May 2010
Capital Campaigns

Rejoice & beware: Practical issues

A capital campaign is an opportunity for building community, yet it can be fraught with obstacles. An important issue to consider: Money for what purpose?

Capital campaigns raise money for a combination of extraordinary needs that cannot be funded from the annual budget:

  • Construction of new facilities
  • Maintenance, expansion or renewal of existing structures
  • Purchase or maintenance of equipment, e.g., HVAC or a new organ
  • Program or outreach needs, e.g., seed money for a new ministry
  • Building or creation of an endowment
  • Debt retirement

Buildings vs. outreach? Some may want outreach to be part of a campaign; others may feel it should be an ongoing part of parish ministry, funded from the annual budget alone. Yet others may not agree with the designated outreach ministries to be funded in the capital drive. If outreach is part of a campaign, ensure that a check-off box on the pledge card allows a donor to designate a portion of their gift for outreach. An excellent definition of stewardship is the witness of a church that allows all of its buildings to be used constantly for mission and ministry. By constructing or renewing facilities, a church is better equipped to spread the Gospel through outreach to the community, especially if a soup kitchen or homeless shelter is involved.

Worship space changes can be emotional for some. Moving the altar or replacing pews with chairs can divide a congregation unless there is a great deal of prayerful discussion. Consensus building activities must happen well ahead of decisions being taken.

Organs can divide a congregation. Approximately one-third of worshipers cannot conceive of worship without a significant organ. Another third has no passion either way, and the other third think spending huge sums on music is misdirected and such monies should be spent elsewhere, say on outreach. Therefore, education about how an organ works is critical. Guided tours of the organ can increase understanding of the issues. Produce detailed drawings of how an organ works and the needed changes. Stress that money invested in maintaining an organ is usually cheaper than purchasing a new one. If the organ has had its day, and a new one must be purchased, stress that the investment will last for generations. Spreading the costs over decades often reduces angst.

Endowment policies should be reviewed when a capital campaign is being considered to ensure that donors are aware of options for designated gifts.

Bequests/planned gifts should be encouraged for the long term growth of endowment or particular purposes. They are not usually counted in a campaign, as we do not know when they will be received and there are few guarantees on the value of a planned gift. Educating members about planned giving options can easily be integrated into a capital campaign.

Annual vs. Capital Pledge? A capital campaign can be conducted in concert with the annual pledge campaign. With good information and a clearly differentiated message about the purpose of each campaign, annual giving increases and the capital campaign goal is achieved.

Discernment enables every member of a congregation to claim some ownership of the vision for a capital campaign from the beginning. Building and visioning together, praying together, and informing and involving everyone is critical to the success of a capital campaign. Without a strong sense of ownership and commitment by members to the campaign, gifts will be smaller and money will be left on the table.

Thanksgiving to God for the blessings of your efforts should be an ongoing part of a spiritually-centered campaign. When fundraising is seen through the lens of ministry, all resources are valued and celebrated: time, talent and treasure. Don’t forget to make room for surprises and the mysterious work of the Spirit in the community. Developing new leaders and strengthening relationships are some of the unexpected blessings God makes possible in a capital campaign.

The original text of this article has been edited to reflect ECF's current programs.

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