Old Saint Patrick’s Capital Campaign Tips

November 11, 2015


Often times the phrase “capital campaign” can send clergy and church staff running for the hills, but I’ve found that this process actually strengthens relationships significantly between the church staff and its members. Those dreaded meetings with the big “ask” should really be viewed as a meaningful touchpoint between you and a member. Your people want to be in that room and want to have the opportunity to give to the mission from which they are fed.

Old St. Pat’s has by no means cracked the code of how to perfectly implement a capital campaign, but we did learn quite a few lessons from our recent campaign that might help your church in preparing for your next one. We also know how fortunate we are to have members that so generously support the work we do, and we know we would be nowhere without their goodness.

You probably noticed that we use the term “member” instead of “parishioner,” and we do so intentionally. We speak of members not to imply exclusivity or being a part of a club, but to distinguish the importance of ownership of the mission of your church. This leads me to point number one in the lessons we learned.

Lessons Learned

  1. Listen to the people, ALL the people. The old adage that “people support what they help to create” could not be truer when it comes to a capital campaign. Your staff has needs that must be addressed through this campaign, but so do your members. Invite your members to share with you their vision for the church through interviews, focus groups and surveys. This will lay the foundation for the campaign, and will make everyone’s voices feel heard (very important in church work!). From these conversations and staff meetings, you should have a clearly defined “case” – which is a description of the goals set forth and how you plan to achieve them.
  2. Empower your members. Building a strong and dedicated steering committee is vital to the success of a campaign. This group should not be too large; rather it should be a core group of involved members who have influence among their peers. These people will be the planners, communicators, supporters and networkers. While your staff (and consultants if you choose to enlist help, and I strongly encourage that you do) will be doing the heavy lifting of the work, the steering committee should be guiding them throughout. If members that aren’t on the steering committee want to get involved, leverage their talents in other ways, i.e. help with mailings, campaign event planning, etc.
  3. Talk, talk, talk. We heard two words from our members over and over again: “Communicate” and “Transparency”. People want to hear updates throughout the process to know that their generosity is being put to good use, so keep them informed. Even if it sounds like a broken record to you, they want to hear the progress being made. This has a bonus effect of reminding people of the need; it will encourage those that have not participated to consider it.
  4. Make the ask already! You’ve communicated the need, you’ve called the meeting, you’ve listened to the member(s) tell you what your church means to them, you’ve reminded them the importance of growing/sustaining the mission. Now you have one last thing to do: MAKE THE ASK. You may feel uncomfortable, but to skirt around the ask is a disservice to the member and to the church. They need to hear the words, however you want to phrase it: “We need your help, and we hope that you will help support this critical work with a gift of $xx.xx.” It’s that simple. To echo the opening paragraph, your members want to hear this.
  5. Thank you goes a long way. This seems pretty obvious, but often gets overlooked. Timely, sincere and personal thank you’s mean so much to the donor. Also, people love seeing photos of the work being done, so when you send a pledge reminder and thank you include some pictures.

By: Tim Liston, Director of Advancement, Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago, IL

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