Capital Campaigns: Dangers to Beware
The congregation is not ready for the campaign.
Many churches are in a hurry to do their campaign. Leadership has identified a project and communicated it to the congregation. However, while the congregation has heard about the project, they may not be convinced that the project is needed. Keep in mind, the grapevine may be saying something else. It takes time for a church to catch the vision of the project. Preparing the congregation and allowing them to be settled with the project will go a long way toward maximizing the results. It also allows leadership to hone the project. The more you communicate, the better your results.
Do congregation members really know the need?
The key is to communicate –– not just to the “choir,” but to every member of the congregation. Many Sunday-only members have no idea of the demand on classroom and meeting space. And if the service they attend seems to have plenty of seats, they do not know that the later service is Standing Room Only. Have a pop-quiz on what appeared in last Sunday’s bulletin and you’re sure to be surprised. To communicate, you need to address it from the pulpit, include it in the bulletin, and send out letters. Kirby–Smith Associates recommends communicating at least seven times in seven different ways. The reason is simple –– people are not always listening.
The Vision for the project is disconnected from the Vision of the church’s ministry
People will not make a sacrificial gift for bricks and mortar. They need to know how this will support the important church ministries. The reason for doing the project must support the overall mission of the congregation. Studies consistently show that church donors give because they believe in the mission of the church and they believe that lives are being changed. If they do not believe that their money is helping to change people’s lives, they are less likely to give. So, take the time to hone the vision for the project and articulate it so that it is clear how this project supports and enhances the church’s ministries. A clearly stated project vision tied to the church’s vision will result in greater participation and more money raised.
The Senior Pastor has not enthusiastically endorsed the project
The Senior Pastor is the spiritual and temporal leader, and has primary responsibility for leading the congregation in developing and articulating its mission and vision. Without that strong endorsement, it will be difficult for the Senior Pastor to give wholehearted support – spiritual and material – to the project. The congregation wants to know, “What does the pastor think about this?” Without enthusiastic pastoral support, the project is doomed.
Church, project, and campaign leadership need to “listen around the edges” of the congregation with an ear to discovering what the “chatter” is. Myths about the project or the capital campaign can have serious negative effects on the church’s ability to raise money. It is important to restate – many times – the correct information. The old standard in marketing was that it took seven exposures to see a new product and 11 to close the sale. Current marketing experts are finding it requires more than 40 exposures to have the same result. Do not get frustrated and give up. Keep telling the truth and build credibility.
Fear of the size of the project
Sometimes vital projects are scuttled by an underlying fear about the church’s ability to raise the funds. It is difficult for people to grasp large figures. A $500,000 project generates fear – “how will we pay for that?” A million dollars can terrorize a congregation that views many members out of work or living on social security. That fear of failure can overwhelm the congregation and kill the project. It may be necessary to find a way to break the project into smaller stages in order to afford it.
Negativism undermines the faith in the project
Negativism keeps people from seeing the possibility of success and can stop a project because it limits the willingness of the people to give. Success breeds success. Find a way to turn the negative into a positive. One thing you might review is what you tells your congregation about the financial stability of the church. If you tell them you are constantly unable to pay your bills, they will feed on the negativism. “How can we raise a million dollars, when we can’t pay our bills now?” Donors need to know that the congregation is financially feasible.
There is conflict over the project in the congregation
It is impossible to raise money in a congregation where there is conflict. The tension and uneasiness will develop reluctance for and an unwillingness to invest their time, talent, and treasure. Give people several opportunities to express their concerns. Some will question the need, others will defend their pet project at the expense of the overall plan. Be patient, gracious, and explain, again and again, with particular emphasis on the ministry needs. You’ll never convince everyone, but giving people a voice and explaining the ministry needs will generate a more enthusiastic majority.
The leadership does not understand how a capital campaign differs from an annual campaign
Conducting a capital stewardship campaign differs from the annual appeal in a variety of ways; length of the commitment, how the money is collected, and how the funds are to be used. Church leadership needs to understand the three pockets available to them – regular income, accumulated assets, and estate planning. Capital campaigns need to tap the accumulated asset pocket in order to be successful. This means spending time helping the potential donor understand why they should contribute. According to Giving USA 2010, $303.75 billion was donated to charitable organizations in 2009 with 33 cents of each dollar going to religious organizations. In 1985, churches received 53 cents of every chartable dollar given! Some of that shift may be the result of the churches’ inability or unwillingness to cultivate its members to give from their assets – a pocket on which capital campaigns depend!
Church leadership has not adequately justified the expense for the project
A building or remodeling campaign is a major undertaking. Construction is expensive! It does not take long for the price tag of a project to reach astronomical heights, particularly if all the program departments were asked for their wish list. Church leadership must build a foundation for the project that is solid, meets the ministry needs of the church, and is consistent with the congregation’s culture. Projects sink because the Building Committee developed a building that the congregation could not justify.
Leadership moves into a campaign without an understanding of how much support there is for the project in the congregation
There are only two ways to estimate the support of the congregation for a project. Each involves determining how much of their personal finances and time they will commit to the project. A financial feasibility study is by far the best tool to use to determine the congregation’s support for the project. A feasibility study will inform the committee not only of the possible amount that can be raised, but identify potential campaign leadership, and whether the congregation knows enough about the project to begin a campaign. It can also highlight those areas that will require better or more communication, as well as aspects that “just won’t sell.” A feasibility study can provide valuable feedback to move ahead or alter the initial plan. The other, and clearly less desirable and risky method is to estimate the amount that can be raised, move ahead with a campaign, secure pledges and then redo (and sometimes cancel) the plans based on the amount secured.
Waiting too long to get a professional fundraising firm onboard
Many times churches set a timeline and recruit leadership before they understand the process, how long it will take, and what jobs need to be done. Because each church is different, it is advisable to secure the services of a fundraising professional early in the process. That way the assigned consultant can help develop the vision and a plan to communicate it clearly in order to get the most support for the project. While a campaign can be conducted in 12 to 14 weeks, it is very advantageous to begin the plan as early as possible. Communicating early with the congregation and clearly establishing the ministry needs can help ensure the seeds are sown on fertile soil.