“Fearless Fundraising” is a series on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising and now, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-Making. For more information, videos and model documents go to fearlesschurchfundraising.com.
Sometimes while walking on my farm in New Mexico it is hard to see the forest for the trees; let alone the sunset. But in church leadership we often need to be able to see the trees. Developing a case for supporting a church’s fundraising effort is like writing to the trees so that the forest can be seen and funded. On a farm we plant trees. In a campaign, we plant ideas which come from the very people to whom we return them in our Case communications. Communication the Case is about hosting a conversation with your congregation which then forms the messages which they then read and recognize as their collective longings. A church’s Case is not the message of the rector and a diocesan case is not the message of a bishop. The case of a church or diocese is the case (longings) of the people who will then be asked to fund it.
And a Case is about words. Jesus came to Earth as the Word, not the idea. Words are important. One of the chief weaknesses of campaigns to raise money (pledges or major gifts) or people (membership) is the weakness of the communication plan’s strategy, design, and implementation. The church is used to assuming people will pledge or join simply because they always have or because God says to do so. Nowadays we have to explain why to fund the church. The olden days of everyone pledging because they were frightened into it or browbeaten into it or taxed and fined into it or pressured by family or village into it are long over. And I am glad it is a new day. But this increases the responsibility for the church to communicate why they deserve the money they seek to raise.
Other agencies doing effective and powerful work in the world are able to communicate why people should make philanthropic investments and why people should join communities of mission. The ability to communicate effectively will support any ability a church may have to raise money or people. Too often, churches communicate in case-development and their self-descriptions are only aspirational hopes rather than actual, truthful, measurable effectiveness that they are able to prove in a particular place and time. A communications plan, whether for a small church or a large church, is essential to support financial development and membership growth. Here is an outline of some key tasks in developing your Case, regardless if it is for the raising of annual pledging, major gifts or a diocesan project:
- How to craft your campaign theme/slogan.
- Listen to God’s mission in which you are involved.
- Listen to people talk about your church’s ministry, mission, and impact.
- Pray about the ability to hear a call to a theme.
- Look for the vision.
- Look for images.
- Host conversations
- What are you known for in the community?
- What do you want to be known for in the community?
- How does this intersect with what Jesus asks us to accomplish? (God’s Mission)
- Discernment of your campaign theme:
- Schedule coffees, small group focus groups, brainstorming sessions, crock pot conversations, etc.
- Look for a quote from a hymn, a song, an ad, a ministry minute speaker, etc.
- Look at your life together right now. What is about to happen and how do you want that happening to be funded?
- Crafting the final decision about your Case.
- Keep it simple – there should be only ONE message.
- Use your message content: Communicate!
- Know your people.
- Keep an eye out for talent, and recruit, and thank and thank and thank.
- Cultivate volunteers the way you cultivate major gifts— relationships.
- Your brand is not your logo! Your brand is the combination of who people say you are and who you know you are. Do you deserve the money you think you want to raise?
Wondering how to start? Here are some questions which might inform the writing of your case-for-support. Host events and creative-writing sessions which answer these questions and you will have all the materials you need for brochures, letters and sermons.
- What do we do that Jesus would recognize and love?
- What do we provide?
- How do we change lives?
- What results to society do we provide which make change?
- How has one life been changed by our mission?
- Why should a donor invest in this work?