10 Things I Learned Raising $1.5 Million For My Church

In full disclosure, I kind of cringed when I typed the title to this blog, but I wanted you to click the link, so I chose that title over the more accurate, “What I learned watching God provide $1.5 million for our church.” You probably wouldn’t have clicked that link, but alas, here we are.

I’m not a fundraiser, I’m a pastor, but as a pastor sometimes I have to be a fundraiser. I bet you’ve had to do the same thing at some point or another in your leadership. Whether it’s raising money for a youth trip or building a new building, every pastor has seasons of leadership where raising funds has to move to the forefront of your job description.

Based on conversations with other church leaders, raising money is not something we’re comfortable doing. I get it, we don’t want people to feel uncomfortable or draw wrong impressions about our motives, but over the last decade of pastoring, I have had a change of heart about how much I talk about money or challenge people to prioritize giving. I’ve written about it more detail here.

Here’s the fact: It takes money to do ministry, and while yes, technically God could miraculously provide all the resources you will ever need, historically that’s not how he operates. Instead, he puts a dream in your heart that is beyond your current level of resources and then tasks you with the responsibility of leading a congregation to that desired destination.

That’s where I found myself 18 months ago. I knew after ten years of pastoring Hope City Church; God was calling our church to take some bold, faith-filled, steps: A building renovation and a second campus launch. These steps would require me to put my fundraising hat on for a season as we tried to raise $1.5 million.

After months of praying, planning, and meetings, we launched our campaign and raised almost $1.6 million. God is good!

Whether you need to raise $1 million or $10,000 for a dream God has put in your heart, I want to share with you some lessons I learned along the way during this fundraising season for our church.

1. Hire an expert

You only get one chance to launch your first giving campaign, and if you need to raise a substantial amount of money (define that in your context), you can’t afford to “wing it.” It’s tempting to do the math and feel that the cost of a consultant or expert is too expensive, but the truth is you can’t afford not to hire an expert. I have pastor friends who have raised a lot more money than me and for their 2nd or 3rd campaigns decided to lead the campaign themselves, but that’s only because they hired an expert the first time and learned how to raise money on a large scale. Of course, don’t hire a car salesman, hire someone that understands your heart, and you feel comfortable with, but don’t try and save a few thousand dollars in an attempt to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s a cheap mindset and will cost you in the long run.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: Don’t try and save a few thousand dollars in an attempt to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: Don’t try and save a few thousand dollars in an attempt to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. “]

2. You don’t raise money from the pulpit you raise money over coffee

Pastors are typically good communicators so we’re tempted to believe that we can accomplish anything from the stage, but when it comes to fundraising, the stage is the final piece of the fundraising puzzle. If you stand up to preach/announce the start of a fundraising campaign and you don’t already have 50-70% of your money raised from private conversations beforehand you’re in trouble. The hard work has already been done before you stand in front of the congregation to announce the campaign. Don’t assume you can preach one sermon and raise money over the long term.

3. Don’t feel bad for prioritizing big givers

My friend said something to me one day that is so simple but so profound. He said, “large gifts come from large givers.” Go figure! We ask people who can sing to sing. We ask people who can teach to teach. Why not ask people who can give big to give big? The key, though, is that we ask everyone to participate. It’s not equal giving; it’s equal sacrifice. So, I met with everyone who wanted to meet with me, and I asked everyone to give sacrificially, but where there were families who could give larger amounts, I did not apologize for asking them to do so. I believe God has blessed them to help fund the kingdom of God, and I told them so. Just know, whatever amount of money you want to raise, 25%-35% of it will come from 2-3 people in order to hit your goal. This requires you to be courageous and direct with people who have the capacity to make a big impact. Which leads me to my next point…

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: Large gifts come from large givers. We ask people who can sing to sing. We ask people who can teach to teach. Why not ask people who can give big to give big? @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: Large gifts come from large givers. We ask people who can sing to sing. We ask people who can teach to teach. Why not ask people who can give big to give big?”]

4. Big givers are not uncomfortable being asked for big gifts

I won’t belabor the point, but know that when you sit down with a large donor to ask for a donation, you are probably the fifth person to ask them for money that month. Big givers are used to conversations about money. In my experience, they like the conversation to be direct and specific. The more uncomfortable you are, the less likely you are to inspire them. Don’t lowball them out of fear. Yes, ask them to pray about it, but be proactive and ask them to pray about giving a specific amount that it is in your heart.

