Capital Campaigns During a Recession

Dear Kim:

Our church needs make a number of renovations.  These are not cosmetic—the roof leaks, the basement floods and many of the pews are falling apart and have splinters.  The congregation is small, but the church is historic and right downtown.  Of course we would rather wait until the economy improves, but we simply can’t. We are in danger of being shut down for being unsafe.  Everyone says you can’t launch a capital campaign right now, but what else can we do?

~The Church and the Steeple are Falling on the People

Dear Falling:

Who is this ubiquitous “everyone” who provides gloomy advice on every possible topic?  I advise them to get a life.

As to my advice to you:  of course you can start a capital campaign and no time like the present.  If you haven’t already, you need to form a Capital Improvement Committee (probably made from some combination of your existing finance and property committees), then figure out how much money you need to raise.  Soon after that you need to do an “every member” canvass of your congregation to see how much money they can contribute.  Do this carefully and systematically, one person or couple at a time, starting with the ones you think can give the biggest gifts.  Meanwhile, look into any historic preservation funding that may exist.  Some churches and synagogues have been able to get funding through these avenues.  Talk to your neighbors downtown and tell them your situation and see how they may want to help.  See if the city can help you with a loan or possibly even a grant.  You are an “anchor” of the downtown and no one wants to see you disappear.

Think about borrowing some of the money in order to begin the repairs before the damage gets worse, which will save you money in the long run, but also show that you are serious about saving your church.

You may want to ask a fundraising consultant to help you come up with a time line and gift range chart, but in the meantime, go to the Journal archives to check out the articles I wrote on conducting capital campaigns from Vol. 20, Numbers 3-6.

And a little prayer here and there won’t hurt.

~Kim Klein

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