Parish Capital Campaigns Work...Yes, Even in This Economy

In the past year, between the stock market downturns, layoff announcements, bailout packages, the housing market fallout and unemployment numbers, how are we, as a Church, supposed to react?

The short answer is ... Remain calm.

Since 1948, the U.S. economy has experienced 10 recessions with an average length of 10 months according to JP Morgan Chase. One of the most severe recessions was during 1981 and this particular recession lasted 16 months.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), this present recession began in December of 2007, which means that our current economic situation is already 18 months old.

The fact remains that economic cycles are exactly that...cycles. In the future, we will come out of this recession, hopefully wiser, and moving forward into a brighter future for our families and our parishes.

The question remains for many parishes...What do we do now? We have so many things to do! Our roof needs fixing! Our parking lot needs to be redone! We need to renovate our church! Shouldn’t we wait to do our capital campaign?

My answer to all of these questions is simple...move forward. A parish, in a typical capital campaign, is capable of raising up to 3 times their annual offertory income, excluding Christmas and Easter. For example, if your weekly offertory is $8,000 per week, your annual parish offertory revenue is $400,000 per year. Therefore, your parish is capable of raising 1.2 million dollars in a capital effort.

According to Giving USA Spotlight (September 2008), in regard to all charitable giving there is an “average drop of 3.9 percent in years with 8 months or more of recession.” Yet, when Giving USA Spotlight reviews specifically religious giving it states, “Religion shows little effect in giving during recessions and little effect from slowdowns.”

Recently, our firm completed a campaign at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Lawrence. With an average weekly offertory of about $5,000 per week, many were skeptical about their ability to raise funds. Yet today, they are proud to say that they have raised $750,000! Another campaign effort at St. Margaret’s Parish in Pearl River, N.Y. was just completed and they have raised over $1,500,000, which is more than three times their annual offertory.

Interestingly, at one of the St. Margaret’s campaign receptions the pastor happily shared the following, “Last year at this time, we received an estimate to pave our parking lots which was $295,, we received our new estimate...$148,000.”

Contractors are providing what many refer to as “just above cost” estimates in order to continue working and retain their talented and skilled workers. This has provided a wonderful opportunity for many parishes.

So, what should we do? Simple: Be responsible with the gifts which God has given us. Responsible leadership, whether clergy or lay, entails caring for the gift of our parish plant given to us by our predecessors.

I believe the proper thing to do is to look for opportunities for your parish.

Understandably, pastors and finance committees are traditionally more comfortable with conducting Capital Campaigns in a strong economic environment. Yet, in strong economies, your parish is paying a premium for the restoration and renovation work.

With prudence, parishes should look at projects where, presently, the material costs are low and unemployment is high and match up which projects can be accomplished during this recession. Wise leaders will not only be utilizing parishioner’s resources sensibly, but as a parish community you will be stimulating your local economy.

But, can we successfully raise funds in this economy? The answer is ‘‘Yes.’’ As you can see from the examples above, both parishes have had successful campaign efforts during the core of the economic meltdown. As we begin to recover, your results would be similar if not better.

While many may see fear, we trust in God and look for opportunity. While in Massachusetts the unemployment rate hovers around 8 percent, we should also be mindful that 92 percent of our parishioners are employed. We, as the Church, can assist those in need as well as help our parishes take advantage of the significant discounts available in material and construction costs.

Embrace the needs of your community. Move forward with the faith that the people of your parish will support your needs.

Kevin Lynch is President of Lynch Development Associates (, one of the Approved Professional Fundraising Firms serving the parishes of the Archdiocese of Boston.