Last year, God suggested I start a new church. I wasn’t really excited about that suggestion but, you know how these things go with God.
So, once I finally landed on a vision of an alternative worship and service community that was dedicated to connecting with and caring for creation… and working for environmental and social justice – it just clicked. It didn’t take much for me and others to get excited about the possibilities.
I started taking slow and steady steps, just trying to keep the Spirit in sight. And then 2020 happened.
There’s nothing like a global crisis to put things in perspective. But, as it turns out, this new ministry was still what my soul needed. Thankfully, even in the midst of the pandemic, the team I had assembled in 2019 was mostly still on board.
We’ve been plowing ahead, meeting on Zoom and creating our virtual content (including our website) and talking social media strategy. Slowly building up to the bigger question: the topic of fundraising and financial stability came up on our agenda. We all knew we had to do it, but how? People are sick and dying, out of work, and just deep in the trenches of surviving right now. We are brand new. We haven’t even had a worship service yet and don’t plan to for many months.
“How can we ask people to fund something that really doesn’t even exist yet?”A Team Member
I didn’t have a good answer, but I knew, obviously others have started funding initiatives early. Maybe not during a pandemic, but people have gotten funding with no “results” to show yet. So, I asked the people who’ve done it before, other church planters, and my hunch was confirmed.
Pro tip from Laurel: when you don’t know, ask people who have done it before! Nice work, because of course your hunch was right!
When your project is so new there’s nothing to show for it but a vision, you go to the people who know you. Reach out to family and friends, your home church or a community that nurtured you. To these people you are the deliverable, you’re the proof that this vision will come to be, if you get the financial support to pull it off.
So, I asked my team if they would commit to asking for a $1,200 donation from four friends or family members, in hopes that two of them will give.
The rule of double is that you usually need to ask twice as many people as you want to come through.
As we’ve been working on fundraising and building our community, I started to have flashbacks to my time as a community organizer with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIR). All of a sudden, I realized, I’ve done this before just with college kids. I asked for $1,200 cause that’s always where we started when I did door to door fundraising with NYPIRG. (Yes, imagine knocking on a stranger’s door and asking them for $1,200. If I could do that, I could do this! People did give me checks for $1,200+ at their front doors but NYPIRG had over 50 years of legislative success to draw from.)
I remember my NYPIRG supervisors said they always started with $1,200 because it’s $100/month and it pushes people just slightly past the $1,000 mark which means if you have 5 people give $1,200 rather than $1,000 you end up with a total of $6,000 instead of $5,000.
Especially during this difficult time, not everyone is going to be able to give at that level. That’s OK. We’re planning to do a crowd-funding campaign later on where we’ll hopefully get a lot of people to give smaller amounts.
And we’re also hoping to secure one or two large donations of 10K+. But for this particular campaign we wanted to reach out to people who are financially secure enough to make this kind of donation and who know us well and believe in our vision.
I decided I would write a letter to my grandpa, a couple aunts and uncles, my in-laws, and mom. These are also people who could connect with the mission of our project, Church in the Wild (a spiritual community focused on caring for and connecting with Creation).
The first letter I wrote was to my aunt and uncle. They are lifelong Episcopalians who live in NYC. My uncle is particularly faith focused so my letter approaches them at that angle. (I will also use this angle for my father-in-law’s letter and another aunt and uncle.)
The second one I wrote was to my grandpa. He is going to be 98 in a couple weeks and has some memory issues. He was never particularly religious but was an avid outdoorsman and amateur farmer. My approach in that letter was primarily familial with an environmental slant. I talked about how I learned to love nature playing in the woods on his land and how he and my grandmother model good stewardship that I hope to pass on through this new church.
The third one I wrote to my mother-in-law and her husband in particular is a huge nature enthusiast, but never was a churchgoer. So, I approached them from the environmental angle.
I sent these three letters to my team along with an instructional template to help them think about how they might personalize their letters.
I told them to tell the story, share the vision, keep it personal. Resist the urge to say it all, if they want to find out more, they can peruse the website. Stick to the main points and focus on the feelings. Start with some chatty conversation, this is not a formal letter. Describe what excited you and made you want to be a part of building this new community. Choose your focus, faith or environmental, and keep that in mind through the entire letter.
I came up with a term of this level of giving. Somehow it feels easier to say, “I’m writing in hopes you’ll be one of our Seed-Starter donors by contributing $1,200 to help us build Church in the Wild” rather than simply asking for a $1,200 donation. I don’t know why, but it makes it easier for me to ask this way, so I always tend to give it a name.
End with clear instructions of how to give, what goes on the check and where to send it, and then leave room to write a personal note along with your signature.
Our plan was to get these letters to out right around Thanksgiving. People are statistically more generous this time of year!
We are just sending out the first of our letters now so I can’t tell you if this worked or not. But I feel a lot more confident about my project just having written them. And no matter how many checks come in, I know each one will be a boost our team needs. This, as with everything, isn’t just about fundraising. Sharing our passion and vision with those closest to us, regardless of whether or not they financially support us, can only be a good thing.
Hopefully this has given you some practical ideas to help you in your fundraising endeavors!