Capital Improvements for Church in Need of TLC

Dear Kim,

I have been put in charge of fundraising for my church. We are a nonprofit organization with a very small congregation. We are in need of major repairs and have limited funds. Could you point me in the right direction, such as to companies that donate to small churches, and give me the format for a letter I can send out?
—Called to serve, but unsure how

Dear Called,

Churches generally have a hard time raising money outside of their congregation, and since you have a small congregation, you have an uphill climb. Generally, corporations don’t give to religious groups, unless someone from the company is part of the church, so make sure you know where all your congregants work. There are some ways to raise money from people who are not part of your congregation, and some of those ways include:

a) If your church is historic, you may qualify for historic preservation grants. To find out more about those, go to the nearest Foundation Center (for a complete list of locations, go to www.fdncenter.org) and ask them to show you how to use FC SEARCH, which will give you a number of foundation contacts. You might also look at the website of the Trust for Historic Preservation and the website of Sacred Sites International for ideas and links.

b) If your church is a long time part of your neighborhood, you may be able to raise money from neighbors. Invite them to a special meeting and describe your needs. Show them what needs to be done and ask for their help.

c) Former congregants who have moved away are often nostalgic for the church they grew up in. They will sometimes make one-time only donations for capital improvement.

d) People often think that they must raise money to hire the work done, but many organizations have skipped over the raising money part and found people who would donate their labor. Your church might become the project of a vocational school class on contracting or some of the repairs might be the project of a scout troop.

e) Your own denomination may have funds available for capital campaigns or may be able to point you in the right direction.

I hesitate to give you a format for a letter, as each letter will vary. I will give you a few general tips. Start with how you got the person’s name you are writing to: “John Smith suggested I write you because of your interest in ….” Then say exactly why you are writing. “I am sure you are familiar with our church, and you may be able to tell that it is in need of extensive repair. We must raise $____, and I am hoping you can help us with a gift (or with advice, or whatever).”

The key to a good letter is to end it with this: “I will call you in a few days to talk with you further.” People are so busy and swamped with requests that they will rarely respond simply to a letter.

My final piece of advice is: don’t do this alone. Form a small committee and work together.

I wish you well.
—Kim