“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.
“It is customary to blame secularism for the eclipse of religion in modern society. But it would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined (and will exponentially quickly careen into deeper financial decline) not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, and insipid. When faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain, when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – it’s message becomes meaningless.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Decades ago, scientists and ecologists began to ask questions about the rising temperatures on our planet’s surface. And for decades – even still today, many said that “global warming” was/is not a thing. Well, it’s a thing. But we may be too late. There may simply be too much money to be made, by people who make money using fossil fuels – there may be no will to change. Even you and I may want the air conditioning on rather than suffer heat or the heat on rather than, as Jimmy Carter suggested, wearing a sweater.
Is not the exact same thing happening in our church? Are we not doing exactly the same thing? Burying our heads in the sand of tradition or laziness or ineffectiveness in our refusal to change when we can so clearly see the actuarial tables of our financial life as a “Church?” I mean, you really need to be willfully obtuse to pretend that the church’s pledging and spending is “just fine and will be” as you would be in the belief that “global warming” is not a reality.
And so, when the last of our pledgers (people now 65 years old) with assets and income (capacity) who love their comfortable churchy ways (“my church for my needs”) – when they die or become mentally unable to pledge in as little as 10 years (TEN YEARS!!!) what exactly is our plan? What are we doing NOW to plan for the reality that pledging will drop by 70% (in the strong churches led by good, effective clergy and laity …90% in the creepy ones) in the next decade. Go on all you want about love – I do! But might we also have a…well, a plan?
Sure. Preach about love. But is a plan so very unspiritual? Has anyone asked recently how much money has been spent on Episcopal Church Fundraising and how much money has actually been raised? What exactly is the Return on Investment of our Episcopal Church’s fundraising work? Perhaps it is AMAZING! So, then tell us. But then, how do the churches improve their fundraising work? Who teaches them?
If you have a church building and salary needs of $200,000 today, and 100 families, how many will be pledging and alive in 10 years? What will your income be when they die and do not leave a bequest? How many of your pledgers have endowed their pledges (IE: a $1,000 pledge needs a bequest of $20,000, etc.) so that when they die, their pledge continues onward? I mean, pardon my annoying truth-telling but… what exactly is the plan?
It is time to upset the apple cart. It is time to act out and risk ecclesial censure and even ecclesial retribution. Sure, you may lose your job, but we live in the long shadow of the martyrs, also “a thing.” Might we have the courage to stand up to a system and leaders, utterly incapable of raising money effectively and demand change regarding church fundraising?
Now, I admit, perhaps the Church needs simply to die a liturgically gorgeous death so that She molts into something else and if that is what needs to happen then let’s not discuss fundraising and go back to a discussion about gorgeous liturgy and outreach budgets smaller than altar guild budgets. But I wonder; I wonder if, by acting out now to raise endowments and major gifts, might we be able to help midwife the Church’s molting with resources She might one day need?
What is the answer you ask? Change your case-for-support to something meaningful – something donors will invest in. Involve them in that discernment even if it takes you church into new and frightening changes like the sale of buildings and the resulting endowment of missions. Downsize. Simplify. Deal with actual reality.
On Sunday, ask the congregation of adults under 50 to please stand. (We need to skip the older and younger boomers who have no money, have saved little even for their own retirement, and are not particularly generous.) Once they are standing, introduce the congregation to its future and ask some hard questions about their pledging.
I know too many clergy and bishops leaching money for maintained ecclesial standards of living or wacky old ideas from an old and bygone era.
We must speak the truth and come up with a real plan with measurable objectives. We need to act out. Lead where it may and cost what it will.