I admit it. The words “no more Apportionment dollars” struck fear deep in my heart. Early in 2015 we heard the word that starting in 2017, camp and retreat ministry was no longer a priority to receive Conference funding. I was watching about 20% of our revenue disappear before my eyes. The Board and staff started working to implement and improve sustainable business practices, and I was tasked with improving our fundraising abilities. Given my extremely limited knowledge and experience with fundraising, I knew it was time to find continuing education.
Just about then, S’more Mail included a link to the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising class, offered through the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Perfect! Until I saw the price tag. A class for over $1,000, not including room/board and travel? That’s just not in my budget. But my Board Chair saw the value in it and said I should go ahead and register. I am so glad that I did.
Preparing for the class was pretty easy. There were a couple booklets and articles to read – which seemed kind of thin for four days of material – but the course was incredibly rich and in-depth.
The four sessions focused on both theological grounding for fundraising and the practical details of how to implement it well. We looked critically at our organizations/congregations, and at our own personal history of money and giving. Of course, we learned several tools for organizing and implementing our fundraising efforts. Throughout, there was a strong emphasis on the concept that fundraising really is ministry, and not just a tool that lets others do ministry. We emphasized the need to work out of a theology of abundance, not scarcity.
The final expectation of the class is to complete an independent project – which for me will be to implement an annual campaign. If I hadn’t taken this class, I would have been able to do this anyway. I would have done an acceptable job. But because of my experience in the class, I will be tackling three specific tasks I wouldn’t have otherwise done.
First, I will be converting our overwhelming, complicated, line-item budget into a narrative budget. Most people don’t understand line-item budgets, and they certainly don’t make any of us feel warm and fuzzy. People don’t give to budgets, but they do give to mission and ministry. A narrative budget allows you to tell the stories of how the money changes lives.
Second, I will be engaging our Board members in peer-to-peer fundraising. I do not expect my Board members to raise a set amount of money, but I will be teaching them how to share their own stories of why they give to camp. This should build the confidence of our Board members while simultaneously helping us find new donors.
Third, I will be planning personal visits, some with our historically generous donors, and others with my clergy colleagues. And as I meet with clergy, my real goal is to build ongoing connections with congregations and to find more contact information for potential donors. (But I’ll take any of their financial donations too!)
I still have to raise 20% of our budget, but things have changed. I have tools in hand, and my confidence level has risen significantly. I’m thrilled to have teachers I can turn to if I get confused, and I know I’ll stay in contact with some of my fellow students as well. I am no longer afraid; I’m actually kind of excited to get started.
Sharon is an ordained United Methodist pastor who began a lifelong connection with camping in 3rd grade. She has been a camper, a summer staffer, a Board member, an event director, and now serves as the Coordinator of Camp and Retreat Ministries for the Wisconsin Conference. She is delighted to now bring her husband and daughter to the camp where she got started.