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Season 2, Episode 37

Campaign experts Amy Eisenstein are joined by special guest Jeff Hensley in a lively discussion of capital campaigns for churches and fundraising insights for other types of organizations.

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This episode was recorded as part of a live webinar held Monday, May 2, 2022. To participate in future webinars, register at ToolkitTalks.com.

Amy Eisenstein:
I am super excited that we have a very special guest today, Jeff Hensley. He is one of our fabulous Toolkit Advisors, and while he is good at all types of campaigns, he is really a specialist in church campaigns and religious campaigns. And a lot of our Toolkit clients that come in that have a religious bent, or our churches or religious institutions of any kind, we always say, “All right. Jeff’s your guy.”

So we’ve invited Jeff here today to talk about not just church campaigns, so don’t hang up if you’re not with a religious organization, but really, what are the lessons learned from religious organizations that we can apply to all sorts of campaigns? Because honestly, we know that religious institutions really know where it’s at in terms of fundraising, and they do a good job of fundraising. So there’s a lot of lessons that we want to learn from those.

So Jeff, feel free to introduce yourself a little bit more if you’d like, and then why don’t you kick us off with some of your words of wisdom about lessons learned from church campaigns?

Jeff Hensley:
Sure. Thank you. Well, good afternoon, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here with you. Thank you for that gracious introduction, Amy. I appreciate your kind words. It’s my pleasure to work with Toolkit clients as an Advisor. As Amy said, I do specialize in faith-based clients, whether those be nonprofits or churches. I’m working with a synagogue right now. I’ve worked across faith traditions, and I think some reflections on what makes a religiously-oriented campaign unique, and what we can learn from those campaigns across all campaigns, I think.

Church Capital Campaigns — Lessons to Learn

As Amy said, religious organizations have a real distinct advantage, because people of faith traditionally give more than people who don’t have a faith tradition. A lot of survey results over the years show that, Giving USA does a study of that on a routine basis.

And why is that? Well, many faith traditions have a generosity tradition built into them. There’s the tithing tradition, for example, there’s the alms collecting traditions of the ancient world. So people of faith have been giving for a very long time, and they tend to be very generous.

Now, the bad news for religious organizations is they’re shrinking. Most of these organizations are getting smaller, and because of that, fewer people are giving. But that’s of course a trend generally that we’re seeing. Fewer people are giving, but the amount that they’re giving is more and more generous.

So one of the real learning curves and growth edges of religious organizations right now is:

How do we continue to grow our numbers so that we can keep that giving tradition alive?

If you’ve been to a church or synagogue recently, you can look out and see that they tend to be older, in terms of their congregations. And that’s also a concern, right? Because at some point, those people will be no longer with us, and so, their children, their grandchildren, those traditions need to continue to be nurtured and encouraged.

Amy Eisenstein:
Jeff, I just want to point out one quick thing. I think a few things you’ve already said can be applied across the board to nonprofits. It’s true that lots of nonprofit donor bases are getting older.

Jeff Hensley:
Correct.

Amy Eisenstein:
And they’re shrinking. And so, this is exactly why we’re having this conversation, because what is going on in the church world can be reflected in many of our organizations, and it’s a major concern. So, okay. Keep going.

Jeff Hensley:
Absolutely.

Amy Eisenstein:
I don’t want to interrupt you too much.

Strategies to Encourage Giving (Faith-Based or Otherwise)

Jeff Hensley:
No, those are excellent observations. And so, what are some strategies that we can apply to encouraging say, multi-generational giving? The church, our synagogue, house of faith has an advantage that maybe the whole family comes. And so, speaking more intentionally about giving, what that means, what impact it has on the congregation. I think we’ve moved beyond the generation of giving, where you give just because of obligation. I think the church still, or religious body, needs to demonstrate how they’re using their money, so transparency of budget is another really important trend. If you’re not transparent with how you’re spending the money, people aren’t going to trust you with it. And that’s a principle that can be applied to any organization, right, Amy?

Amy Eisenstein:
Absolutely.

Jeff Hensley:
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a faith-based organization. So, I think that’s another trend. Another struggle the church and religious bodies like this have, is do we have a comprehensive campaign, where we make one ask of our congregation to support the mission and the capital needs of the congregation, or do we do two asks? So that whole dilemma that we face in just about any campaign, how do we maintain annual giving at the same time that we raise capital funds for a capital campaign?

And so, there’s some unique strategies we can talk about that churches and houses of faith use to try to encourage that kind of giving. At the Toolkit, we’ve designed what’s called a Guided Feasibility Study, and I think it’s actually a really interesting tool to think about using in a religious organization context. Churches maybe 20, 30 years ago, would traditionally do a Feasibility Study before a capital campaign. But it was a little awkward, because everybody knows everybody in a church, right? And we see each other maybe once a week, if not more. And so, it felt a little awkward talking to an anonymous kind of objective consultant about your faith giving, when you’d just really like to talk to the minister or to the Generosity Coordinator or someone in the church community itself.

