I recently visited a parish that was considering embarking on a capital campaign. During our conversation, members of the committee shared that they had engaged in a series of visioning, clergy search, and strategic planning initiatives over the last several years. The initiatives included one-on-one meetings, group conversations and surveys. In two cases they hired consultants to facilitate these initiatives, each of which included some form of discernment. However during our conversation it became very apparent that the committee’s level of clarity regarding the processes they used and the practices they engaged in were unclear. So were the outcomes they had hoped to achieve. Given that, there was a general level of frustration as well as a strong desire to bring something tangible to the congregation that showed forward progress. Moreover, there was a reluctance to engage in what they perceived to be another redundant process of discernment. With deference to the best intentions and heart-felt contributions of everyone involved, their collective efforts proved to be less productive than expected. Hope and enthusiasm shifted to frustration and caution, and I felt a genuine feeling of concern for their predicament.
Napoleon is rumored to have reflected on the concept that “geography is destiny” before invading Russia in 1812…and the concept has become ingrained in geopolitical thought ever since.
And it can affect far more than simply politics. Camp Wingmann, a small Episcopal summer camp located in a picturesque setting in the Diocese of Central Florida, faced the daunting task of raising capital funds from across a Diocese spanning 15 counties and comprising nearly 1/3 of Florida’s 65,000 square miles. This Diocese includes small rural areas, such as Camp Wingmann’s Avon Park, as well as densely populated urban areas such as those surrounding Orlando (Disney/Universal) or the Space Coast (Cape Canaveral and Melbourne).
“We spoke to other capital campaign consultants,” comments Father Tom Seitz, Chairman of the Wingmann Board. “None expressed confidence in managing such a far-flung effort. That was when we turned to ECF and were so gratified that they took us on as a client.”
Anxiety is a constant in leadership roles and in congregations who are stretching to accomplish something worthwhile. If there isn’t some anxiety, you likely didn’t reach far enough.
A great way to deal with anxiety is to bring it into the open – expect anxiety, and ensure concerns and ideas continue to be heard. Common worries include:
Episcopalians are big on discernment, which I have come to understand includes reflection on our questions in light of scripture, prayer, and the counsel of others. For instance, when someone gets a holy nudge to serve God in the church, we assemble a supportive group to help him/her “discern the call” to be ordained as a deacon or priest. We understand this is a big decision that takes time. We value praying about it in community with others.
In the Episcopal Church Foundation’s proven methodology for capital campaigns, the first of three phases is called “discernment.” During this time, which requires no deadline, the congregation is invited to discern its call as a faith community, and to determine which capital improvements would best support that call. Those who perform repeated emergency surgeries on the boiler, or the organist who keeps the music coming through skillful application of duct tape and screwdrivers, or the nursery attendant who wraps babies up like burritos to keep them warm – sometimes “hands on” folks like these get a little agitated about discernment. What’s to discern?! Let’s fix things!
I serve a lovely church on top of a hill in a vacation community. The church is surrounded by lakes, and almost doubles its attendance in the summer. I serve as their part-time interim Rector. The church community has been declining, they have lost two thirds of their members in the last 10 years, and much of their energy has been spent caring for their aging buildings.
There are three buildings on the campus, the church building, the rectory and the parish hall. The church is beautiful. It was built in the 1840’s and is a typical New England white church with red doors, stained glass windows and a steep pitched roof. The church is beloved by the community and has been well cared for. The rectory has not been used as a rectory for decades; it is used mostly for office space and meetings, and is in very poor shape. The parish hall is almost as old as the church, is poorly designed and lacks function. The congregation has talked for years about renovating the parish hall, there are plans that date back to the 1960’s, but nothing has been done. These three buildings consume most of their energy.
Every so often the leadership of a congregation decides that it is necessary to spend some valuable time discerning what needs to be addressed. The motivation to discern could be related to the growth of the parish, the outreach component of the church’s ministry, or how the building structure is impeding the mission of the church.
Unlike most nonprofits the church includes God in the conversation concerning next steps. “What is God calling us to do?”
Is there an emoji for “feeling reflective?” If so, that’s me this Thanksgiving week. Here are some reasons I am grateful for the work to which I’ve been called as a capital campaign and Strategic Solutions consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation.
As Episcopalians, we’re big on community – on worshipping and praying in community with the faithful around the world. Most of us do that mainly through our local congregation. I get to do it with faith communities around the Midwest and beyond.
