Implementing and Managing a Capital Campaign* in Your Church


Believe it or not, the Bible has excellent advice even for fundraising.  There are many passages and texts that refer to the benefits of generosity, and many regarding how to invite financial support. 

Consider this example of a capital campaign, found in I Chronicles 29: 1-17  (NIV), when the temple in Jerusalem was built. This was a massive undertaking for the Israelites, but they had the best campaign manager possible—the Lord himself!

Here are the steps they took:

1.    The “kingdom” (i.e., the church, institution or organization) invests in the campaign and budgets for it.

  1. The “kingdom” practices good stewardship.

  2. The king (i.e., the leadership—the pastor, board chair, or executive director if its s church-related organization) gives personally.

  3. Those central to the organization gave (i.e., church staff, lay leaders in the church)

  4. The campaign is made public and donors (church members including children, other publics) are enthused.

  5. They give when asked.

By following these basic rules, which are reflected in today’s professional best practices for capital campaigns, churches can move ahead with successful campaigns.  First, let’s consider preparation steps:

1.     Preparation is the key to success.  Some experts state that a capital campaign is 80% preparation and 20% asking for the funds.

2.     Good stewardship should be in place, i.e., church members are generous and involved in the financial health of their church.

3.     Campaign feasibility should be determined.  Is the goal reasonable? Have donors who are willing and ready to give been identified and is there internal agreement about the campaign?  Generally it’s advisable to engage a consultant to conduct a feasibility study. Since these are expensive, at times objective steps can be taken to determine what’s possible and reasonable (PSI can provide counsel on these steps).

Steps to implementing a campaign:

1.     When feasibility has been determined and infrastructure strategies are in place (i.e., a good reporting system, a database for recording donations and donor information, policies for the campaign (such as naming opportunities), develop a campaign plan.

2.     Involve the core committee, whether it’s special fundraising committee, development committee of the board, or another small group that ultimately manages the campaign.  One person should be in charge of coordinating the efforts.  This could be the responsibility of a church staff member or a responsible volunteer with sufficient time to handle the details.

3.     Develop timely announcements to the church body. Expand the committee structure to have sub-committees and therefore divide up the work as well as opportunities for involvement and ownership of the campaign.

4.     Invite those who can make significant gifts to be the first to donate.  Conventional wisdom says that approximately 50% of the goal should be in hand before the campaign is officially kicked off.  In a church this can’t be a “silent” phase, as in most other organizations, but much background work can still be done until an official opening of the campaign.

5.     Keep good records, be sure to thank donors (yes, at this point church members are donors!) immediately, develop appropriate recognition and keep reporting to the church body.

6.     Provide opportunities for people to give at all levels, starting with those who can give the most.  Some may say, “But in the church, we’re all equal.”  Remember that the Bible states, “to whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:58).

7.     Remember that all the preparation steps and the implementation actions take time, and don’t over-promise a speedy result!

8.     Celebrate!  Work towards a celebration with information sharing along the way, and give members and donors something to look forward to.

What to avoid:

1.     Being presumptuous and function on the premise that “the Lord will provide.”  The Lord will bless your campaign if done carefully and prayerfully, but don’t expect funds to come just because you’re a church with good, dedicated people!

2.     Misunderstanding today’s church member attitudes and preferences about giving.

3.     Kicking off a campaign based on enthusiasm and good will, and getting up in church and stating, “We’re going to do this!  Who is going to give?  Please raise your hands!”

4.     Skipping steps in the preparation.

5.     Depending on oral promises, or on a few donors.

6.     Not keeping the church informed, and not providing for “buy-in” or opportunities for appropriate involvement.

7.     Making it the pastor’s campaign, or a campaign where only a few are “in the know” and therefore the rest of the church may not have ownership.

8.     Thinking that tithe and offerings will decline if a capital campaign is undertaken.  According to experts, people will “stretch” when there is clarity and good planning for a campaign.

9.     Practice good stewardship!  Report to donors, build trust, use the donations exactly as designated, be transparent (a major requirement for all fundraising today).

10.  Falling into the age-old trap of thinking, “If everyone gave $100 (or some definite amount) we would reach our goal quickly.” This almost never works, and you make the mistake of providing opportunities for larger gifts to be made, and perhaps cut out the “widow’s mite.”  Remember Deuteronomy 16:17:  “Every man shallgive as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he hath given thee.”

11.  Thinking that as a church, “we’re different, we don’t have to follow the rules.”  Rules can be modified and adapted, but they still have to be followed for success today!


Capital campaigns, if managed according to today’s best practices, can be a means of energizing a church as the church body moves toward a common vision and goal.  They can also tear a church apart if not managed right, if people aren’t involved and informed, and if the campaign is based on presumption rather than best practices!

Please contact Philanthropic Service for Institutions (PSI), an NAD funded service for all NAD organizations and members—a unique service not replicated by any other division or denomination!  (add contact info).  Also please acquire through AdventSource the second edition of Successful Fundraising,a comprehensive handbook for churches and their organizations, which contains further advice.


Lilya Wagner is the director for Philanthropic Service for Institutions


*Capital campaigns may include building, renovation, purchase of land, small tangible projects, and are carefully planned campaigns over a defined period of time, with a clear beginning and a deadline when the goal is to be reached.