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Fundraising in the Local Church
by Dennis N. Carlson
The dynamics of fundraising in the local church setting can be better understood by a comparison with fundraising in higher education and in health care. The differences are significant and yet the principles are the same. Here are some of the factors to consider.
A significant difference among the three settings is the proximity of the potential donors to the project itself. In higher education the potential donors are usually scattered all around the country and beyond and are only incidentally acquainted with each other. Also the fundraisers from the university or college are likely to be strangers to the potential donors and therefore a relationship of trust must be built. And usually the major donors do not have knowledge of what others have given. In health care fundraising the potential donors may not be very personally acquainted, but they usually live in the same community and share the goal of enhancing health care in the community. It is more likely that major donors have knowledge of what others have given.
In contrast, the members of a congregation are generally quite well acquainted with each other. They worship together, socialize together and may even be related. When a large capital initiative is launched, everyone in the congregation will have an opinion about how much each of the other members can and should give to the project. The relationships among the members are long term and well set. This can be an advantage for fundraising, or a significant disadvantage.
Although there are general motives for giving that can be found among all donors, there are some clear differences among the three settings discussed here. In higher education, gratitude and making a difference for the future are leading motives. In health care, the major donors generally live in the community the hospital serves, and a motive is to have excellent health care in the community as a part of the attraction of the area.
In the local congregation the motives, and the benefits, are so very personal, along with the motive of enhancing the mission of the church. Donors are more involved in the details, such as the color of the carpet and the wood tones of the pulpit area.
In the local church setting there are sad stories of partially completed projects sitting there for years while money comes in slowly and donor fatigue sets in. Blame is placed. People drift away. Weeds grow around the walls of the unfinished sanctuary. How can this come to be? Following are some of the reasons:
  • The church board is not united on the project.
  • Church business meeting votes do not have a large attendance and a strong majority of support for the project.
  • The cost is not fully considered and may be more than the church membership can give in a reasonable amount of time.
  • There are two sides in the church who have always been against the other's ideas.
  • The timing is not right.
  • Fundraising began with a message such as, everyone give as you can.
  • Professional fundraising principles were not applied.
One of those principles for success is to have a "silent" phase during which potential major donors are asked for donations that would add up to at least 75% of the total cost before the public launch for the campaign. Timely success is thus well established.
The Fund Raising School at Indiana University is credited with the following: "Successful fundraising is the right person asking the right prospect for the right cause in the right way for the right amount at the right time." All of the basic elements of professional fundraising can be discovered within that statement. Notice also, there is one verb on which it all rests: ask.
And finally be sure to access the excellent materials and counsel at PSI (Philanthropic Service for Institutions), a department of the North American Division. Order the handbook, Successful Fundraising--A Guide for Adventist Organizations from Consultants are available through PSI who understand Seventh-day Adventist local church fundraising dynamics and will provide you with no-cost counsel.
Dennis N. Carlson has served as Vice President for Advancement at Walla Walla University and is now a consultant for fundraising and leadership principles. He served as a pastor for fourteen years in Ohio and Washington and in church administration for 24 years in the Washington, Upper Columbia Conferences as Secretary and Minnesota as President; and as president of the Mid America Union. He was the board chair of PSI during his tenure as Assistant to the President for Administration at the NAD.