So, not doing a Feasibility Study, though, completely just going on faith as it were, wasn’t a great strategy either, right? God’s going to do this anyway God chooses, but we kind of need to know the intelligence about how to set goals properly. And God encourages us to use the best gifts and tools that we have to raise this money. So the Guided Feasibility Study is, I think, a nice middle way between the two. So instead of hiring an external consultant, or instead of not doing it on your own, you work with a consultant to help you do the Feasibility Study. And I’m sure, Amy, we can talk a lot more about that.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. Let me just–

Jeff Hensley:
But I think it works really well in a church context, because the conversation stays in-house then.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. No, that’s a good point. I just want to make sure that everybody is clear about what we’re talking about, because Guided Feasibility Study certainly is jargon, Toolkit jargon. So, what Jeff is talking about and referencing is, that our model of preparing for a campaign is to train nonprofit leaders to go out and have meaningful, strategic conversations with potential donors prior to a campaign.

Now traditionally, or what other consultants do is that a consultant goes and talks to those donors, as opposed to the leaders of your nonprofit. And Jeff has given a good example of why that doesn’t work so well in houses of worship. And the reality is that we’ve found that the outside, stranger consultant often doesn’t work in lots of nonprofits, that donors prefer, in fact, to talk to the leaders of the organization, whether it’s the priest or the pastor or the rabbi, or the executive director, or the board chair. But really having a meaningful, strategic conversation with someone who is in-house and planning the campaign has been more meaningful.

Lessons Learned from Church Fundraising

Let me circle back. I want us to think just for a minute about why houses of worship, religious organizations in particular, are so successful at raising money, and see what lessons learned we might extract for everybody else tuning in today.

So, churches historically, have raised more money than other types of nonprofits. And like you said, it’s shrinking to some degree, but certainly, they lead the pack. And I always think about this idea that they ask every single week, right, in the form of some sort of tithing, right?

And we want to get away from this idea of guilt or obligation, but I want to focus on the idea that they ask. Right? So many nonprofit leaders are afraid to ask. They don’t want to ask more than once a year. They don’t want to outright ask or ask for a specific amount.

Ask and You Shall Receive

The church is not shy about it. 10%, they ask on a regular basis, multiple times a year. And I think that there’s an important lesson there, hopefully somewhere for other nonprofit leaders to really think about, what is the church doing? Or what have they done? Guilt aside, right? God and guilt aside, we want to make giving feel good, but what lessons can we transfer? Can you think of others? Or do you want to expand on that?

Jeff Hensley:
No. Let me expand on that a little bit. Yeah. It’s absolutely true that within a house of faith, a house of worship, there’s a certain comfort level with asking, I think, because we do it, we practice it. And that’s one of the roles that we have as advisors, right, in working with our clients is to practice asking. And that practice of asking raises your comfort level in doing it.

It’s anecdotal evidence to me, but I think it’s true. I meet more gift officers and major giving officers who come from a religious background, even if they don’t work in a religious context, or even if they’re no longer particularly religious, they learned at an early age that giving was a part of our responsibility as human beings, much less people of faith. And so, that comfort level in asking, none of us are ever completely and utterly comfortable doing it. I think we deceive ourselves if we think that, but there are degrees of that comfort level. I think people of faith or people who’ve grown up in those traditions really understand that well. And so, don’t have the same kind of fears or uncomfortableness of asking that perhaps people not in those traditions.

So why do you ask repeatedly? Well, if the motivation to give is not out of any sense of duty or obligation, but out of a sense of gratitude for what you’ve been given by that organization. And whether you think of that as salvation or community or support or comfort, whatever you think of that gift being to you, there’s a sense really of, “I need to give back out of gratitude for what I’ve received.”

Giving Out of Gratitude

And so, in my own tradition, the Episcopal tradition, the offering is taken right before the Eucharist, which is God’s gift to us of His Son, of salvation. So there’s a sense that we give our gifts to God in exchange for, out of gratitude for God’s gifts for us and to us. So, there’s a real sense of gratitude being the motivation for giving as opposed to obligation and guilt. And I think that’s a much more constructive way of looking at it.

And how is that transferable to non-faith based traditions? Well, think about your organization as giving a good, a service, to its community, and making that very clear, and communicating that and inviting people to participate in that. That’s really a key to religious giving, right? They’re all volunteers. There’s no giver to a church that’s also not a volunteer in that church. So when you invite them to participate in the giving of that organization, they really feel an attitude of gratitude to give back to that organization, because they see the impact of what goes on there. They experience it firsthand. So I think that’s a real lesson that we can take from religious organizations is to involve your givers in the act of the organization. And by doing that, they get deeper and deeper involved and committed to it.

