This morning I had a phone conversation with a person who recently completed a successful $100M capital campaign for a religious nonprofit.  That conversation surfaced recent conversations I’ve had  with pastors engaged in successful fundraising programs. One, was the pastor of an urban Mainline congregation, the other the pastor of a large Evangelical congregation; both were wrapping up successful $50M capital campaign.  The third  was the pastor of a small-town Pentecostal congregation who was in the middle of a successful $500K capital that, given his demographics, was every bit as impressive as a mega-million dollar campaign.

As I reflected on these fundraising initiatives I asked myself what it was that made these programs successful. That is when an old Quaker term came to mind: Query.  Queries are questions, but more, they are questions intended to gather information about organizational matters. They are questions for both personal as well as collective reflection.  A Query, as my Quaker friend Henry Freeman puts it, “does not illicit a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer…. a Query is intended to discern and deepen ‘my’ or ‘our’ understanding of a situation through reflection on one’s beliefs, attitudes and actions.”[i]

Three Queries came to mind as I reflected on my four conversations; Queries paving the way to success in each of these story’s.

What is the vision compelling you to do this? Mission outreach, serving others and addressing a slice of human need in their community or neighborhood was central to the program of all three congregations. The vision question is pivotal if people are to buy into a program.  In addressing the vision question one congregation wrestled  with this question via small groups and one-on-one conversations: “What does it mean for us to root our lives more deeply in Christ for the sake of others?”  As each congregation wrestled with the vision question a shared mission or series of mission projects emerged birthing a major capital campaign.

What do you expect from those who will lead this effort? One common denominator that caught me by surprise was this: in each instance the fundraising charge was led by pastors, board chairs and lay leaders who had been part of the institution for more than fifteen years. I wondered, what has longevity to do with fundraising success? Institutional trustworthiness is pivotal to any successful fundraising program. Trustworthy leaders are people of good character and administrative  competence.  In congregations, people vote via their giving and their feet. Why was longevity an issue, because good character and administrative competence, the twin attributes of trustworthiness, are both anchored in time. .

What are the “what” and “why”  questions you need to answer. When people give generously, they are giving away part of themselves. So, they want to know what it is you are doing and what difference it will make? More importantly, they want to know why you are doing it and why it is necessary to do it now.  While the “why” question is often the last question congregations ask themselves, it is the first question a donor will ask you. In one congregation it took the senior pastor a year to come up with an answer to a donor’s why.  But, when he did, the donor committed to match dollar-for-dollar every dollar raised assuring the campaign’s success.

[i] Henry B. Freeman: Queries for Reflection.