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The Least Exciting Fundraising Campaign—2
By Lilya Wagner
Without a doubt, fundraising professionals and others experienced in this activity will readily acknowledge that debt reduction is the most difficult money to raise. After all, who can get excited about giving to a campaign that focuses on money going (or gone) “down the rathole?!”

Here are some suggestions of how a debt reduction campaign might succeed.
  1. Don’t hide behind “feel good” information sharing to the congregation, and don’t whitewash the fact there is a debt. Instead, prepare a comprehensive plan, outline a process that is equal to today’s demands for a well-constructed campaign and communicate this plan. Get church members involved, one by one, small group by small group, until a responsible plan is in place and church members are behind it.

  2. Don’t begin a debt reduction campaign with just good intentions and the desire of a few to eliminate debt. Ensure the church body is behind the campaign, has given faithfully, and is willing to “stretch” in their giving as well as do fundraising according to a plan whereby people’s talents, contacts, and skills are used.

  3. Show the church family what the realities are of today’s church budget, and what can be done if the debt is eliminated.

  4. Inform so that finger-pointing is eliminated as much as possible. Blaming those who were or are responsible, whether in reality or as a result of negative gossip, is counterproductive to morale as well as a successful campaign. Church finances sometimes take on the level of secrecy equal to the CIA. Of course, sensitive and personal information shouldn’t be shared, but a budget and realities of church finance need not be state—or church—secrets.

  5. Ensure that both pastoral/leadership and membership support and involvement is in place. Few things are more counterproductive than “the pastor’s campaign.” The leader must be behind the effort and use his/her talents in the best way possible. This means that at times the pastor is the right person asking for funds, internally within the church family or externally from other possible donors, but at other times perhaps a member or even a friend to the congregation might be the right person.

  6. Consider the mission and values of the church. Why is it important to reduce or eliminate the debt? What is not happening in the church because it has a debt? Focusing on the reasons why the church exists and functions is more advisable than just focusing on the money that is owed. Give your members and donors a reason to want the church to be solvent!

  7. Consider the side-benefits of a debt-free church: more funds for community outreach and evangelism, therefore a likely increase in membership; increased morale and more focus on worship and faith-related activities; less anxiety and more enthusiasm; and increased faith in God that He has helped a church family move ahead.

  8. Prepare and implement a responsible campaign plan that can succeed in today’s environment. Gone are the days when a pastor could implore, urge or even exhort a church to give. Today members are more inquiring, more demanding of information and a “say,” more focused on accountability of church funds, and more conscious of how money is used. Treat them with the respect they deserve and just possibly your church will get a new lease on life, debt free!
Lilya Wagner is director of Philanthropic Service for Institutions, an internal consulting group serving North American Division