“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.
Recently, someone asked my opinion before asking for my pledge. I was stunned. Thrilled, but stunned.
People need to feel heard. They do not need their opinions to be acted upon. They do not need their suggestions all to flow into their church’s or non-profit’s strategic plan like little soldier. They do not need to dictate the church or non-profit’s course. But they do need to feel heard before they are asked for money. Ideas are like exotic birds, they are stunning, arresting and a source of wonderment as to how they even formed.
When consulting with churches, I suggest that they host a “Dream Together” gathering prior to or during the annual pledge campaign. If you have an ASA or AWA (Average Sunday Attendance or Average Weekly Attendance) of 28 then gather them. If you have an ASA of 300, then gather them in two sessions. If you have 800 then gather them in 6 sessions. The idea is based on the reality that these days, the church and our society are too complex for any one person to have the answers. Too full of potential for any one person to control or manipulate.
The Art of Hosting Meaningful Conversation is a set of tools to host a conversation that works to move the conversation along the spectrum from Camos (catastrophic disaster) to Chaos (more like a jungle…all messy but full of life) and slightly, half-way, into Order (listed and neat and tidy) but still well away from Control (where so many dioceses and churches rest.) By straddling Chaos and Order, the overlap produces a wonderful, if messy, growth-potential for the harvest of ideas. Gather the people together and ask them a couple great questions!
And really, the questions are the key thing – and only one or maybe two. Use 80% of your planning to invite the people and to develop the really great question(s) – then use the remaining 20% of your time to plan the conference. Getting people to attend and then getting them talking are the two most important things to accomplish.
If the clergy have high control needs, it might be difficult to pull this off. I remember speaking to one clergy person who was furious that I was suggesting that their congregation gather to talk together. “This is MY church, not theirs! I have worked hard and made sacrifices. They pay me to decide. I don’t want all sorts of ideas spoken that they will then demand that I make happen!” If that is what you face, then start planning, get people excited and then mention everyone’s excitement to the controlling leader…by then it will be too late. They will usually collapse, not wanting to be seen to block free speech. They will be grumpy, but they will be quiet.
But most clergy and bishops are good people and want to foster open, honest, creative conversation so…go for it! Send out the save-the-date-card a year in advance and then again 6 months in advance. You can get 500 post cards made on-line for $99. Then start calling key leaders and explain that you want to gather the people to simply have a creative conversation. They will get excited as long as it is not next week. People plan their schedules. Recruiting attendance is really a one-at-a-time thing and needs to be most of the work – it’s like a campaign for attendance, thermometer and all!… “We need 30 and we have 21…let’s keep at it!”. Get volunteers to call people and give them a script…something like … “This is our church, we love it and we have a lot of creative intelligence in our congregation. We want to gather around a few questions to discuss our life together and to offer our longings to be heard by leadership. We hope your voice will be there! It is only a few hours and it will chart our course forward.”
Once you have high attendance and it is on people’s calendars a few months out, then remind them a lot. People forget. Develop a recruitment plan and a matching communications plan.
What I find with leading these conferences in churches and non-profits is that people have a sense of things. They do not use the floor to rant and rave nor as a bully-pulpit. They just have these ideas and would like to chat about them openly and together. The Art of Hosting Meaningful Conversation tools will guide you in hosting a conversation such that the megaphone-voices are given healthy boundaries and the wallflower-voices are brought forward and heard.
And not only are ideas harvested, but the people leave feeling heard. When you ask them for a pledge to your church or non-profit, they feel that they are investing in something THEY helped to build. Too often I have seen capital campaigns and pledge campaigns crash and burn because the case-for-support (and the nominations of leadership) were done in a smoky back-room in secrecy. True, a feasibility study for a capital campaign needs to be done one-on-one, but long before that occurs, the annual Dream Together Conference (“What is possible?” which is different than the Annual Meeting’s “What we did.”) gets people talking and helps them to feel that their church or non-profit is a democracy and not a monarchy or oligarchy.