“How did it go?” My mom’s words came through the cell phone ear piece with equal parts excitement and apprehension.
“I have learned things about church design that had never occurred to me before,” I answered flatly with a tinge of exhaustion. I had just attended my first service with a six-week old baby, and I would see things with new eyes from now on in every church I visited thereafter.
You see, church design matters to me as a member and worshipper, but it also matters deeply to me as an ECF capital campaign consultant to churches around the country that are considering investing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in renovations or new buildings.
The Discernment phase of a capital campaign is as important as either the Feasibility Study or the Solicitation phase, and it is a unique part of ECF’s capital campaign method.
During Discernment, information is shared, questions are raised, discussion happens, and a consensus for a vision for the future is crafted by the entire community. The fact that everyone is personally invited to participate, and everyone is listened to not only creates a vision for the community, but it also inspires individuals to buy into the vision and feel it is their own.
“Why should I support this?” “Why will this make a difference?” “Why should I care?”
These are questions people process as they consider whether they should get involved or invest in a project, ministry, or annual giving. Oh, perhaps those who have been faithful participants in a congregation for 30 or 40 years do not need an explanation. Their “why” is because they love their church and believe they should support it. Younger generations may require reasons why something is worthy of their participation.
When it comes to special or new needs or ministries, people of all ages generally want to understand “the why.” St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, developed a fun way to communicate why projects to be accomplished in their capital campaign were important.
As a college student majoring in Music at Arizona State University I was a part of the Choral Union which presented Handel’s Messiah at Christmastime.
I sold tickets to people at my church, loaded everyone into the church’s bus and drove them to the auditorium through streets clogged with the cars of Christmas shoppers. By the time I unloaded my concertgoers at the main entrance and parked the bus at the far, far end of the parking lot, I was too late to join my fellow tenors as they marched onto the stage. So, I decided to enter through the lobby, make my way down a side aisle and climb onto the stage to take my place in the choir.
Congregations can take years to get up the gumption to seriously consider a capital campaign, even when ministry needs in their church home are obvious. Tight operating budgets and fewer folks in the pews often foster these misgivings, along with fear of failure. Leaders may feel overwhelmed, not knowing how to begin a campaign effort, let alone end one successfully.
Certainly an important outcome of a successful campaign is raising enough donations to successfully pay for desired projects. Here are three other outcomes of a robust capital campaign process, as I’ve witnessed as an Episcopal Church Foundation capital campaign consultant:
In my previous career, Fran (my coworker) and I were developing products and services to help obese people lose weight, and had prepared to meet with a woman named Susan to learn about how well the health negatives of obesity were understood. Susan was a large woman, and happily quoted all the standard health reasons we had prepared to hear – nothing new to learn. As we were finishing, Fran asked about where Susan’s kids were today. Susan began tearing up. When she regained her composure, she said: “They went to King’s Island (local amusement park) with friends – I just wish I was able to fit on the rides with my kids.” This started a much deeper conversation where we learned what really drove her desires, and the help she needed to accomplish them.
One purpose of the Kick-Off Celebration in a capital campaign is to create a memorable event in the life of a congregation. Such an event requires hard work by many people of the congregation. Special invitations are mailed to parishioners and if the RSVP is not returned, individuals are called to encourage them to attend.
During this period of preparation, the Advance Phase of the campaign is conducted that requires Gift Worker training and calling on people to make a major pledge to the campaign. The Gift Workers make personal calls on members of the congregation with a brochure that has been carefully prepared. At the Kick-Off dinner a dramatic announcement is made to reveal that between 50% and 80% of the campaign has pledged toward the goal. Often the announcement is welcomed with great applause and hope that the campaign goal can be reached.
There is a scary sense of the unknown at the start of a period of congregational discernment, whether for a potential capital campaign or for strategic visioning. I have to admit, as a facilitator the anticipation is part of the thrill – like when the safety bar clamps shut on a roller coaster and you know the ride is about to begin. Oh, what will the listening, prayer and Holy Spirit will reveal?
At St. John’s Episcopal Church in Canandaigua, New York, an obvious need to renovate the former rectory building turned out to be secondary to the congregation’s spiritual need to experience and share worship and music with the community. Organ replacement and stained glass window preservation moved to the top of the priority list. A successful capital campaign to address those issues is now being followed by new ministry possibilities for the old house.
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.