Frequently Asked Questions About Fundraising

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There’s no question we need to expand. Where should we start?

The easy and fun part is design and construction. The hard, and not-so-fun part, is paying for it.

Therefore, For the long-term health of your school, you should FIRST start with the “how we will pay for it” part.

Concretely, that means start with fundraising counsel — and a Pre-Campaign Study — NOT the architect. That takes discipline!

We know you are up against a powerful human dynamic … your staff is sick of the current facility. It will be a real short-term morale-booster to get an architect’s drawing.

When that first awesome rendering is unveiled, you will become the hero to your staff. We understand that. More good news is that if the architect got a little carried away, you won’t even know for several years … when your school is head over heels in debt. (Remember, architects only pay for a building if they own it!)

Human nature being what it is, many Christian schools start with design, bringing architects into the process before they really understand how much they can afford.

As a consequence, it is very easy to get locked into a design that is simply too expensive. The problem is not so much the architects — they will change their plans — for a fee. The real problem is the leadership of the school, who will tend to fall in love with those initial plans.

Where expansion is “over-designed” there are typically dangerous leadership rationalizations that will result in your Christian school over-borrowing. Or worse: you set a building campaign goal that is way beyond your constituents’ ability, raise a little money, and fall short of the goal. At the end of the campaign, there’s no building, funds are returned and campaign workers are “done with fundraising,” — sometimes for years or decades. We’ve seen school leaders terminated when building plans don’t succeed.

In other words, beginnings profoundly determine how much will be borrowed at the end and if or when a facility is built. Incidentally, our example for this answer is largely based on the experience of a Christian school that is just 1 hour away from our GraceWorks’ offices … and many others around the country.

There is another way: a Pre-Campaign Feasibility and Support Study. You’ll “count the cost” and know what you can build — and when.

How do we involve major donors in our expansion planning so they are likely to contribute sacrificially when the time comes?

This is an excellent question. Do keep asking it!

Imagine yourself as a wealthy business person. (Perhaps you are!) Or find one, and simply ask them how they make decisions about capital expansions.

One of my favorite wealthy persons bemoaned the fact that neighborhood complaints forced him to move a staff of six out of his rather-large home into a regular office building … about six months before he had planned to do so. A couple of years later, he bought the entire office building!

(To be clear, my friend did not move his business out of his home because his staff members complained about working in his bedrooms! Any whining, complaining, or belly-aching along those lines would have fallen on deaf ears. Of course, he didn’t hire people who whined, complained, or belly-ached.)

Imagine going to my wealthy friend with your plans for a new gym, which you know in your heart could have been done adequately for a million less than the current price tag. What are your chances of getting a large gift? Especially if this is the first time you have approached him about your gym?

When a wealthy business person makes a decision about capital expansion, it is first and foremost a business decision. Why is this capital expansion needed? What are the business fundamentals behind it?

How much will be raised/borrowed? How do you intend to pay it back? How can you document your tuition revenue increases? How much can be raised in donations? What is your evidence to support this? What is your plan?

Note that an architect cannot answer any of these questions. Make sure you can answer them before you go to a major donor.

Far better involve your major donor in finding answers to these questions, and the dozens of other questions related that they apply to their own capital expansion. If major donors aren’t on your Board, why not? If major donors aren’t on your Expansion Taskforce, why not?

Why stop there? Do you have a wealthy Christian businessman who would be honored to present Christian business principles to a select group of honors students in your high school?

One of our clients had a wealthy businessman who was fascinated by all things Japanese. You guessed it, the high school had a half-day Japanese focus for the entire student body. Our businessman loved it, and so did the students.

In other words, find a way to involve potential major donors with your Christian schoolbefore the campaign starts!

Most school leaders do not understand this involvement dynamic in Pre-Campaign Support Studies. If you are genuinely asking for advice in such a study, that is a very positive dynamic for you. In other words, you are involving people … not just selling them!

Here is the opposite: “We spent over a $100,000 in architectural plans, and oh … we had better tell (sell) our major donors about this” …. hmmm. Asking advice is a lot easier than selling, don’t you think? This dynamic is one of the top reasons to conduct a well-done Pre-Campaign Support Study.

We are skeptical of the need for a Feasibility Study. We’ve prayed this thing through and are convinced God wants us to go for it! Why should we waste time and money on a study?

First, we are writing to Christian schools … not churches. The rules are totally different. Typically with a church campaign, you do not need a Pre-Campaign Study.

