By Mark Brooks
Recently, I had lunch with a pastor I’ve worked with for almost a decade, and he told me a story. He said: “I was recently around my home town and met with a local pastor who’d 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?” He told me the church’s annual budget was $1 million.
Needless to say, this pastor had unrealistic expectations. What makes the story even sadder is that, ultimately, the church fired the pastor.
This true story made me think of a chapter from one of my previous books, Stewardship Myths. The chapter I thought about is called, “The Expectation Myth.” In it, I sought to examine the dangers of setting unrealistic expectations that can come back and bite you. I compiled a whole list of examples similar to the story listed above.
In an attempt to break through the smoke and mirrors that some stewardship companies are spewing out, let’s examine what factors play into how much is raised.
1) The health of the congregation. In my mind and experience, this is the No. 1 reason. Healthy congregations willingly give to a campaign; unhealthy congregations don’t. Finding out the issues and potential landmines is essential to a campaign’s success. Most campaigns fail because they fail to take congregational health into account.
2) How compelling the vision is. People don’t give to bricks-and-mortar; they give to vision. They want to know 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 doesn’t have those types of members, then it needs to set a more realistic expectation of what it might be able to do.
4) The pastor’s standing with the congregation. I remember 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 they didn’t agree with the direction he was taking the church. “We’re 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’m 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’ll 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 might lie 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 it 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 a church does, the more difficult each one becomes to raise the desired dollars.
Holding a successful capital campaign was never as easy as it looked. Now, given the economic times we live in, it’s even more difficult. This is one reason why it pays to have an expert in the engine room with you.
Mark Brooks is founder and president of The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions (www.TheCharisGroup.org).