Amy Eisenstein:
I think that’s such a good point. And as you were talking about giving out of gratitude, I was sort of trying to list out all the organizations that I could think of that would apply: a hospital that gave you treatment to you or a family member.

Jeff Hensley:
That’s right.

Amy Eisenstein:
To any educational institution where you had an opportunity to learn, to an environmental organization where you have the opportunity to have a cleaner Earth or stream or river or ocean or air. The list goes on and on honestly, to arts organizations, to animal welfare, to social service agencies. It is, across the board, about giving back because the organizations that you serve are doing good, either for you personally, or for the community at large. And I think that the more we can build that sense of generosity and gratitude and not fundraise from a place of obligation or guilt. I think that is seriously problematic, and it doesn’t lead to more generosity, it sort of leads to guilt and stinginess. Right?

Jeff Hensley:
Exactly.

Multi-Generational Giving

Amy Eisenstein:
Jeff, I wanted to circle back. A few minutes ago, you mentioned something about multi-generational giving.

Jeff Hensley:
Yeah.

Amy Eisenstein:
And I think that is such an interesting and important concept. When I was a teenager, my mother always brought me to the soup kitchen. Right? And honestly, what do I support today? I support hunger organizations. I support lots and lots of organizations, but that’s sort of where my heart is. And it has to be, because that’s what my mother took us to as kids. We served in the soup kitchen. And so, that’s sort of my number one charity.

I think that there is a lot to talking about charity at home, having multi-generational opportunities, and really thinking about how do you include and involve more than one generation? It’s harder once the kids grow up and go away, for sure. But there’s this sort of fancy schmanzy fundraising event, I know they haven’t happened in two years, but there’s one next week, and we’re taking our kids. And there won’t be a lot of kids there. Honestly, it’s not a kid event, but they’re older teenagers now. And they’ve seen us go to these things, and now they’re like, “When can we come? When can we come?” They’re excited. They want to participate. So there’s something to be said for multi-generational giving, talking about that at home. So I really like that concept, too. All right.

Jeff Hensley:
Absolutely. I think generosity is learned.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah.

Jeff Hensley:
It really is. And you might be thinking, “Well, what can I do as a Development Director of an organization to encourage this? It seems like it’s more on the family to do that.” Right? That parents should involve their kids like you’re doing and your mom did for you.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yep.

Jeff Hensley:
I think organizations can encourage this. Say you have an elderly donor who shares with you just off the cuff, “I wish I could get my kids, my adult children, and my grandchildren, interested in this organization because I’m so passionate about it.” That’s an open door invitation for you to say, “Let’s figure out some event where we can invite them all to see this organization, to see how much joy you derive from it. Have you ever had a conversation with them about it?” They’re not just going to get it by osmosis. Right? Your mom actually took you there.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right.

Jeff Hensley:
And you’re taking your kids. So, we could encourage that kind of level of intentionality in families that I think will have an impact long-term, not only on your organization, but the trajectory of the future philanthropy in general.

Church Capital Campaign: Final Thoughts

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I think that’s right. All right. Let’s do some final thoughts. Any other thoughts on campaigns specifically, that you’re seeing trends that might be applied to other organizations?

Jeff Hensley:
I think the other thing that I would say that religious bodies, houses of worship do really well, is providing a kind of an event or in the Christian tradition, we call it a liturgy, around giving. So the offering is a passing of the plate, or it’s a bringing up to the front your gift. How can we think about ritualizing giving in organizations? I think it’s kind of an interesting question.

I worked with Habitat for Humanity years ago, broadly faith-based organization, but not explicitly faith-based as others might be. And they were building a house. And what they did was at an event, everyone was given a small brick. And if you gave to the event that night, gave to the house building, you could bring your brick up, and start to build a wall in the front of the auditorium. And it actually became quite an interesting event, because you could see families going up, here’s that intergenerational business, right?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah.

Jeff Hensley:
The brick would be given to the child, so the child could put the brick up on the wall.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yep.

Jeff Hensley:
And you started to see a lot of people bringing up bricks who might have been tentative otherwise, but saw people doing and saw the wall starting to materialize. And they put a work, a liturgy, a work of the people behind the act of giving that I think was very effective and encouraged generosity. So, it would be interesting to think through, from your organization’s perspective…

“How can we, in say a future event, or in a future communication, maybe even think of it virtually, actually have a corporate act where people give visibly to the organization, and how might that encourage more generosity?”

Amy Eisenstein:
I love that. Leaving everybody with such a visual of how that might look, figuratively, literally, so that’s great.

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