When it comes to choosing a stewardship firm you had better know why the pledge to budget question is the wrong question! When churches ask a firm what their pledge to budget ratio is what they really are asking is how much can we expect to raise in their capital campaign. The answer my industry has given since the creation of capital campaigns is, one and half to three times your annual operating budget. We have used this number for so long that few if any question its validity. I regularly see banks, builders and architects use the same figures in promotional pieces. They got that number from my industry thinking that we must know what we are talking about.
The one and a half to three time’s number is a sales answer. No one truly knows what the average is. There has never been an independent study on what the average percentage is. Companies regularly cook their books in an effort to improve their average. They throw out low results and only count what helps their average, IF they even know their average.
Several years ago I was with a sales guy of a major firm who proudly told the church we were at that our companies average was 2.2 times budget. When I got in the car I remarked to him that as a Vice President of the company I did not know our average was 2.2 times. He replied, “Oh, I don’t really know what it is but I think it is probably around that.” So, in essence in an attempt to get to the contract that guy just lied to the church.
At The Charis Group we don’t know what our average is because it is an irrelevant number! It is especially irrelevant when it comes to your churches capital campaign. Think about it this way. What is the average baptism ratio per member in American churches? Whatever that is would it be fair to use that average as an expectation for your church?
Why the Pledge to Budget Ratio is Irrelevant – Let’s talk facts. Here are some of the key reasons you shouldn’t even ask this question.
1. Every church is different. Raising two times your budget means you have people willing and able to double their annual gift over the life of your campaign. Do you have people of means to accomplish this? If your church is comprised of blue collar workers then you had better set a more realistic expectation. Raising double your annual operating budget takes five and even six figure gifts. Do you have that capability?
2. Every project is different. Raising money for relocation or a new sanctuary is easier than paying down a debt. What you raise will be dependent upon what you are raising the money for.
3. Multiple campaigns always raise less than the first campaign. I call that the law of diminishing returns. Your first campaign is typically your best. After that it is a challenge. This is mainly because the second and third campaigns are usually debt reduction campaigns and those are just not as exciting as a building campaign.
4. The economy has everyone spooked. The Great Recession has been over for years. Yet the average person thinks we are still in a recession. You can be sure that this will impact any campaign you hold. So the reality is that pledging is less.
It depends. That is the honest answer that any stewardship firm should give you when you ask, “How much money do you think we can raise?” Comparing your church to another church will lead you down the path of disappointment and surprise.
How long will it take us to raise $X and how will you help us get there? That is the question you should be asking. You fill in the X. A good firm can help you get to X much quicker than you can on your own. They will help you avoid the pitfalls, minefields and potential mistakes out there.
It is time you start asking the right questions. It is past time for stewardship firms to provide you with the correct and honest answers!
Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach
Founder and President
The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions