Capital Campaigns: A long-term investment you can start today

September 18, 2009

Capital Campaigns, The Pilot

By Bradley K. Patterson

There are many good reasons to undertake a capital campaign.  From enhanced ministry needs to broken boilers or leaky roofs, to expansion of parking space to a refurbished parish life center, most parishes could quickly reel off at least a short to-do list with an infusion of much-needed cash.

Whatever the local need, building a brighter future is the primary purpose of a capital campaign.  For those parishes with aging facilities that are in desperate need of repair and renovation, or who have simply outgrown them, the prospect of paying for the elixir – whatever it may be – can seem overwhelming.

Where to come by the necessary resources? And, perhaps as important, particularly during periods of economic uncertainty, is now the right time?

Such trepidation is justifiable.  Parish leaders wish to be sensitive to the circumstances and needs of parishioners, while at the same time balancing that concern with their responsibility as stewards of the church facility.  Regardless of a particular parish’s needs and circumstances, it is useful to engage in a thorough process of self- examination to determine one’s own “campaign readiness”.  But first, some perspective with regard to timing.

When is the best time to start a campaign?  Over many years, I’ve seen successful campaigns during robust and poor economic conditions; with new leadership at the helm and with well-established leaders; with multiple “competing” campaigns in the community and when other organizations were between campaigns; in winter, spring, summer, and fall.  The simple fact is that, with an allowance for special local circumstances, there simply is no calendar for optimal results. 

In its recently released Annual Report on Philanthropy for 2008, Giving USA revealed what many had feared: that the stories dominating the headlines for the latter half of 2008 had affected people’s ability to support those causes they hold dear.  While Americans gave a staggering $307 billion to charity last year, that represented a total decline of about 2% from 2007.  Almost every sector was down, with giving to religion perhaps the lone bright spot:  giving was up 5.5% in 2008, and religious gifts accounted for an estimated one-half of all individual giving.

So what does it all mean?  Timing a campaign is not a “one-size-fits-all” proposition.  Any organization with needs it wants to address – a museum, library, university, or parish – regardless of the time of year or time of life, can engage in a useful process of self-examination to determine its campaign readiness.  Here are a few of the key elements to consider as part of this process, regardless of where you are today in planning or even just exploring possibilities:

Case:  The rationale behind your campaign; a compelling, well-developed case for support is the backbone of the campaign.

Leadership: Committed leadership, on the part of the pastor and many parish lay leaders, is an essential component of a successful campaign. 

Prospects:  Do you have an engaged parish audience who could potentially support your case? How they will receive communication and ultimately be asked to support the campaign is a vital part of the campaign process, but the existence of a core group of supporters with whom to share your plans is a requirement of campaign readiness.

Of course, there are other factors to consider as your parish moves along the path toward a campaign.  And ultimately, what every parish wants to learn – can we raise the funds we need? – can be explored through the information gained from deeper analysis, such as that performed in a comprehensive feasibility study.

Bradley K. Patterson is in the Religious Practice Group at Graham-Pelton Consulting, a national leader in Catholic Fundraising, and has developed a two-part master’s level course on How to Conduct a Successful Diocesan Campaign.  For more information, contact Graham-Pelton at 1-800-608-7955 or

This article originally appeared in a special “Parish Stewardship & Fundraising” section of The Pilot on September 18, 2009

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