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.

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.


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