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The Least Exciting Fundraising Campaign
 By Lilya Wagner

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A debt can be debilitating, demoralizing, enervating and polarizing. But it’s a reality in the life of many congregations today. On the other hand, turning a debt around and finding ways to be rid of it can also be a way to boost the activity and morale of a church family. It’s not easy, by any means, but some suggestions can be found in a chapter in the handbook, Successful Fundraising, and PSI welcomes inquiries for additional resources and/or advice.
Before considering a serious campaign to reduce or eliminate a debt, consider some of these points.
  1. Is there an urgency to pay the debt? What are we not able to do because there’s a debt? Are there services and ministries that are diminished or on hold while we pay the debt?
  2. Is the stewardship level of the congregation such that they exhibit loyalty to the church in their giving? Does the congregation understand why there is a debt? Has information been shared so that the congregation has reason to be generous and perhaps “stretch” to pay the debt? If stewardship levels are low, it might be that a debt reduction campaign isn’t possible to implement at the moment.
  3. Is this a “pastor’s debt” or one which the congregation “owns?” Is the debt the result of a capital campaign that took place and now the church is paying off the building costs? Or is the debt a result of bad management of church funds, real or perceived? Was at least the leadership of the congregation, besides the pastor, involved in whatever activity or project that incurred the debt?
  4. Is the debt and/or monthly payments sucking the lifeblood out of significant church programs? If the debt were paid, what else could be done NOW that builds up the loyalty, involvement and religious experience of the members or adds new members to the congregation?
  5. Is the church and its leadership willing to focus on a debt reduction campaign and put their support, financial and work, behind it? If not, what’s holding back the church family from supporting an effort to rid their congregation and church building of a debt that hangs over their collective head like a Damocles sword?
Wishing won’t make that debt go away. Inaction or apathy about a debt can drain the life out of a church. A good debt reduction campaign, however, can inject new enthusiasm and a sense of belonging to a winning organization.
In the next issue we will provide some ideas on how to manage a debt reduction campaign. We also encourage you to get a copy of Successful Fundraising and read the chapter on debt reduction. Contact PSI for any additional information we can provide, including phone or on-site counsel.

Lilya Wagner is director of Philanthropic Service for Institutions, an internal consulting group serving North American Division