September 2014
Sharing Our Gifts

Lessons from Fundraising Volunteers

It’s October. For many congregations, fall means annual campaigns or pledge drives. Our vestries and stewardship committees are focused on raising money and thinking about budgets, meeting operating costs, and forecasting financial needs for the coming year.

The focus is on doing. Or as Jamie Coats suggests in “God’s Economy,” also found in this issue of Vestry Papers, their emphasis is on what the brothers at the Society of St. John the Evangelist call the economy of transactions. Everything has a price and we trade – our time, talent, and treasure – to get the things we need.

As a consultant to Episcopal congregations for capital campaigns and related stewardship topics, I often have a front row seat to the challenges stewardship volunteers face: ““I couldn’t possibly ask another person to make a gift to_____,” or “Talking about money makes me feel uncomfortable,” or even “I’m not sure how you can do what you do.”

Yet, these same volunteers continue to teach me about fundraising. Specifically, these lessons relate to what the brothers call God’s economy; where God names the price: As Jamie writes, “we are all loved; we see beauty in the world and each other; we care and are cared for; we rely on each other; we give as we receive, living in a cycle of kindness; we deepen our relationships and understand meaning.”

Here are some of the things that I’ve learned from the congregations I’ve worked with:

1. Fundraising can be fun

Recognizing the appeal of videos, when St. James Cathedral in Chicago paired their annual fall giving with a special diocesan appeal and event, videos were part of the plan. Seen as a way to both educate the parish and to get people talking, the committee decided to create three short videos starring well-loved staff members from the Cathedral.

Parishioner Alan Taylor reports, “Both the committee behind the camera and the staff featured in the videos had fun being creative and laughing together. What a joy to have the laity take more of a leadership role in our church!

“Of the three videos, we've had nearly six hundred views and counting.”

Not only were the videos successful in raising awareness about the special appeal, everyone enjoyed their spirit of fun. Each video highlighted an aspect of the needed renovations, and, created interest and excitement about the planned fall fundraising event.

Here are the links to these videos:

Part I -
Part II -
Part III -

What made these videos fun and successful? A few key elements:

  • Keeping each one short and playful, using a consistent theme throughout the campaign.
  • Featuring well known staff or parishioners.
  • Including an action item in the end requiring response.
  • Using each video to build excitement for the next installment.

2. Fundraising can build community within a parish

Although Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin has a small congregation, they have a big impact in the community. Centered on the belief that as people of faith, we deepen our relationship with God through both Word and deed, the congregation enjoys strong partnerships with area organizations. Be it direct service, building relationships, or fundraising, the parishioners of Good Shepherd are helping to make a positive difference in Sun Prairie.

Earlier this year Good Shepherd turned some of its attention inward, planning for, then launching a debt retirement capital campaign. The parish has already shown marked success in meeting its early fundraising goals and is demonstrating how fundraising can have intangible benefits.

Parishioner Jerry Simono shares, “When I think about how fundraising has impacted our church community, I think of three things:

  • What started slowly has gradually brought a stronger and stronger commitment by more and more people to work together to do what they can to raise the money.
  • Many people who have remained silent in the past are now becoming engaged in sharing talents that they never expressed before. These are talents that will provide leadership for GSEC in the future.
  • Our success to this point has made doubters into believers. And believers bring an even greater commitment to Good Shepherd. We are now a more enthusiastic church family then ever before.”

3. Fundraising doesn’t steal resources from other areas

When thinking about fundraising, there may be the assumption that a capital campaign will negatively impact annual giving. Some believe a donor’s willingness to give is capped at a fixed capacity and is immoveable. Anna Doherty, priest in charge, St. Aidan’s, Hartford, Wisconsin describes the concern expressed by members of her congregation:

“Our parish can barely raise enough money to meet our operating expenses, how could we raise more for a capital campaign?”

