No. 1: Facing Fear in Church Fundraising

“I keep putting the pledge campaign off because it scares me.”

This was an opening comment by a seasoned rector recently during a workshop I was presenting on fearless church fundraising.  It was honest.  It was vulnerable. And it was a place to start for both of us.

‘I have been a fundraiser for 35 years and a priest for 16 and I still get anxious when I begin a campaign.  Let’s talk over a beer.” Was my response.  It ended well for the Rector.

Fear is the biggest barrier both to raising money and to giving it.  I often say that “People will give to your church’s mission if you help them by using effective practices. People are not greedy, they are frightened by what they see on TV, and their materialism is simply the way they choose to scream.”

Clergy and lay leaders too often see the pledge campaign as a logistical initiative with spiritual implications and indeed it is, but even more is the pledge campaign a spiritual initiative with logistical implications.  Either way, we fail when we do one well and neglect the other.  If you preach stunning sermons of stewardship and giving but employ an un-useable pledge card then you will fail as surely as if you have the tools of a university development office but preach badly about a flaccid, dull keep-the-lights-on mission.

Effective church fundraising, especially in the pledge campaign, must include some basic components and when you have them, your fears will melt away:

  1. The mission of the church needs to deserve philanthropic investment and your congregation needs to have and employ daily spiritual practices.
  2. The parish then needs to be able to explain why giving to the church is a good investment of philanthropy
  3. The leadership need to get their act together about their own feelings about money
  4. The church’s financial development program needs to be just that…a program and not just a campaign.
  5. The posture is that of helping people to make an investment in mission; not begging to keep the bills paid.
  6. The parish or diocese needs to be free of financial, sexual or relational misconduct.
  7. The rector need not see money as filthy lucre, but rather as a valuable tool of ministry.
  8. The vestry needs to make financial development at least 10-20% of the conversation (reports, ideas, plans, etc.) at their meetings. Hoping for the best is not a plan.
  9. The Rector needs to know what every member pledges and what payments are and are not being made on those pledges. If we can be trusted to hear confessions of sins then we can be trusted to know about pledges of money.
  10. The rector needs to up their skill-set and spend the time each week engaging with financial development just like any other leader or any other not-for-profit agency.

Really, in the end, I have noticed that clergy and lay leaders who have incorporated meditation and silence into their day as a spiritual practice “miraculously” find a dramatic reduction in their fears…all of them.  And the other thing I notice is that the definition of insanity is, indeed, doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome.  I doubt you are happy with the tired, old stewardship junk you are seeing trotted out by foundations, kitschy package-programs and consultants, or you would not be reading this article.  So why not try something new?

The most effective way to reduce and even eradicate fear is to have an effective plan.  Next week I will discuss strategic planning and will attach a link to example plans for differing sizes of churches.


“Fearless Meaning-making” is a weekly blog on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico from which he raises money for Heading Home, an agency which seeks to make homelessness rare, short-lived and non-recurring. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising and now, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-making. For more information, videos and model documents go to Charles writes in order to provide new ways and perspectives on church fundraising in the face of old ways which are failing us. Recently Charles increased annual pledging by 50% during a four-year transition and increased the mean pledge from $1,800 to $2,800 with these tools.”


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