Recently I had lunch with a pastor that I have worked with for almost a decade and he told me this story. He said, “I was recently around my home town and met with a local pastor that had decided to run his own capital campaign at his church. They needed to raise $3 million dollars but only raised $125,000!” I asked, “How much was their operating budget?” The replied was that the churches annual budget was $1 million dollars. Needless to say this pastor had unrealistic expectations. What makes the story even sadder is that ultimately the church fired the pastor.
What factors go into how much is raised? In an attempt to break through the smoke and mirrors that some stewardship companies are spewing out let’s try and see what factors go into a campaign’s success.
1. The health of the congregation. In my mind and experience this is the number one reason. Healthy congregations willingly give to a campaign. Unhealthy congregations do not. Finding out the issues and potential land mines is essential to the success of a campaign. Most campaigns fail because they fail to take into account the health of the congregation.
2. How compelling the vision is. A close second to the above is how compelling the vision is. People do not give to brick and mortar. People give to vision. They want to know that their gift is going to make a difference. Visions that are clear, concise and most of all compelling will always raise more funds than those that lack those qualities.
3. The financial make up of the congregation. Churches that that raised three, four or more times their budget always had significant gifts. If your church does not have those types of members then you need to set a more realistic expectation of what you might be able to do.
4. The pastor’s standing with the congregation. I remember once working with a pastor who wanted to raise significant funds for his campaign. As I laid out what it would take and that we would need significant gifts from those in the High Capacity donor level he told me that all those members had left the church. It appears that they did not agree with the direction he was taking the church. “We are a lot better off without those members dragging down our fellowship and progress,” he said. While that might have been true they took their money out the door and he never raised what he hoped for.
5. The economy. I am amazed when I see stewardship firms still promising to raise between one and a half and three times the budget in a capital stewardship campaign. In this economy you will do well to go beyond one times your budget. In fact two times the budget is the new three times the budget. Recessions will naturally cause people to pledge less.
6. The type of project. Building a new sanctuary usually raises more funds than trying to pay off the debt on the existing sanctuary. Relocations also typically raise significant funds. Part of the reason these campaigns do so well may be in the fact that they typically are first campaigns.
7. The process used for gaining pledges. Sometimes even though the vision is compelling and all other aspects of the church point to success, the process itself trips people up. If the campaign strategy does not reflect the DNA of the church then people tend to push back not only on the process but making a commitment as well.
8. The number of campaigns the church has attempted. I have never once worked with a church, including Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, that could raise all the money they needed with one campaign. The reality is that each successive campaign is a greater challenge than the preceding one. A church can see one really good capital campaign per project or decade. All other campaigns will raise less than the first campaign. The more campaigns you do the harder each one becomes to raise the dollars you want.
Holding a successful capital campaign was never as easy as it looked and now as a result of the times we live in it is even more difficult. This is one reason why it pays to have an expert in the engine room with you!
Mark Brooks- The Stewardship Coach
Founder and President, The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions