“Fearless Fundraising” is a weekly blog on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico from which he raises money for Heading Home, an agency which seeks to make homelessness rare, short-lived and non-recurring. 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. Charles writes in order to provide new ways and perspectives on church fundraising in the face of old ways which are failing us.
This White Peach tree is at the end of its yield in these late days of summer and early days of fall here on the farm in New Mexico where I live. Apple and peach orchards require planning – a season for soil preparation and fence-building, a season for water-flow management, a season for planting, a season for nurturing, a season for pruning, a season for checking against illness or infestation, and a season for harvesting thousands of peaches for cobblers, jams, pies and crisps. Waiting until early fall for a white peach harvest, without having worked year-round to support that harvest will lead to failure – and it is the same with fundraising in churches.
The greatest potential for growth in a stewardship program is to be found in prayer and planning. The two go hand-in-hand. We discern and then we plan, so that, we can act. I get dozens of frantic emails in August and September of each year asking for advice on stewardship pledge campaigns in churches in dozens of denominations. I have the difficult job of telling my writers that writing to me in March would have been a better plan. But therein lies the problem: the lack of a plan that works.
Moving your stewardship program from a frantic pledge campaign to a financial development year-round program is going to be the difference between limping along and really running the race. Part of the problem is fear and anxiety. Raising money in our churches is a matter of deep fear for many because they were never taught how to do something which can take one third of a clergy-person’s time. Add to that the very real, vulnerable human fears around asking another person for money, and you have the potential for administrative and management constipation.
Moving past your fears of asking for money will be one of our next few considerations in this year-long twice-weekly series – so fear not. However planning and meditation will be your two best tools as you move past fear and into the flow of getting the job done and done well.
You are not raising money. You are inspiring gratitude and meaning-making. The money you raise for your church’s mission is a side-benefit. Your ministry is to help people to reduce their own fears about money, scarcity and abundance, see what they have been given, and then help them to give some of it away to a church-mission worthy of the contributions. A church must model the kind of bold conversation and meticulous planning which we are asking our parishioners to do in their own lives. Indeed, a part of your work is the very good preaching and pastoral care provided year-round.
However, another part of church leadership is the administration of work which supports church philanthropy with effective communications, motivating case development (why we deserve this money for which we now ask) and efficient donor relations. Stewardship is what your congregation members do as they make decisions about their budget and their philanthropy. Financial development is what clergy and lay people do when they are leading the communications which inspire stewardship in the congregation. The church then adds their own stewardship work to their financial development work when they steward the gifts and the relationships which inform those gifts. It is ok for a clergy person to refuse to dirty their hands with filthy lucre by being disinclined to manage fundraising (though they risk gnostic heresy); however, they need to be helped to find new employment in an agency which does not need to raise money.
It is the job of the laity to claim their voice. I once preached on Martin Luther King Sunday and told the congregation “This is you church! Claim your voice! Make a stand. Clergy will come and go. You will stay. Own your church and its mission.” A few minutes later, in the vesting room, I was told by the senior clergy person that I was never to say such a thing again. “This is not THEIR church. This is MY church. I built it up and I run it. Never say that again!” Well, the problem is that the 1920’s called and they want their leadership style back please. There is too much fast communication now and the generations have shifted too much for the “Father knows best” style of leadership to work anymore. This applies to fundraising as well. I encourage vestries and stewardship committees to act up. Claim your voice. Demand effective, time-consuming stewardship programs and demand effective financial development work from top leadership in your church. Without it your mission will be constricted and starved of the financial resources Jesus wants for your valuable mission.
You can download my Task Flow Calendar to help you begin to design your own strategic plan here. What you will see is a model flow document which will help you to design your own strategic plan for the year. Since this is September and you’re just getting started, relax, because the next article will be a micro plan for a fall campaign to get you started. But it’s not too soon to begin thinking about next year – set aside two or three hours, go to a local cafe or museum and set your hand at drafting one – then get lots of eyes on it and begin to follow your plan beginning in the months in which you now find yourself.
Make sure it has measurable objectives (note that this model is just a model, and so does not – they need to be yours). You need amounts, dates and responsible names of leadership in the plan. What gets measured gets done. Now, go get started!