What I Learned Raising $150,000 in 40 Days
God in His grace surprised us at Seven Mile Road this Fall. (Wait, should we have been surprised? Probably not.) We had been in desperate need of more space for over a year. Every week the place got more crowded. The line to our one bathroom weaved down a flight of stairs, diapers were changed in some really creative places, and anyone arriving a few minutes late was left to scramble for a seat. In response, we looked everywhere for a space solution. Everywhere. Finally, twenty-six different potential spaces into what seemed like a never-ending search, our good Father dropped a perfect facility in our lap, one that would allow us to multiply our local mission and incubate a growing network of Seven Mile Road churches. And He did it, through the generosity of a previous congregation, for 30 cents on the dollar.
To gain ownership of the space, we needed to raise $150,000. Cash. In 40 days. In the teeth of a recession. In a Jesus-hating commonwealth. Somehow, we did it. I am still not sure how, but I am looking at the signed documents. They are not forged. It’s done.
In response to the request of some fellow church planters who are about to embark on some short-term fund raising, I’ve compiled a list of 10 key things I took out of the exhausting process of leading our church through that season. May they be a help to others who will need to raise some capital to fund the redemptive work of God among those they are called to.
1. You have probably never actually met the person who will make the biggest gift.
Being that we are not planting in a super wealthy demographic, we realized that, while local Seven Milers would do what they could, most of those who could potentially give substantial gifts ($5k+) probably resided outside of our immediate circle. And so we tried to fund-raise in a way that not only asked people we knew to give, but asked them to help us get connected to others who might be interested as well. And when those connections happened, we needed to be ready to cast compelling and comprehensive vision for people who literally didn’t know anything about our church until we were on the phone or across the table from them that day. Gladly, some of those conversations bore much fruit. I was glad to have been ready for them.
2. Be clear that everyone who is local is expected and encouraged to give something.
Most people hear “capital campaign” and think, “Not for me man, I’m just hoping I have enough cash to get the pack of Marlboros I need right now.” But we pushed hard for every single person who calls Seven Mile Road home, whatever their current financial lot, to give something. The percentage of people who gave was as important to us as the final amount given. 90% people participating means that 90% of your people were on board, and that momentum was priceless.
3. Be ready for potential bigger givers to attach their own requirements … and don’t budge.
Your vision is not up for grabs to the highest bidder. If someone says, “I’ll give you ten grand, but I want assurances that you will run a Vacation Bible School out of that new building,” feel free to chuckle. And then, while not rejecting their ideas outright, cast vision for what you are going to do with your children. But no amount of money is worth sidetracking the mission you are on. It’s hard to pass on potential cash, but stick to your guns. Most givers will understand. The others can keep their money.
4. Your fund-raising begins way before your fund-raising begins.
Father John, the Salesian priest who taught me logic at Saint Dominic Savio High School in East Boston, would have hated that sentence. But it’s true. The way that you conduct your ministry now … your diligence, your holiness, your communication, your thoroughness … all pays off when it’s time to ask for financial help for a specific opportunity. Being able to say to people, “Hey, we are 9 years into this, and here is what, by grace, we’ve accomplished so far,” was helpful in assuring potential givers that they were giving to a proven work that was in this thing for the long haul. By the time we asked for money, people were excited to finally be given the opportunity to help. Our asking for money came at the culmination of years of relational work.
5. Phone calls and face-to-face conversations are way more effective than letters or email.
Letters and email are helpful in certain ways. So are snazzy videos. But so much of communication is about tone and passion and the nonverbal stuff. It was the face-to-face and phone conversations that bore the most fruit for us. It was so much easier to cast compelling vision, answer questions, and connect with people that way. Don’t be lazy or timid and default to doing things through the safer, easier media.
6. Decide before you begin that you are seeing this thing through to the end.
Days 1 and 2 were easy. “We’re going to do this thing!” Day 17 was harder. “I think we’re going to do this thing.” Day 32 was brutal. “Hey, you have money somewhere, I know it, you know it, give it to me, now.” Setting a daily goal of speaking with someone every day of the campaign was helpful. That got harder once I worked through the low lying fruit, but the plodding was worth it. Believe, and work hard in accordance with that faith.
7. Get your language/script down for the specific ‘ask’.
At some point I just turned this switch on and said, “Screw it, I’m asking.” To get over the fear-hump, I memorized some helpful language so I didn’t stutter like a 13 year old girl happening upon Justin Bieber at the airport. I ended a lot of conversations specifically with: “So there it is. I would love to see you guys jump in and give to this. We really need you to. What do you think?” When possible, I would also give a potential number, like: “$1,000 would make a big dent. Do you think you could do that?”
8. Do not let anger sneak into your heart when people don’t give.
I fought countless sins during the campaign. One nasty one was this anger that would rise up in my heart when someone didn’t give. “What’s wrong with them? Greedy, selfish, self-centered, non-missional, grrr.” And so I talked to myself during the whole campaign. “No way, Matt. You don’t know their heart or their situation, Grace, man, grace.” Don’t come out of your campaign flush with cash and bitter in heart.
9. Be the first one to give generously.
Once we had a pledge campaign up and running, I made sure that our family was among the very first to say, “We are in, and we are in with a generous gift.” We didn’t publicize that, but it was an integrity issue. Others were eventually able to give more than we did, but it was important for me to make sure that I wasn’t mouthing faith and sacrifice and then holding my own wallet shut. If you won’t give generously, stop asking someone else to.
10. You will need different print documents for different audiences.
We had a sweet, colorful, multi-page pdf that told the whole story of our church and the space. This was really helpful to a certain audience of people. Then we had a stripped-down, one-page, executive summary that basically said, “Here’s the opportunity, here’s why we are going to kill this thing, here’s how much we need to raise, and here’s why you should give.” That document was best for busier folks who know numbers and have financial means. They don’t have all day to read something, and they really appreciate conciseness, so give it to them.
by Matthew Kruse