Church Management Software 301: Fundraising

September 3, 2019 Rev. Bill Johnson

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Fundraising is a hard topic, and I’ll admit at the outset that it’s one I struggle with. The problem is, of course, that it’s so easy to get the perspectives wrong. We can become so intent on our financial goals, particularly if we’re dealing with a large capital project like a new building, that we forget our main purpose of sharing the Gospel with the people we’re working with. Technology can be used to make fundraising more effective, but like any other tool, it has its pros and cons. It can be used in ways that are helpful in building up the Body of Christ; or it can be used in ways that, even if successful in meeting your fundraising goals, can be manipulative and destructive.

If You Don’t Write It Down …

If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. If you don’t have data to work with in your Church Management Software, you’re not going to be able to draw meaningful conclusions or action plans from the CMS. This means that the data, one way or another, needs to make it into your system. If we’re talking about effective fundraising, one of the more important pieces of information to have is a history of giving by families in your congregation.

As a parish pastor, I’ll freely admit I struggle with this one. The Scriptures admonish us not to give preferential treatment to the rich, and we definitely don’t want to create a culture where pastors are afraid to rightly proclaim the Word for fear of losing a major donor, but knowing specific giving history can help a pastor understand a family’s financial health and grasp of stewardship. Ultimately, it’s up to your local policies and church polity as to whether the pastor knows the giving of particular families, but the person who’s planning your capital campaign needs access to that data. Chances are the pastor will at least need some ranges or categories too, so make sure that data is in your CMS somewhere—even if it’s not readily accessible outside of your financial staff and volunteers.

Asking for the Right Causes

For any given family, there are some causes that are more important than others. These are sometimes based on current situations, but there are often other important causes and reasons for their importance beneath the surface. For example, I grew up with a sister who was chronically ill and was at one point the beneficiary of a Make-A-Wish project. Someone who’s met me only recently might be unaware of that and not realize that donations to children’s hospitals or Make-A-Wish-type organizations are a “shut up and take my money” sort of thing for me. 

Knowing which causes your families are passionate about can help you to ask the right people to help fund projects about which they’re most likely to be interested. Perhaps I’m a poor fundraiser—I probably am—but if the description of the project isn’t enough to make the donors pursue how they can help make the vision of the project a reality, then perhaps it isn’t the right fit. So having a place in your CMS where you can note that music projects are very important to Joe, or that Sandra likes to fund brick-and-mortar projects that will stand for decades, can help you to bring the right projects to the right people.

Asking for the Right Amount

Another key piece in planning a capital campaign is in determining what’s within reach. Christ reminds us to count the cost before beginning anything, and realistic expectations can help form the foundation for a successful project. Ideally, a capital project is something that’s bigger than your standard budgeted items but not so large that it pulls substantial energy away from the mission and work of your congregation. This is part of why so many experts firmly believe a church should build only when all other options are exhausted. The toll on the momentum and work of the congregation is often too high and some never recover.

So, as an example, if your church is operating on a $500,000 budget, a $1,000 to $2,000 expense is likely significant, but probably not worth a capital campaign. Instead, it can be absorbed by budgeted funds or perhaps even paid for with a single call to a passionate donor. As the price tag goes up, though, the project becomes bigger than the budget can handle, and more than one donor may be needed to help cover the costs. Here, a good CMS can show the history of past projects, their successes, and their timelines. Look for patterns in the culture of giving at your congregation. One congregation I’m familiar with can easily raise $20,000 for a given project, but they are likely to struggle with a $25,000 project and, ultimately, bring in less support than the project with the $20,000 goal. As a result, larger projects are often broken down into phases of around $20,000. Interestingly, in the same congregation, projects below $10,000 are also unlikely to garner the support they need—not because of a lack of funding, but, in my analysis, because the perception is that the challenge isn’t big enough for many of the key donors to feel needed.

Here also is the place to look at the giving history of the families in your congregation and ensure that you’re asking for amounts that represent a stake in the project but aren’t out of reach for a particular family’s means. Asking a working-class family with eight kids for a million-dollar pledge is ineffective, as is asking a millionaire for twenty dollars. Knowing the giving abilities of your families, and combining that information with the causes they are passionate about, can enable you or your solicitors to approach the right people and ask for the right amounts. By ensuring the data is available in your CMS and making appropriate use of it, you can help ensure that the projects your congregation envisions are successfully funded by people who genuinely care about them.

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