GraceWorks has written a great deal about this topic in our free resources: Everything You Wanted to Know about Pre-Campaign Studies — but Were Afraid to Ask and Real World Campaign Success Essentials.

So here is a summary of the key reasons why you will raise more money in your eventual campaign with a Pre-Campaign Study:

  • A Pre-campaign Study cultivates donors. You respect and honor the wisdom of your donors if you seek their advice before you launch the campaign. The opposite is “selling the donor” after you’ve made the launch decision.

    “Nobody likes to be sold, but everyone likes to buy.” This truism from selling expert Jeffrey Gitomer is precisely the difference between having “no study” and having a “study.”With a study, you end up “on the same side of the table” with your major donors, asking them to help you solve a very real problem your school faces. All of us buy that way — we investigate a problem we have, and come up with a solution. That’s the same dynamic of a good Pre-Campaign Study — a buying dynamic.

    Without a study, you ask major donors to accept your solution. Ownership is not there. In other words, you are selling. Through involvement, a Pre-Campaign Study cultivates major donors in a deep way. Involvement = Ownership = Major Gifts.
  • A Pre-Campaign Study provides accurate and achievable goals, which in turn maximizes major gift results.

    This plays out in two key ways. First, your average wealthy person wants to know that you have your act together … that you can afford what you are building … that there is a basis in reality for your fundraising goal. For major donors to give significant gifts, they have to believe in you.

    A study sends a strong message that “you have done your homework.”Second, you will run into a number of major donors who could give much more, but will give according to your need level and/or the giving of other major donors. A donor may decide to give only 10% of your total goal, even though they could give 100%.

    If your total goal is too low, you do not lift donors’ sights adequately. If your total goal is too high, you might get higher lead gifts from your donor, who later will feel “used” when you conclude the campaign millions below your goal.
  • Case for Support, whether in fundraising or marketing, is a huge problem that insiders don’t understand what outsiders like. By listening to your donors, you definitely learn.

    When your messages are on target, your donors won’t need to figure it out on their own. With an unclear message, most will not even try to figure it out. Many will give a token gift if they do not understand your real case for support.
  • More people to ask.

    By asking “who else do you know?” type questions, you will identify more people to ask.

    The caveat there is that you really don’t know until you actually talk to the donors so referred. If Sue thinks John would be a good prospect, John may have an entirely different idea. The consultant needs to talk with John, too.

    (That’s why GraceWorks views Pre-Campaign Studies as a community-wide involvement. It is not enough to talk to 50 people like Sue — we need to interview or survey hundreds more like John. Sue’s opinion of John is not good enough).

    Potential supporters are part of the equation here, as well. A study helps you assess how much cultivation is needed for key donors to give a major gift. If you ask for a major gift prematurely, it can set you back for months.
  • More askers.

    The problem for practically all Capital Campaigns is not that we lack potential donors; we lack people to ask these donors.

    In other words, you need to cultivate, cultivate, cultivate — hundreds and thousands of hours. Building relationships with people who believe in your school and what it represents in your community.

    Who does all that? Far too many campaigns fade out with a whimper with their very best letter to hundreds of people that should have been involved personally. It never works.

    A good Pre-Campaign Study not only finds out who is willing to give … a good Pre-Campaign Study finds out who is willing to ask.
  • Less longitudinal time to achieve the goal. Time after time, campaigns with no Pre-Campaign Study get stuck. The result is the great leadership debate, which is: What do we do now?

    If you think two – three months for a Pre-Campaign Study is bad, try six months, or a year, or years.

    Keep in mind that the average shelf life of a good fundraising volunteer is 18 months. You don’t have a lot of time for missteps in your Capital Campaign.
  • Maximize overall support, not just financial support — current and potential. GraceWorks’ Pre-Campaign Studies seek out potential volunteer, leader, and parent support, not just financial support.

    The point is, if a person is a volunteer with your school, they will give more. Many schools need have a lot more creativity in how they utilize volunteers. A good study will ask: In what creative ways can we involve potential donors in the life of our school?

How does a study help us figure out how much we can afford?

Anyone who does a credible Pre-Campaign Study needs to give you realistic minimum, probable, and best case goals. These need to be well documented, with logic that makes sense to you.

The amount you can afford is your probable fundraising goal, plus the amount you are willing to borrow. How about a goal that 100% of the cost of your new addition will be paid by donor pledges over the next five years? You can do this if you build in phases, as explained in our free resource Capital Campaign Real World Success Essentials.

