7 Reasons Churches Fail in Fundraising – Part I

Throughout my career, I’ve heard many stories of churches setting out to raise lofty goals, only to come up short. Unfortunately, once the horses are out of the barn you can’t close the door and bring them back.

The same is true for capital campaigns. Once they’re launched and completed, the church is done with capital fundraising for 3-5 years. That’s why it is important to do the campaign right the first time. The following are a few key reasons we’ve seen church campaigns fail with some tips on how to avoid these pitfalls:

  1. The pastor and/or leadership who establish unrealistic goals, and have nothing to back those goals beyond needs or wants – Campaign success is usually the result of a combination of capacity and will. Does the church have the capacity and the will to achieve the goal? In our church campaign consulting, we’ve seen many churches that have enough people with enough capacity to well-exceed the goal. The problem is that their people don’t have the will.

The Feasibility / Planning Study is Key

That’s why it’s important to conduct a planning/feasibility study with the congregation to determine what the church can reasonably expect to raise. Most consultants say that you should be able to raise between 1 and 3 times your annual budget.

First, there’s no real standard supporting that claim. We’ve had a church struggle getting to one time its offerings. Yet, we’ve also had a church achieve 20 times its offerings. But there were logical reasons for both results, and knowing that in advance allowed us to help them set reasonable goals.

The first church was full of young people with toddlers. They were generous, but they lacked financial capacity. By contrast, the latter church had people with excellent capacity. They just needed a process to sway their will.

Set Realistic Goals

Goals should certainly be established according to need, but it is important that they also be realistic. In both cases, our study process allowed us to help set realistic goals and achieve success.

  1. Churches that are not teachable because the leaders believe they are experts in every area. We had a church approach us about helping them. They had 4,000 families and were building a new church for $12 million. All of these variables indicated that they were in a good position to have a successful campaign effort, but they needed help.

 The church spent over $700,000 for architectural fees, but they were reluctant to pay our fee, which was only about 10% of the architectural fees.

The elders decided they could organize the campaign, raise the money and save the expense of consulting fees. Despite the fact that we have a stellar 20-year track record of helping church clients raise about 155% of goal, they moved out on their own and wound up raising less than $2 million.

In another case we had a young church hire us, pay us but fail to implement several crucial strategies on which we advised them. Evidently, the pastor and two of the elders didn’t think these strategies were important, so they neglected to implement them.

When You Hire a Company, Listen to Them

Even though we spent considerable time organizing and training around these strategies, the leaders just didn’t think they were essential. As a result, this turned out to be the first church we worked with in over 20 years that failed to achieve its goal. The point is that fundraising consultants do this every day. When you hire a company and pay them to help you, it makes sense to listen to them.

Next week we will continue our series on 7 Reasons Churches Fail in Fundraising.