of parishioners and it's important to create a process where all are invited to speak and will be heard.
But, why you may ask, is this important? Can`t the rector just provide a vision for all to join in?

Continue reading...

June 28, 2013 by Erin Weber-Johnson
60’s shag carpeting is not part of our vision.”
ECF has a three-phase strategy for capital campaigns: Discernment-Feasibility Study- Solicitation. During Discernment, we work with parishes to determine what God is calling them to do. 
What does this mean? Specifically, we determine what projects are of priority for capital fundraising to the parish in order for them to fulfill their mission and live more fully into their long-term mission. When projects are finalized, the parish is ready to move to Feasibility Study.
One ECF Consultant, Sue Fornabai, tells the following story about when parish leaders believe some proposed projects are not necessary:

Continue reading...

June 13, 2013 by Erin Weber-Johnson

Yes we can!

“This community is important to me and has done a lot for my family in these hard times. I talked to my wife and we can give 10% of our unemployment checks.”

The economy or the perception of the state of economy can often impact a parish’s ability to live into their mission. Andi Tillman, ECF capital campaign consultant, shares the following story:

In November of 2007, I had 17 clients under active contract. By February of 2008, I had only three. Many congregations paused in their plans as the economy froze, although strangely their roof did not stop leaking because the economy crashed.

Of the remaining three clients, one was a parish in an automotive town outside of Detroit, Mich. They were crippled by a debt incurred in the 1980’s, but had a thriving community. They were very active in ministry and exhibited deep support for one another as so many were in serious crisis.

I had been scheduled to interview a number of their leaders for a feasibility study. (Feasibility studies help a parish answer with a high degree of certainty what are the resources available in their community for a capital campaign.)

The morning I was to go to the church to do the interviews, I looked down to see the newspaper headline on the front page read “Chrysler Declares Bankruptcy.” My heart sank, as I knew this entire town existed to make parts for those vehicles.

Continue reading...