5 Bad Reasons to Start a Church Capital Campaign (and What to Do Instead)

Capital campaigns aren't the right tactic for every situation. Rusty Lewis from Generis shares an alternative solution to increase giving.

5 Bad Reasons to Start a Church Capital Campaign (and What to Do Instead)

Do you need to raise money for a new ministry initiative or to cover a big expense?

A standard fundraising tool many church leaders have used to raise the funds they need is a capital campaign. They have a history of success, and there are many organizations and resources you can consult for help.

At Generis, we’ve helped more than 13,500 faith-based organizations to raise more than $17.1 billion for Kingdom expansion. During this time, we’ve observed that running traditional capital campaigns isn’t the right tactic for every church and situation. In other words, a capital campaign is a versatile fundraising tool that works exceptionally well for many situations—but not all.

Enter One Fund Initiatives

An alternative approach to capital campaigns is something we call One Fund.

Here’s the big difference between One Funds and a capital campaign:

Instead of asking your congregation to give “over and above” their regular giving toward a project (or projects), One Funds lead your church to consider their total giving.

Click here to see why thousands of churches and ministries trust with their online giving and mobile giving solutions.

Know what’s surprising about One Fund initiatives?

In working with more than 300 churches, we have not only observed an increase in overall giving, but we have also witnessed accelerated giving toward specific capital projects or initiatives.

Related: How to Track Giving at Your Church

As we help churches lead their congregation to pursue God in their giving, we also coach them to direct their church to participate in what God is calling them to do together. For your church, this can be a purchasing a larger building to reach more people, expanding your current facilities, or supporting more missionaries.

5 Bad Reasons to Start a Church Capital Campaign (and What to Do Instead)

Do you need to run a capital campaign or a One Fund initiative?

It depends.

To help you think through what’s best for you and your church, here are five wrong reasons to start a church capital campaign and why you may need to consider a One Fund initiative instead.

#1. Your giving metrics are not as strong as you would like.

A traditional capital campaign won’t change your giving metrics (much). You need an approach that leads with discipleship—not a project.

A giving analysis of most of the churches we’ve worked with shows:

  • 30-40% of attendees give $0.
  • 30-40% of attendees give $1-$500 annually.
  • 80% of attendees give less than $10 per week.

Traditional campaigns focus on funding the project(s), and that is one of the reasons this approach works so well. However, the limitation of traditional campaigns is that they don’t boost overall giving significantly—if at all. Additionally, the traditional approach doesn’t onboard new givers well.

In (traditional) campaigns, your congregation typically experiences some ambiguity: Give “over and above” what?

For non-givers, a traditional campaign could potentially exclude them or, because they’re asked to go “over and above” nothing, they may experience only a short-term increase in giving—without true discipleship of growth in generosity.

#2. You’ve run 3-4 capital campaigns.

Repeated traditional campaigns may produce a diminishing return over time or even feel routine. You need something fresh.

A One Fund approach provides a true “this is different than anything we have done before” feeling, which is especially crucial to your faithful, long-time givers.

#3. Your project may not inspire everyone in your church.

Project-based campaigns may only interest people with a specific stake in that particular ministry.

When my wife and I were young parents, a campaign to update or build new children’s ministry space would have really captured our hearts. We would have been “all in” as our kids were involved in that ministry, and so were we.

That same vision would still garner our support, but because our kids are older and we’re empty nesters, we won’t have the same level of passion as before.

Even more difficult are those campaigns for debt reduction or campus maintenance. It’s not especially motivating to inspire large financial gifts to replace that million-dollar HVAC system.

The vision cast in a One Fund includes every single ministry the church currently supports, along with new funding priorities you desire to add. It’s about children’s ministry, student ministry, missions, discipleship, outreach—everything you do. There’s something in it for everyone to get behind.

#4. You want to encourage long-term generosity.

A traditional capital campaign plan will raise funds for that new project. But at the end of the campaign, general giving will most likely remain close to where it was when you started. There’s nothing bad about this; it’s just a reality with the traditional “over and above” approach.

So what happens with your ongoing ministry plan (budget)? It’s helpful to grow funding for existing ministries and missions and for new ministries you’d like to begin.

A One Fund initiative creates a “long tail of generosity” as the initiative focuses more on the heart change of the giver instead of the need of the church.

Often in traditional campaigns, donors see their campaign commitment as “their” money. When a traditional campaign ends, givers typically repurpose those “over and above” dollars back to their budgets. But in a One Fund, givers are less likely to return to a lower level of giving because they see the enhanced giving amount as growth in their relationship with Christ.

For example, One Fund campaigns have a two-year timeline. In year three (the full year following the two years of a One Fund), we see churches retain 40-60% of the new giving.

Let me explain.

Let’s say a church has $1 million in income before launching a One Fund. During the One Fund season, they double their annual giving to $2 million. That church will likely receive $1.4 million to $1.6 million in year three—after the “campaign” has officially ended.

#5. Your church is growing.

It’s difficult to onboard and engage new families who begin attending in the middle of your traditional campaign giving phase.

We always try hard to engage new families. But most will view the campaign in progress as something you did before they arrived. So they’ll often wait for the next one and plan to commit to it when it rolls around.

In a One Fund, a new attendee is part of the initiative as soon as they begin giving. Even without making a written commitment, a new giver has joined the effort.

Should we go with a capital campaign or One Fund?

In closing, let’s be clear: The traditional capital campaign remains a healthy and viable approach to raising money. It also might be the best approach for your church at this time.

However, the One Fund initiative is a new, fresh, and discipleship-based approach that may be a more useful direction for your church to consider. At the very least, it’s a viable alternative that merits your attention.

Is your church considering running a capital campaign or a One Fund? Do you have any questions? Drop your questions in the comments below.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Rusty Lewis. Rusty is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and a member of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals (AFP). In 2001, he joined Generis to team up with a dedicated group focused on accelerating generosity toward God-inspired vision.

5 Bad Reasons to Start a Church Capital Campaign (and What to Do Instead)