WEB-EXCLUSIVE ARTICLE: 4 causes of a capital campaign derailing

By Mark Brooks

derailmentRecently, I had to tell a church they should delay the capital campaign planned for this spring. The reasons are many — and more than this space will allow. Suffice it to say that they weren’t in a position to raise the funds they wanted or needed. In fact, forging ahead with a capital campaign would have further set the church back. So, our advice was to delay the campaign and to work on building up their church by addressing the concerns we unearthed.

They appreciated our candor, agreed with our conclusions, and are working their way through our report. I love that everyone appreciates my suggestion to put off the campaign.

My own organization’s bottom line took a hit, as scheduled revenue will now be left uncollected. Why would we do that? First and foremost, because it’s the right thing to do. I trust God will make up the loss.

What causes campaigns to derail?

You never hear about the campaigns that didn’t raise what the church wanted. They don’t get any press clippings. Stewardship companies don’t want to tell you that not every campaign ends well. Churches don’t want to talk about the failings of a campaign; most choose to blame the consultant or company they hired to help them.

As with nearly every situation, there’s more than meets the eye. In my experience, it’s always a multitude of issues and problems that collide, causing a campaign to derail. While your consultant could indeed bear some responsibility, it’s always more complicated than that.

Here are the four major issues which, in my experience, can derail a church’s capital campaign.

Pastoral issues. Poor pastoral leadership can and will impact a capital campaign. Some pastors are disconnected from the process, and doom the campaign to failure. Others have been heavy-handed and have run off key donors, limiting the church’s ability to raise the needed funds.

The pastor is a huge key in the success or failure of a campaign. As my one-time boss, John Maxwell, used to say: “You have to win the heart before you ask for a hand.” This is especially true when it comes to raising funds.

Past issues. Any wound in the past can and will impact the future. While dealing with past wounds might be unpleasant unless those issues are properly dealt with, a campaign could well feel the impact of unresolved past issues.

Project issues. I’ve worked in churches where not everyone agreed with what was being planned. At one church I worked with — which was building a children’s building — youth parents and workers, and youth staff, were upset that they were being left out of the process. They torpedoed the campaign. A project that doesn’t unite all generations and segments of the church runs the risk of derailing.

Process  issues. Here’s where you need to chose your campaign partner carefully. A pre-packaged approach might or might not be a fit for your church. What worked in your buddy’s church across the state might not work in yours. The process of the campaign can leave members sour, and derail you.

Not a new problem

Of course, these issues are present before a capital campaign begins; the campaign simply brings them to a head. Most problems — if identified in time — can be resolved before you launch a capital campaign. While it might delay raising funds by a few months, or even a year, in the end, your campaign will be more successful than if you simply forge ahead.

In my opening illustration, how was it that we discovered the church wasn’t ready to launch a capital campaign? We talked to their leaders. We conduct feasibility studies for every major capital campaign we do. A feasibility study is designed to assess the level of readiness for a possible capital funding drive. More specifically, it’s designed to:

  • Test the level of understanding and enthusiasm for the vision that needs funding/future capital fund drives.
  • Surface anything (actual or potential problems) that must be addressed before they impact results negatively.
  • Help to cultivate potential donors.

Without some type of feasibility study conducted, you’re simply rolling the dice and hoping your campaign will be a success. You know what? Hope isn’t a good strategy when you’re attempting to fuel your dreams and visions.

Are any of the four causes listed above issues that your church has? Do you know for sure whether you do or don’t? Getting outside advice can help you avert a crisis before it happens.

Who needs another mess to clean up? The time to address these issues is before you launch a capital campaign, not during or after.

Mark Brooks is founder and president of The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions.  [www.TheCharisGroup.org]

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