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Too Many Chickens?

April 2010
By: Ron Haas
Every chicken farmer knows that you can put only so many chickens in a coop before you start losing productivity. The same principle applies to non-profit organizations. Cram too much ministry into too small of space and you'll struggle to be effective. Are you running out of ministry space, meeting rooms, offices, parking, and storage? Maybe it's time to consider a larger facility. However, that can be an expensive project, which will probably require you to launch a capital campaign to raise the money. It's a daunting task. Where do you start?

A successful capital campaign requires five key components: a) a compelling case, b) committed leaders, c) willing volunteers, d) a good plan, and e) prepared donors. Let's look at each of these in more detail.

A Compelling Case

Just because you want a new facility, doesn't mean that your donor base does. You must make the case that your ministry plan makes sense. You must demonstrate a winning track record that proves more space will translate into more changed lives. Successful ministries attract dollars because donors want to support causes that advance the cause of Christ.

A campaign can include property, bricks and mortar, personnel, program initiatives, and endowment. Your campaign must solve urgent problems and answer pertinent questions. What outreach ministries won't happen if you don't move forward with your plans? What essential programs won't be accomplished without this campaign? Why should a donor make a significant gift to your campaign? What eternal investments are at stake?

Committed Leaders


John Maxwell says, "Everything rises or falls on leadership." This is especially true of fundraising. The number one fundraiser in any nonprofit organization must be the executive director. Major donors want to talk with the boss. They want to look the leader in the eyes and ask themselves, "Can I trust this person? Will he or she actually follow through and accomplish the mission?"

One of the biggest challenges for a ministry leader is carving out 70 to 80 percent of their time to focus on a capital campaign. Maybe you're thinking, "I work 80 hours a week now, how in the world could I lead a major fundraising effort?" Before considering a campaign, you, your board members, and key staff need to have a serious discussion about how to delegate some of your tasks to others so you can schedule enough time to visit donors. Think of it this way: If you can become successful at fundraising, you can hire staff to cover some of your other ministry responsibilities.

Successful capital campaigns also depend on committed board members who will lead by giving generously and encouraging others to give. Collectively, the board should give 10 to 15 percent of the campaign total. When David gathered resources to build the Temple, he gave first, then he asked the elders of Israel to give, and finally he challenged the entire congregation (1 Chronicles 29:1-5). Apply this same pattern to your capital campaign. As leaders, you and your board must lead the campaign with generous, sacrificial gifts. You must set the pace before you ask anyone on the outside to give.

Willing Volunteers

Staff will play important roles in a capital campaign, but the most successful campaigns have strong volunteer involvement. Volunteers can identify donors, cultivate donor relationships, and even ask for gifts. Take a close look at your database and find key donors who know and love your ministry who might also invest their time and talents in a fundraising effort.

Ask God to lead you to people who could open doors to new donors. When major donors get excited about your project, they will encourage their friends to get involved as well. There is no stronger appeal than friends asking friends to join them in supporting a worthy cause. In one recent campaign, we asked the lead donor to identify others who might be interested in supporting the project. He said, "I've got five people in mind and I'm going to tell them, 'I'm into this campaign in a big way and I want you to consider a significant gift as well.'"

A Good Plan

If you break down the gift amounts in a typical campaign, you will find that 80 percent of the funds come from 20 percent of the donors. However, a misguided campaign strategy focuses on lots of events that target the 80 percent of the donors who will only give 20 percent of the money. Don't forget, it's not enough to be busy — you also must be productive. You will need a well-designed fundraising plan to stay on target.

You will also need a clear plan for what you will accomplish with the money. Occasionally, campaigns get sideways because the board or executive director keeps adding projects to the case statement. It's hard to hit a moving target. Your major gifts team will have difficulty communicating a concise, compelling "ask" if the story keeps changing.

Scripture teaches us to "count the cost before building the tower." Before you announce a capital campaign, you should conduct a feasibility study to determine if your donors understand your plan, if they like your plan, and if they would be willing to give. A feasibility study helps you determine an attainable campaign goal, identify lead donors, and test if the timing is right to move forward.

Prepared Donors

The key element that many campaigns lack is strong major donor relationships. The ministry may know a few key potential donors, but sometimes the big money is two or three relationships removed. A campaign provides a great opportunity to attract new donors who could get excited about your vision. Don't wait for a campaign to build relationships with major donors. Start now by identifying, cultivating, and soliciting donors for your annual operating fund.



Large capital gifts usually come from individuals who have made annual donations to the ministry over a period of years. Giving is based on trust, and long-term donors have developed a level of confidence in your ministry. It's much easier to ask a person for $10,000 if you have asked them for $1,000 each year for the past 5 years. Many major donors make their first gift to an organization as a "test" gift. They will give you an amount and see how you handle it. If you thank them, use it wisely, and actually accomplish what you said you would, then they will be more inclined to give a larger gift in the future.

If you are considering a capital campaign, take this self-assessment. Do you have a compelling case worthy of support? Are you and your board members committed to leading this fundraising effort financially and with your time? Can you recruit key volunteers who will open doors to significant donors? Do you have the right strategies in place, or will you need to find a coach who can guide you to success? Have you been asking major donors to contribute to your annual fund to prepare them for a future capital campaign?

If you have too many chickens, answer these questions and move into a campaign with intentionality. A successful campaign requires prayer, careful planning, and direction from the Holy Spirit because whether you're trying to raise $500,000 or $5,000,000 — it ain't chicken feed.

Ron Haas is vice president of the Timothy Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be reached at rhaas@timothygroup.com.

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