Through a program of increased education about stewardship, and conversations centered around the congregation’s mission and impact in the community, St. Aiden’s capital campaign leadership team discovers that donors’ willingness to give or to prioritize their giving increases. As the campaign progressed, Anna was pleased to report, “Folks at St. Aidan's were surprised--pleasantly so--to discover that capital campaign fundraising can actually increase annual stewardship giving!”

Here’s a visualization exercise I do with people to help change their perception about fixed capacity:

I like pie. To help people overcome their perception that giving capacity is fixed, I invite them to picture a pie as representing donors’ dollars. And then I ask them to visualize cutting the pie into slices to represent their budget. Now here’s the twist: Once they have the picture of a pie in their mind, I invite them to visualize a bigger pie, rather than cutting the smaller pie differently.

4. Fundraising often begins with listening to our neighbors

Christ Episcopal Church was engaged in a listening process to determine and articulate how capital improvements may help the parish live more fully into their mission. As part of the process, visitors to the church’s website are invited to take a survey that asks both open ended and choice questions including:

  • How can a church located in the center of downtown contribute to the health of the community?
  • Christ Episcopal Church is considering renovation and expansion of the existing parish hall. Here are some potential uses. Please choose those that you think would be important to the community.
  • What advice do you have for us as we continue our planning?

“What surprised me, that now makes sense to me on this end, was the stress/emphasis put on reaching out to the local Red Wing community to get their input,” shared Michael Way, rector, Christ Episcopal Church, Red Wing, Minnesota.

After listening to the neighbors and community partners, the parish created a cohesive plan to improve the parish’s space making it available for the local community to use it for meetings, events, and annual functions.

Currently in the midst of the feasibility study, Christ Church will look to engage in further conversations during solicitation. Knowing that the plans reflect the local community’s input gives the parish confidence in its planning.

5. Fundraising, when ministry, can transform lives

Often people see fundraising as a means to an end. They believe that if a certain amount of money can be raised, then the parish can start doing ministry.
Yet, fundraising is a process of inviting others to give their resources to the Kingdom of God. It has the power, as any other ministry, to transform lives. Including the lives of those asking others to join in giving.

Shirley Foster, parishioner, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, shares,

“I can see now looking back where God cleverly wove all this around and in me the last 10 months. I feel....different. I leave these folks and feel on top of the world! I was not comfortable with asking folks for money, and I purposely did not memorize or even try to remember what people had said they were thinking of giving. I try to keep this as private as possible and we just talk of how God has blessed our lives, and the goals that we built the capital campaign around. Every single time I talk, there are tears.

“God has given me great stories to tell, to share, and to listen of other things He has done for others, which also is deepening MY faith, and let me just say... never in my wildest dreams did I ever consider that this capital campaign would touch me this deeply and make my life even richer than ever.”

When thinking about the top lessons I’ve learned from others, the common thread is that fundraising is so much more than the accomplishment of a monetary goal. The lessons of community, transformation, and relationships underscore this profoundly.

What lessons have you learned along the way? Have you been surprised along the way? What would you pass on to others?

Try This: In her blog post “Creating a Culture of Giving,” TENS board member and priest Angela Emerson invites congregational leaders to craft a financial stewardship statement reflecting the ways they experience God in the midst of financial decision making. Learn more here.

Erin Weber-Johnson joined the Episcopal Church Foundation as a capital campaign consultant in 2009. In addition to capital campaign consulting, Erin has facilitated diocesan and vestry retreats on annual stewardship and the development of a spiritual ethos for giving. She is also a grants officer at Trinity Wall Street in New York City. She has a master’s degree in public administration from NYU.

Erin and her husband, Jered, previously served as missionaries of the Episcopal Church, based in Taiwan and now live in St. Paul, MN where Jered is rector of St. John the Evangelist. Erin and Jered have two sons, Jude and Simon-Henri, and are proud to call Minnesota home.


This article is part of the September 2014 Vestry Papers issue on Sharing Our Gifts