What Pastors Should Do Before Launching a Capital Campaign

After 25 years working with faith-based organizations, I’ve learned a few things about churches. Some experience great success in fundraising campaigns, while others leave money on the proverbial table. So what’s the difference? I believe employing the following principles constitutes a good start.


Too often church capital campaigns are driven by immediate or urgent needs…the roof is leaking…HVAC isn’t working, the foundation needs repair, etc., etc. There’s a campaign organized around an urgent plea and it fails. But your level of urgency is not always the same as that of the congregation. Not to suggest that these are not emergencies, but some emergencies are the result of poor planning.

Generally, people want to be informed and have time to understand the need. The most successful campaigns we’ve seen are ones that come from a church-wide planning process, where there’s been time to share the results and subsequent needs that came from that process. People feel better about giving when they know there’s been thought given to the process.


People who give have been taught to give; it’s part of the Christian tradition. Yet not all pastors believe that. A pastor once told me that he didn’t like speaking about giving in his sermons. It made him “uncomfortable.” Another pastor refused to pass an offering basket on weekends. Instead he put offering boxes around the church. That way when people felt led they could give without being ”hassled.” Evidently not enough people felt led, so he now passes offering baskets weekly.

That rhetoric may sound appealing, but these pastors are really shirking their teaching responsibilities. The weekly offerings support the church’s ministries and therefore their reluctance to teach on financial stewardship diminishes giving and also ministry. Consider that in Luke 6: 38, Jesus tells us to give and it will be given to us. In 2 Cor. 9:6-7 the Apostle Paul tells us that God loves a cheerful giver and whoever gives sparingly will reap sparingly. And there are many more verses on giving. That’s why the churches where we experience the most success are also the ones that regularly teach principles of giving.


It is one thing to articulate a need; it is quite another to convey the vision of what funding that need will help achieve. Vision is more about opportunity than need. Unfortunately, too many pastors focus on needs rather than vision.

Henri Nouwen explained it this way: “Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry. It’s a way of announcing our vision (a vision that usually comes from God) and inviting other people, (to join us).”

When I was a VP in higher education one of the wealthiest philanthropists told me once, “I’m not interested in your need; I’m interested in your vision and the opportunities it will create.” Whether we’re working on campaigns for a new sanctuary, a multipurpose center, debt reduction, repairs or anything else, we tell pastors to focus on how much more ministry the funding of this project will allow them to achieve or how it will improve the quality of ministry.


The last thing we want anyone to think is that a few people in a back room devised these plans. To avoid this we recommend that pastors be as transparent as possible as soon as possible. From the planning process all the way through the campaign it is crucial to share information openly and frequently. Don’t assume people understand or know everything you know as pastor. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

When pastors plan, preach and teach on giving, focus on vision and communicate they position themselves for success in most initiatives including campaigns.