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.
“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:
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:
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?’
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.
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.
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.