Mark Brooks

A Wake Up Call for Capital Campaigns

America is in the midst of a huge shift that demands church leaders get a wake up call for capital campaigns. Times have changed, and sadly as with most things church-related so has our response to capital campaigns.  We keep doing what we always have done, expecting things to come out the same and then are shocked when the results are not what we think they should have been.  Times have changed, and they continue to change at a fast pace.

The golden days of capital campaigns are over.  Two new realities are impacting all campaigns everywhere.  First, pledge totals are lower than in the past.  Next the number of people pledging is lower as well.  What came easy for churches as late as 2007 has now changed.  It will not go back to the golden days.  Any firm that tells you differently is giving you a sales answer.

Six Key factors in the decline of capital campaigns.  There are perhaps more, but these are the key factors and trends that are impacting all campaigns.  Let’s break them down:

America is undergoing a huge demographic shift.  We are increasingly older.  The generation that was the most generous is nearly gone.  Those that remain are in their last days of retirement.  They worry daily about whether or not they will outlive their money.  This fear keeps them from any significant capital campaign commitment.

10,000 Baby Boomers a day are turning 65.  Baby Boomers give more money to charities than any other generation.  Right now, they are at the height of their earning power.  Yet in five to ten years this generation will be into their retirement years and will have less expendable incomes to give to any campaign.  They have watched the fears of their parents in terms of outliving their money, and they too will guard their nest egg as they will increasingly live longer than previous generations.

Millennials are now the largest generation in America.  Studies are showing that they have an aversion to institutions.  They are not excited about giving to buildings and thus are pushing back against traditional capital campaigns.  They want to give missions and what they feel are actionable life change causes, not buildings and church budgets.  On top of this they have massive student loan debts for degrees that are practically worthless.  The result is they find themselves in jobs that pay little thus causing their view of a future to be dim.

The economies slow growth has shaken the confidence of Americans.  The Wall Street Journal had an article on the impact of the economy on Americans’ work.  It was entitled, “Recession’s Fallout: Enduring Wage Scars.”  While the current unemployment is around 5% it does not reflect the fact that millions of Americans have stopped looking for a job and are thus not counted.  On top of this millions are now working in jobs that pay far less than they experienced in the past.  The Wall Street Journal stated, “Since the recession, 26% of Americans say they doubt their standard of living will improve over time.”

These are the same people you will put a pledge card in front of.  How can a person who worries if they will have a job in three months make a commitment to your capital campaign for three years?  Thus the number of people pledging is less than before the Great Recession.  People have lost confidence in the economy, and that is showing up in capital campaigns.

Trust in institutions has fallen and will continue to fall.  Like it or not, we in the Church are considered as a traditional institution.  The mistrust that so many have in institutions is carried over into the Church.  If I mistrust the institution of the Church why would I give to your capital campaign?  For a capital campaign to be successful it must be transparent.  You can expect members to have more questions not just of your capital campaign but of how you do everything.

The rise of secularization means a continued decline in church attendance and giving.  We are fast becoming Europe.  Fewer people in the pews means fewer dollars in the plate.  If you are struggling to make your operating budget, why would you think you can raise significant capital campaign dollars?

The way Americans interact has changed.  For proof of this, you only need to look at the present presidential election.  Like him or not Donald Trump drives the talk all day long with Tweets he posts early in the morning.  Social Media has become a new information force.  A few years back when the Boston Marathon bombers were on the run, Twitter led the way in showing the events in real-time.  Magazines and print papers are nearly a thing of the past.  The Internet has become a force to be reckoned with.

What this means is that systems that once worked no longer have the same impact.  When few read a print paper, do you seriously think they will read your capital campaign newsletter?  How we communicate our message must change to meet how Americans process information.  We must be more digital to gain an audience for our message.

Commerce in America has changed.  We are becoming a cashless and checkless society.  This trend will only increase in the coming years.  For any capital campaign to be successful, it must allow for digital pledging and giving.  The Church is catching up with this change in commerce, but it is still far behind.

Is it hopeless?  Absolutely not!  You can still raise funds.  We just had a church raise six times their annual operating budget.  However that church had many six-figure commitments.  The reality is that most campaigns will see a range of one to two times their annual operating budgets.  While that might not be what we once experienced it can and will help fund whatever project you have.

One thing is for sure, now is the time for smart strategies, not old methods!

Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach