May 2010
Capital Campaigns

Limited funds, limited time, yet success

Many small parishes never undertake capital campaigns because of the difficulties and limitations that come with having few resources. This is often the case even when their circumstances suggest that they would benefit from conducting a campaign. Those that do attempt a campaign or capital drive may seek to save money by not enlisting professional assistance — however, that often results in not reaching the stated financial goal. This kind of demoralizing experience can persuade a congregation that capital campaigns are not worth the effort. This had been Grace Church’s experience.

But not anymore.

“We did it!” exclaimed Sabrina Coleman as she gave her report at our recent annual meeting. “I wasn’t sure how we were going to do it when we began, but we did it!” Sabrina is currently in her second year as warden, and several years ago she served on the discernment team as Grace Church began to explore the possibility of a capital campaign.

That was in the spring of 2006. Now, four years later, having completed our “Renewing the Spirit of Grace” campaign, our parish (built in 1876) has gone from worshiping in a sanctuary adorned with caution tape and falling plaster to a sanctuary that has been fully renovated.

A huge undertaking
This was a huge undertaking for this small parish. When Jennifer was called to serve Grace Church as rector in 2004, it was clear that a capital campaign was needed. With limited resources, the parish had already replaced its failing roof with a beautiful and long-lasting slate roof. It was time to tend to the damaged interior.

The work consisted of patching, replastering and sheet-rocking the damaged plaster ceiling; repainting walls, extensive cleaning of woodwork, sanding and refinishing floors, moving the marble font (several times!), restenciling the walls of the apse, installing new carpets, putting in new lighting and electrical systems, and repairing historic tiles. All work was done with painstaking detail and attention to the architectural integrity of our National Register-listed building. Raising the funds — a modest $130,000 by some standards but huge for us — was equally daunting.

The big question that arose from our community, given our limited financial resources was, “Can we afford it?” Our consultants guided us through all phases of the capital campaign process — discernment, feasibility study, development of solicitation materials, tracking software, and celebrations at the beginning and end of the active phase of the campaign. They taught us the skills we needed to tailor these steps to the particular needs and dynamics of our parish and encouraged us all along the way.

This is not to say that we didn’t have challenges. We did meet with difficulties (every capital campaign does) but we took these as opportunities to get creative. The result was not only a beautifully renovated worship space but also lessons learned that will serve us well when we conduct our next campaign.

Capital campaigns require extra staff
We found this to be the biggest hurdle. Capital campaigns require extra meetings, extra tasks and extra staff time. All the staff work part-time at Grace Church and funds didn’t allow for the hiring of additional help to manage the daily details of a campaign. We met this challenge by adding a few hours each week to the schedule of our eight-hour per week parish secretary for the length of the planning and active phase of the campaign.

Fears that the campaign would lessen stewardship
As our consultant promised, the capital campaign did not distract from regular parish giving — if anything, conversation about capital needs helped bring focus to the ongoing mission funding needs of the parish. One of the lessons we did learn, however, was that all the explaining in the world could not keep people from being confused about the two-sided pledge card (one for annual parish pledge and the other side for the capital campaign). We will be re-thinking this element in future campaigns.

Fears that the campaign would distract from mission
One of the “gifts” of conducting a capital campaign was the renewed conversation on the mission of the parish. The campaign provided a helpful context for discussing the relationship between our parish worship, programs, outreach and the buildings that house them. Understanding how the buildings ought to serve the mission as opposed to the mission being held hostage by the buildings strengthened our resolve to tend to both buildings and mission on a regular basis.

Limited time
Like most parishes, we tend to be as short on time as we are on money. In developing the campaign we tried to piggyback onto existing programs to take best advantage of limited time and other resources. For instance, our end of the campaign celebration took place on a Sunday morning as a festive brunch following our worship. Because many members of the capital campaign leadership also served on vestry, we often made our vestry meetings into mini-campaign work sessions.

The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows is rector of Grace Church in Syracuse, New York, and Sabrina Coleman serves as warden. [Editor’s Note: Grace Church used the consulting services of the Episcopal Church Foundation to undertake and complete their capital campaign.]

This article is part of the May 2010 Vestry Papers issue on Capital Campaigns