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So You Need to Raise Some Money…

America’s older and historic churches, synagogues, meetinghouses, temples, and mosques are blessings to their congregations and their neighborhoods, but they also require regular repair and an occasional major overhaul. Sometimes the sheer cost of such maintenance seems overwhelming.

These challenges need not drive you to despair! This guide is designed to aid you in fundraising planning: to understand the needs of your older house of worship; to decide whether to begin a capital campaign in your congregation; and to extend your campaign to your community and other funders. You’ll learn how to determine what you and your congregation can do yourselves, and when you’ll need professional help. And in the process, you may find your vision and your ministry enhanced as you think outside your own walls. Raising money can be intimidating, but it can also be an exciting catalyst for new community outreach.

You can use this guide in two ways:

  • Read the text online, clicking on links to relevant resources - Each link will open in a new window
  • Print the documents to share with your congregation’s planning or finance committee

In either case, be aware that raising money requires the involvement and commitment of both clergy and lay leaders. At a minimum, the finance and facilities committees will be involved, but you should also consider creating a new capital campaign committee to oversee planning and fundraising and to supervise the work that needs to be done. There will be enough work for every member who can be brought into the process, and the broader the involvement, the more likely it is that the whole congregation will find their commitment deepened and strengthened.

Fundraising or Capital Campaign?

Many fundraising efforts start when someone notices a problem, such as the stained glass windows sagging or the roof leaking. Other efforts begin when someone sees a new vision for ministry, such as a new after-school program for children or a fellowship hall renovation. In either case, the temptation is to start raising money for that particular project without considering larger issues. Does the leaky roof indicate extensive damage? Will the new program require updating the restrooms and kitchen?

For anything but the smallest jobs, it’s best to bring in a professional such as an architect, who specializes in historic religious properties, to give you a comprehensive conditions survey. A professional can give you a sense of the overall scope of the project and help you prioritize your work. Perhaps the kitchen remodeling can wait until phase two. Maybe the stained glass window restoration can be financed over time through planned giving.

One of the important decisions that clergy and congregational leaders need to make together is whether to raise funds for a particular project or to launch a comprehensive capital campaign. If your conditions survey indicates that only a few minor repairs are needed, project fundraising may be fine. But the conditions survey may show that multiple repairs are needed, such as rewiring, painting, repairing termite damage, replacing deteriorating joists, and making the building accessible for the disabled. Planning a capital campaign to raise money for all these important projects together may be a better choice than trying to address each one as it becomes a crisis.

The introduction to The Complete Guide to Capital Campaigns for Historic Churches and Synagogues further explains the reasons to consider a capital campaign.

Step One: Where Do You Stand?

The first step to raising funds to restore or renovate your building is to develop a plan, and that requires knowing where you stand in the first place. The best way to learn where you are now is by asking a qualified architect, building conservator, or engineer to prepare a building conditions survey. Unsure about what that is? Two articles further explain conditions surveys:

This article explains the difference between an engineer, an architect, and a building conservator:

Some congregations doubt whether they really need the services of an architect. Here’s a case study of one New York church’s decision:

When you are ready to hire a professional to conduct a conditions survey, call several possibilities and ask about their fees and their experience with historic religious properties. You may want to start with someone already familiar with your own property or with a member of our Professional Alliance.

Once your congregation gets its conditions survey, you’ll need to develop a work plan. Your architect, conservator, or engineer will help you decide how to plan the work, but this is also a good time to bring in as many members of the congregation as possible. Consider distributing copies of the proposed plan of action, or posting them in a conspicuous place for a few weeks, before holding a congregational meeting where members’ questions and concerns can be addressed. The more planning and discussion that take place before you appeal for money, the more the congregation will take ownership of the project and support it wholeheartedly.

Here’s an article about using the conditions survey to develop a scope of work:

Step Two: Can you do this on your own?

