“Do you do five year campaigns?” the caller asked of our Director of Marketing, Tom Holloway. Tom replied, “We are open to try anything if that is what the church needs.” That answer won us a spot at the table to be considered by the church. This particular church had used another stewardship firm in the past and was quite pleased with them. Yet when they asked their firm the same question the response was, “We don’t do five year campaigns.” Of the four companies that will be interviewed that company will not be at the table.
This exchange and the opportunity to share with this church has started my thinking about this whole question. Just how long should your campaign go? Most capital stewardship campaigns run for three years. Why is that? Could five be a better number or detrimental to the church? In this post I want to examine this question in more detail.
Why do firms only do three year campaigns? The truthful answer is that we have always done them that way. We are too often captured by the seven deadly words. We’ve never done it that way before! Tragically I find that most firms are still doing things the way they did them back in the 1980’s. We need to realize that the paradigm has shifted and doing things the way you have always done them might not be the best practice.
The Pros and Cons of a five year campaign. Here is my take on a five year campaign both from what I see as its cons and its pros. First let’s look at…
Five years is a long time in a church. To be fair to those firms that only do three year campaigns five years is a bit long. A lot can change in five years including the pastor! Even when a pastor stays five years there still are major changes that can and will occur. The vision you cast to get people to give for five years might not be the vision you have four years into the campaign. For that reason three years or fewer is more appealing to most churches.
Five years is a long time to keep passions high. To keep people giving you have to keep them passionate about the vision you asked them to give to. The typical church struggles with this. As a result of poor follow up and failing to continually focus on the vision giving drops off. A shorter campaign forces churches to recast the vision and thus keep the passion high.
Five years of growth means more new people. Hopefully in five years you are adding additional members. While this is good the fact is that it is hard to get someone new to make a commitment to your campaign after the intensive period has transpired. New campaigns, either one, two or three years in length, give you a better opportunity to capture those new people. Asking new people to commit to your existing campaign is simply more difficult even with good follow up.
Those at the lower end of the giving segment don’t do well in long term campaigns. The reason this is true is that often this group is comprised of those that are less committed to the church and its vision. This is the group that tends to move their attendance from one church to the next almost on a whim. Of all the giving segments that we track this one is the least reliable in terms of fulfilling any commitment they make no matter what the length of the campaign.
Your pledge total will be higher. The main reason we do three year campaigns is that what I can give over three years is greater than what I can give in one. The same holds true for five years. Having a higher total could make you much more attractive to a lending institution. Since the vast majority of churches borrow to build this could be very significant.
High Capacity donors could be attracted to this time frame. I have had a couple of times where the lead gift to a campaign was tied up in huge property bequests that were contingent upon their sale. Once that sale took five years to happen. In reality few if any churches accomplish raising enough funds in one campaign any way. Often at the high end of the donor segment they need more time to donate the maximum amount they can. Often their gift comes from stock options, land deals or other business related ventures. Giving them more time to donate may result in larger donations.
The higher end of your donor segment is more stable. Those at the top end of your donor segment typically are more mature spiritually and usually more mature in age. They typically have a higher buy in to your vision than any other group in the church. This means they are less prone to hop from one church to the next. As long as the church remains stable and steadfast to the vision this segment can be counted on to fulfill their commitment whatever length of time. You should never take them for granted but our extensive financial analysis has always shown this group as the most likely to fulfill their pledge.
Summing It Up
So, is three years or five years the best length for this church or for that matter any church? The answer is, it depends. There are so many factors that go into a decision like this. What is right for one church might be completely off for another. The reason we did not say we don’t do five year campaigns is that at this point we don’t know enough to comment. A five year campaign might make all the sense in the world given their setting, circumstances and the makeup of the congregation. My first question will be, “Tell me why you want to hold a five year campaign?” In the end I might agree with them that five years is the best option for their church. While that might be true for them it might be completely the wrong thing for you. The key to understanding this is that there is no one shoe fits all approach to campaigns. This is why we at The Charis Group shy away from pushing a particular program. What works in California or Chicago might not work in Tupelo, MS.
My final thought is this. No matter what length of time you run your campaign you must understand that the campaign does not end with the commitment card collection. That is only the end of the intensive part of the campaign. The real campaign, collecting the dollars, starts the day after the commitment cards come in. Keeping the vision front and center throughout the length of the campaign, whether three, five or even one year, is the key. Remember, it is a vision thing. Keep the vision clear, concise and compelling and people will give week after week, month after month, year after year. Even for five years.
Mark Brooks- The Stewardship Coach
Founder and President, The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions