Capital campaigns, faith and hard times
St. Michael and All Angels is not a wealthy congregation. The bell curve of our giving is
very broad and relatively low. We have no financial “angels.” We have many teachers,
realtors (God help them these days), and single parents. Members contribute what
they can, and in the end, somehow, it all adds up to be enough. This has been
However, the story over the past couple of years has been quite remarkable. In the middle of the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, we managed to raise $1.4 million to fund a parish construction project. How did this happen?
Four years ago we began an intentional effort to develop and broaden ministry and lay leadership. We searched for and hired a new associate rector whose gifts are in this area. With his leadership we generated several new programs and events. People flocked to them. Suddenly we had dozens of lay pastors, a discernment guild, education commissions, and more. The problem then was that we had nowhere for them to meet. Scheduling the use of space became a nightmare.
We decided to do a thorough campus needs assessment with the congregation. The result was that a ministry complex — meeting rooms and offices — emerged as our most pressing need. The next step was to hire a fundraising consultant who started with a feasibility study. She determined that we could raise $1.8 million. This was when the economy was going great guns, and so we confidently bumped the goal up to $2 million.
We started the pledge process and soon after, the financial free-fall of 2008 began. Agonizing over whether we should postpone the pledge campaign, we decided to continue moving forward. We knew that the need for ministry space was so acute that we would somehow succeed. We changed the pledge term from three years to four, thinking that four years would certainly go beyond the financial crisis.
A step in faith
The parish responded with commitment. While we raised less than our target, we did raise a very healthy $1.4 million. After designs were completed, we committed to a construction budget of $2 million.
We are convinced that by the time all the current pledges run their course that we will have attracted more funding to make up the difference. In addition, when a small piece of land that lies between two parts of our campus became available, parishioners quickly came forward with $120,000.
When this article is published, we will be half way through construction. Pledges are well ahead of schedule as we start the second year of the four year collection period.
We have learned that when people are committed to their faith community and they know through their own experience that there is a concrete need, they give generously. We have learned just how committed we are at St. Michael’s. All of us have been stretched by the economic crisis and we have responded with passionate generosity.
Churches need not be timid
We have found that churches should not be timid about fundraising in the face of hard economic times if a strong, emotional connection and an obvious need are present. Even — and perhaps especially — in the worst of times, committed parishioners want to support something that brings great value to their lives.
Another lesson is still being revealed. We’ve all heard the term “land poor.” It seems that we may be somewhat “special funds poor.” There is money available for capital funds; however, we are seeing our operating fund fall short. When asked to contribute for special programs — Haiti, our preschool, etc. — members contribute generously. The operating fund pledges, on the other hand, do not come in without a great deal of effort.
Why is this? We are still discerning the answer and we are beginning a more serious year-round stewardship education program that is more oriented towards the spirituality of giving. Our experience with the construction project is that when parishioners are informed and become passionately committed, they will give generously. We intend to bring this same passionate commitment into the operating fund campaign.
Setting hearts on higher things
More important than whether we fall short on our operating budget during lean times is this unmistakable fact: people want to support the communities that provide them with meaning, joy, love, and hope.
While we need to keep our eye our finances, our hearts must always be set on higher things. Our main concern is about strengthening the qualities of vitality, devotion, faith, and compassion in our community. When that is done, we truly understand what Jesus said:
“Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor and Paul Vosburgh serve as rector and senior warden, respectively, for St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. [Editor’s Note: St. Michael and All Angels used the consulting services of the Episcopal Church Foundation to undertake and complete their capital campaign.]