A pivotal decision is whether to conduct a fundraising campaign on your own or to hire a professional consultant to help. There’s no easy answer to this question, as it depends on how much money needs to be raised and what kind of “capital” you already have-both your congregation’s finances and your talent pool.

If you decide you need help, you may be able to limit your expenses by hiring a consultant for specific tasks (for example, to create promotional materials), or you may need a professional to guide you every step of the way. Here are a few articles to help you decide.

Step Three: Planning the Capital Campaign

Professional fund-raisers generally agree that raising money is 70 percent planning and 30 percent asking. The best guidebook for planning a capital campaign is The Complete Guide to Capital Campaigns for Historic Churches and Synagogues by Peggy Powell Dean and Susanna A. Jones. This 187-page guide, bound in a loose-leaf notebook, leads you through every step of the process, from developing and testing your preliminary plan through implementing the plan and evaluating your results. Designed for both small and large congregations, the volume includes valuable information on grants as well as sample promotional flyers, letters, and press releases. Its chapters include:

  • Developing a Preliminary Restoration Plan
  • Developing Consensus
  • Do We Need Help in Developing our Fundraising Plan?
  • Developing a Preliminary Fundraising Plan
  • Testing the Preliminary Plans
  • Finalizing Campaign Plans
  • Implementing the Plans
  • Implementing the Community Campaign
  • The Closing Celebration
  • Building on Success
  • Evaluating the Results

Available directly from Partners for Sacred Places, the Complete Guide is an extremely valuable source of information. To purchase the guide, email us here. Here are a few shorter articles on capital campaign planning that may be helpful:

Fellow Travelers

Congregations around the country face many of the issues discussed here. After years of deferred maintenance, beautiful older buildings require costly renovation, while their congregations grapple with constant emergency repairs that deplete both their strength and their finances.

Repairing a building is a cooperative effort among clergy, lay people, and professionals-the architects, contractors, and fund-raisers they hire to help them. All parties should find agreement on what work needs to be done and what the strategy and goals of the campaign will be before anyone is asked to open a wallet or provide professional services. Congregations should also be aware that many others have also faced daunting preservation tasks. Here are several examples:

  • Canaan Baptist Church (Philadelphia, Pa) faced space planning issues after it moved into a former Presbyterian church. Canaan also needed to adapt some of the church’s religious symbols to make them more appropriate for an African-American congregation.
  • Church of St. Luke in the Fields (New York, NY) burned down in the early 1980s but was able to rebuild with an aggressive capital campaign that targeted both church members and local neighborhood residents.
  • Durham Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church (Buffalo, NY), a historic African-American congregation, raised significant money to restore their building.
  • Fourth Universalist Society (New York, NY) created a separate non-profit organization to raise funds for repairing a landmark building on New York’s Upper West Side. Neighbors and preservationists who did not want to support the congregation’s general budget were willing to contribute to the separate 501(c)(3) organization.
  • Iglesia Pentecostal La Luz del Mundo (Brooklyn, NY) benefited from a conditions survey that detailed the structural problems with their historic building. In spite of the congregation’s small size and limited means, they initiated and managed a comprehensive capital campaign without the aid of professional fundraising consultants.
  • Lovely Lane United Methodist Church (Baltimore, Md) initiated a nationwide fundraising effort targeting all United Methodist churches and their members. After securing gifts from 18 percent of United Methodist churches, Lovely Lane began a grant-writing and major gifts campaign.
  • Mars Hill Baptist Church (Philadelphia, Pa) has struggled to make repairs on its impressive complex of buildings, but help has come from various sources-including the former owners of the building.
  • Mother African Zoar United Methodist Church (Philadelphia, Pa) a pillar of its North Philadelphia neighborhood, has raised more than $250,000 for repairs and programs.
  • St. Anne’s Catholic Church (Columbia, Ca), in a former gold-mining town, has been closed down twice in its history. Recently local residents formed a committee to renovate and reopen the church for special events and occasional Sunday masses.