5. Your church will be as generous as you are

I talked about this a lot in this post, so I won’t repeat everything, but this is an important point to make. As you prepare to have meetings and ask people to step up big and give, make sure you’re buying what you’re selling. Are you drinking the kool-aid? I hope so. My friend Josh, who helps churches raise money told me that he has never seen a fundraising campaign meet or exceed their goal if the pastor did not lead the way with an extremely generous commitment… NEVER! You shouldn’t be the biggest giver in your church, but you should be the largest percentage giver in your church because your church will not exceed your level of sacrifice. If you’re not ready to be extremely generous on a personal level, you’re not ready to try and raise money for your church.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: You shouldn’t be the biggest giver in your church, but you should be the largest percentage giver in your church, because your church will never exceed your level of sacrifice. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: You shouldn’t be the biggest giver in your church, but you should be the largest percentage giver in your church, because your church will never exceed your level of sacrifice.”]

One more thing, I didn’t tell many people what my commitment amount was, because I didn’t want to forfeit my spiritual reward by impressing people. However, for a few conversations, when I felt it was appropriate and could be an example of the kind of generosity it would require to take our church where God wanted to lead us, I shared my pledge to inspire and encourage someone to join me. You’ll have to trust your gut on that, but lead the way, it’s the only way.

6. You are currently fundraising whether you realize it or not.

You may not have asked for money yet, but you are building trust and credibility through your leadership practices and the vision you’re casting. Every budget meeting, every giving sermon, every staff hire is sending a message to your church about how you spend money and what your vision is. You may not ask for money for three more years, but know that you are raising money right now. We spent ten years preparing to ask people, during that time we never received a special offering for our church, but when it came time to ask, we asked big! If you never talk about money, and then one day stand up and start talking about it, don’t be surprised if people are confused. If you don’t operate on a budget, don’t be surprised if large givers are hesitant to write a big check. Everything you do is preparing the way for your fundraising campaign. Prepare now.

7. Tithers are your best givers

I guess this is kind of a no-brainer, but as you plan and think through your fundraising, go ahead and assume that the people who have already been giving will be the ones who will most participate in your fundraising effort. It’s tempting to think that someone who has money but hasn’t been faithfully giving, will be inspired to step up and give sacrificially, but the chances are not as good as you think. Are there people who will give to special projects who won’t tithe? Yes. And yes, new givers will give to the campaign. In general, though, the best way to plan is to assume those who have been giving will give, and those who have not been giving, for whatever reason, will have a reason why they will not. Which brings me to the next thing I’ve learned…

8. You’re overestimating outside gifts

I know I know. You know a guy who started a successful business, or got an inheritance or plays in the NFL and if you can get a meal with them, they will probably write you a six-figure check. They like you and have always said, “let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” I’m not saying it won’t happen; I’m just saying, it probably won’t happen. Will you get something? Yes. Will you get what you think you’re going to get? I doubt it. Jesus said where your heart is your treasure will be and vice versa. The best giving prospects are people who are already emotionally invested in the church.

9. Focus Your Giving/Income Streams

Over time, most churches have several different categories a member can give to: the youth fund, choir fund, missions trip, pastor appreciation, etc. Some givers like to designate their gift to know exactly how their money is being spent. Here’s the challenge, if you’re trying to raise a large amount of money you need to have a singular focus, and the more streams, the harder it will be to meet your goal. We were faced with this challenge because one of the biggest wins for our church is something called the “Imagine campaign.” Over the last ten years, we’ve given away over $500,000 to help plant churches, build orphanages, and help local families in need. Our people love it, and they give to it in a big way, but we knew that if we were going to raise $1.5 million it would require a singular focus, so we decided to pause on imagine and designate all gifts to our campaign. We announced that we would designate 10% of the $1.5 million to our “imagine” projects so the work could continue, but we didn’t want people designating any money to Imagine. All giving went to the same place, the campaign. Don’t be afraid to press pause on everything else why you’re trying to raise money. Reaching a big goal requires big focus.

10. People are drawn to a big vision

I know that “vision” is a church leadership buzz word, and it seems like it’s the answer to every question, but there is a reason it feels that way…. because IT IS the answer to every question, especially raising money. When someone asks the question, “why are we raising money” you better have an answer, and it better be an answer that inspires them to dig deep. I love the story in Mark Batterson’s book Circle Maker about the couple who stopped by Mark’s office one day and asked about his vision. They eventually donated $3 million, and the reason they gave it is because, in their words, “you have a vision beyond your resource.” You may not have a $3 million giver, but you can have a big vision. Chris Hodges says he has $400 million of vision; he’s just waiting for someone to give it. I love that! Let me ask you this question: If someone gave you $1 million today to use for your church, do you know what you do with it? Is there a dream in your heart? Yes, you would pay off debt, yes you would hire some staff, yes, you would renovate the facility, but is there a BIG dream in your heart? The week after we raised the $1.5 million I had breakfast with my head finance leader to recap the numbers, and at the end of breakfast I told him, “I think I have an idea of what we need to do after we spend this $1.5 million.” He just started laughing, and said, “You never stop do you?” I just smiled and said, “nope.” Dream Big, Pray Big, Ask Big!

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Jason Isaacs
Jason Isaacs

By Jason Isaacs