Written by Timothy M. Winkler Sr., CFRE; CEO, Winkler Group
In 2008 and 2009, our phones were ringing off the hook with calls from churches that had recently built new sanctuaries or fellowship halls. The recession was making it difficult to sustain their debt loads. Despite good intentions, they had let their architect—not a strategic feasibility study—drive their project size. They overbuilt and now needed help.
“Ask and you shall receive,” was not working.
Professional fundraising counsel (some from firms that specialize in raising money for churches and ministries) compounded their problem. They were advised by counsel not to conduct a feasibility study prior to their campaign, or not to leverage the opportunity to make personal asks for major gifts.
It’s little wonder that they didn’t hit their campaign goals or that they had such high attrition rates on pledge fulfillment.
“The Apostle Paul was the first major gifts officer.” “Moses led the first capital campaign.” These are actual quotes I’ve heard from fundraisers that specialize in working with churches and ministries, including people with M.Div. degrees.
With these misappropriations of scripture it’s easy to see why many churches and ministries grossly underperform in their fundraising efforts. To top it off, many church-focused professional fundraising firms encourage churches to abandon best practices for raising money.
Just because your organization is a church or ministry, you cannot neglect solid fundraising principles through poor exegesis of scripture. You are not precluded from utilizing best practices with regard to fundraising. Yet this is exactly what so many churches and ministries do.
To make things worse, these same churches and ministries then justify their poor actions in the name of the Lord. Bad theology never yields good results in any aspect of life—including fundraising.
Think about it: in what other area would someone utilize such faulty logic? Christians believe God can, and does, heal people. And while the miraculous is never out of the realm of possibility, it is widely recognized that many times God’s means of providing healing is through the adept care of a highly trained physician.
Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how many times otherwise intelligent people walk into a board or elder meeting and throw sound principles out the door. For example, I’ve seen churches build a new sanctuary without taking the time to figure out how much money can realistically be raised. They then justify such decisions with out-of-context, bad theological statements like, “The Lord will provide.”
Churches and ministries that use the same long-established, best practices that secular organizations use for fundraising are the ones that avoid debt and overspending. They make wise stewardship decisions based on data and analysis, not on misappropriated quotes from the Bible.
Best practices in fundraising work within church and ministry contexts. The organizations that take the time to perform due diligence—while implementing best practices—raise more money, have far lower pledge attrition rates, stay out of debt, and achieve their goals. Now doesn’t that sound like something worth celebrating and praising God for?
Follow Tim Winkler @TimWinklerCFRE and @WinklerGroup.
The Winkler Group is a full-service fundraising firm headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, with offices in Nashville and Orlando. The Winkler Group specializes in capital campaigns, feasibility studies, and strategic planning.