If you immediately default to a plan that includes borrowing, you will have major donors who wonder why they should sacrifice when you will just borrow the difference anyway, regardless of what they donate.

The real trick is to exit a Capital Campaign with everyone believing you succeeded, and your Christian school is not over-built or over-borrowed.

When should fundraising consultants be brought into the process?

We think the earlier the better! Here’s why.

  • A Capital Campaign is not the time to implement a major gift program. You should be doing that years before a Capital Campaign. How can you expect major donors to give sacrificial gifts if you’ve not even asked them to give a significant gift in the past.
  • A Capital Campaign is not the time to decide that volunteers are an integral part of your program. You should be looking for systematic ways to involve potential major donors well before a campaign starts. That way, giving a sacrificial gift is a natural extension of their relationship with you.
  • A Capital Campaign is not the time to figure out that your Board is not up to the task. This can be everything from leadership dynamics to lack of gift capacity. Don’t plan on raising millions if your Board is giving thousands.
  • A Capital Campaign is not the time to figure out that you do not have the internal staffing horsepower to pull it off. It takes real skills to pull off the structure and people-management required for success.
  • It all comes back to the necessity of starting well, of the need for great beginnings.

Try to make a pickle like this. Immerse a cucumber in an entire barrel of vinegar, and nail the lid shut. Shake the barrel vigorously for 24 hours. Get your best volunteers shaking that barrel … put some real organizational muscle to it!

After 24 hours of rigorous activity, open the lid and check your progress. Guess what? Your cucumber is still a cucumber!

Beware campaign consultants with vinegar barrels attached to their backs, who are perfectly willing to start a campaign without a Pre-Campaign Study – whenever you are.

There are dozens of consultants who can provide Capital Campaigns. Why should we consider GraceWorks?

Our consultants use a patented process that has raised over $500 Million for Christian schools. If you just want to raise money, you should not consider us.

As a matter of ministry values, GraceWorks only provides studies and campaign management to Christian schools where we can fundamentally improve your school and successfully complete a responsible campaign.

To begin the process, we start the Pre-Campaign Feasibility and Support Study with the Parent Satisfaction and Referral Survey (PSRS), to understand your school and its relative health. (Please see the complete survey description by clicking the link in the sidebar). In addition to norming your school with hundreds of others across North America, it will identify volunteers who are willing to promote your school and work on the Capital Campaign.

More importantly, the PSRS tells us the relative health of your school and what will improve your parents’ satisfaction with your school.

If, for example, your school is not healthy financially, academically, administratively and leadership-wise, a Capital Campaign will not solve those situations. Parents who are not satisfied in these three areas will not give sacrificially – nor will other donors. These issues must be solved before a campaign begins, but if your school doesn’t know exactly what those issues are, they cannot be fixed! Sure, even the most feeble campaign will raise some funds, but at what cost? Lower enrollment? (Token gifts generally indicate that the giver is annoyed and gives to “get off the list”).

The PSRS will also tell you what parents think you should build and to what facilities they are most likely to give. If parents think you need new classrooms and instead, the Capital Campaign is for a new indoor swimming pool, even if you build the swimming pool, your parents are not likely to be more satisfied.

Now imagine a Pre-Campaign Support Study where the PSRS indicates that your school is healthy and 80% of them indicate they would like to see a new gymnasium. In the Study, donors indicate that they will give enough money to fund 80% of the amount needed to build a new gymnasium. You decide to borrow the remaining 20% and direct the architect to keep the cost BELOW that figure.

Architect drawings are completed, funds are raised in just a few months, and, sometimes, the momentum surges so that the campaign exceeds its goal — and the building is built on time, under budget and with zero debt. Doesn’t that sound like God?

You see, GraceWorks’ only goal is that your Christian school is healthy … before, during, and after a Capital Campaign. We want you healthy before you start a capital expansion project. We want you healthy afterwards. We care if parents are more or less satisfied after the campaign is over. We are concerned with the overall relationship with your sponsoring churches.

GraceWorks wants your staff happy for the long-run, confident that you live within your means, and completed your capital expansion in a way that glorified God and fulfilled His vision for your Christian school.

We can’t do that just waltzing into the life of your school when you think you need a study and a campaign, and then waltzing back out when the campaign is over. We can’t keep you healthy if the only focus is on the campaign dollars, with no regard to visioning, parent satisfaction, marketing, staff morale or volunteers.

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