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How to Ask For a Capital Donation

2 Sep. 2016 Posted by Denis Greene in Church Capital Campaigns

Asking for donations is more stressful than skydiving and public speaking for some people. It actually ranks higher than fear of death for many. After managing over 100 church capital campaigns and nonprofit organization capital campaigns, I have found a way to make it a win/win, stress-free, pleasant experience.

So, when a parish needs a roof, renovation, or whole new facility, how should one ask for a capital donation?
There is some science behind the answer.  The researchers at Villanova have found out what to not do.

  1. Don't obfuscate, instead be quite clear about the needs and costs.
  2. Don't have a dogmatic leadership style, instead be inclusive and participative.
  3. Don't avoid the spirituality of giving, instead talk about how we are stewards of our blessings.
  4. Don't isolate the raising of funds from parish life, instead build up the community, make it a social experience.
  5. Don't rely solely on staff; instead engage parishioners as committed ministers, involved in a ministry. Giving increases by a factor of 11!
  6. Don't ask just for cash, instead institute pledging, and ask for gifts of assets. Three year pledges are the norm.
  7. Don't do it the way we always have, instead find ways to start new ministries to meet the needs of parishioners.

As a church capital campaign consultant, I have spent the past 20+ years asking for facility donations. Here are the few critical activities that will increase our success before the ask: a) Involve the parishioners in the decision making process. b) Engage members as ministers (volunteers who have a calling and responsibility for a ministry). c) Connect people socially, to increase their sense of being part of the fabric of the church.
After you have set the stage the key to a successful ask is to connect the ask with the donor's spirit. Ask a donor to "sponsor" a unique part of the plan that they can see/hear/feel. Let them know the human impact of their sponsorship.
Recently I worked on a campaign to replace a roof on the parish offices. Mary, the parish stewardship professional, was worried that it was such a boring project that no one would give. To make it come to life, we figured out the per square foot cost of the roof, and allowed people sponsor a square foot, or ten square feet, or 100 square feet of roofing. And we allowed them to select where their new roof would be located: above the pastor's office, above the nursery, above the office, above the youth space... Each of these allowed the donor to IMAGINE the human impact of their gift.

The technical term for using visual, auditory and kinesthetic predicates in stimulating the imagination is "the transderivational search". The 2002 Nobel Prize for Economics went to a chap who created the field of behavioral economics. From him I learned that we humans need to engage our whole brain in order to make a decision. If I ask a person for a $10,000 donation, because the parish needs it, that is much less effective than if I ask a person to sponsor the roof above the nursery, which will cost $10,000 because I can imagine the roof above the nursery. And I can imagine the babies who are in the nursery. 
The "transderivational search" gives a person a mental image, a sound, and a feeling; it gives meaning to the donation. As Victor Frankl said in his book Man's Search for Meaning, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

Bottom line, asking for a donation can be a fulfilling experience for the donor as well as the person who asks for a donation. It is a challenge, it is stressful, but it is totally worth it.
To help me lighten up and roll with the challenges of raising funds, a pastor told me a great joke: A pastor was on a flight over the mountains as a violent storm arose and tossed the passengers about like rag dolls. During a temporary lull a flight attendant asked the pastor to help out, to quickly do something religious. So he immediately stood up, introduced himself as a pastor, and announced that he would be taking up a collection.

Serving the church is a calling, and the right perspective, "Faith informed by reason" makes the journey more palatable.