Lessons From a Church School Fund Raising Campaign

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God has been leading Atlanta North School over this past year in a special way! Late June 2017 we finally started our much anticipated new construction project, after multiple permit delays and surprises, with approximately six weeks before school was scheduled to start.  The $240,000 project would add a classroom and bathroom, completely remodel the kitchen and fellowship hall and address a number of mechanical items. 

So how did we get to that point?  The formal Phase I campaign started approximately 9 months earlier because the school was growing.  The growth was not an accident.  A couple years earlier, the local church and school leadership and teachers gathered to develop a long term plan.  This plan set priorities, established goals, refocused our marketing efforts and guided where we should spend our funds.  Most importantly though, the church and school leadership were in sync with the goals and plan established. 

As the school started to grow, we needed another classroom and teacher and now we needed a fundraising plan, blueprints, and a contractor in just nine months.  The church and school once again came together to develop a plan and set up a steering committee with representation from both groups.  We finally found a great contractor on our fifth try, who connected us with an architect.  We also submitted a number of grant applications and were successful with two of them for $110,000!  That left us with $130,000 to go in seven months. 

We did two things; First we asked each church and school leader to commit and we received 100% commitment.  The dollar amount was not our main focus, but we collectively decided we couldn’t go to the broader church and school community without the leadership being financially committed.  We also wanted as much pledged or raised before we formally launched the campaign.  Second, we reached out to Dr. Lilya Wagner at PSI.  She recommended we order a copy of the book Successful Fundraising: A Guide for local Churches and also offered to join us in person for a session with our leadership. 

Dr. Wagner highly recommended that the as many of our leaders as possible be present at our first session. It helped tremendously as we were all educated on effective ways of fundraising. At the end of that meeting, we all were on the same page and it brought our leadership even closer to our goal. Dr. Wagner then held follow up meetings with our smaller leadership groups to keep up to date on the progress of our fundraising.

In the end we were able to complete the project, delaying school by just a couple days.  It was only possible due to the financial, spiritual and emotional support of the church members, school families, Georgia-Cumberland Conference and PSI.

Fast forward to this current year.  After the project was completed, we performed an evaluation to identify what we could have done better with Phase I.  We opened this school year with further growth, bringing us to over 50% growth in two years.  Most classrooms have been filled and waitlisted by the end of March for next school year and we need to build   another classroom to expand and accommodate our students.    We have also launched Phase II given the continued growth of the school.  The project for this summer will add another classroom, two new bathrooms and remodel two existing bathrooms to accommodate more students.  

This was a major step for our church since we had not conducted a major project like this for over 25 years.  When we look back, it is amazing that every single person that pledged followed through with their contribution.  Perhaps it’s not that amazing though, because the real key seemed to be that we collectively developed a plan, remained focused on that plan and made sure that God was at the center of that plan.

Villlard Bastien is an attorney and board chair for the Atlanta North School Board. John Satelmajer is a partner in the financial services practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Atlanta, Georgia