Measure Twice, Cut Once

Planning is the most important step in your parish project

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If Jim could offer one bit of advice to a parish about to begin raising funds for a large project, it would be this: Don’t shortchange the planning process. Once your project’s concept is approved, it’s a natural inclination to jump right into asking people to give.  Jim and his parish, however, chose the wisest course of action for a parish on the verge of a major fund raising project—to begin with a Planning Study.

In brief, a Planning Study is an assessment before fund raising begins of the parish’s readiness and capacity for fund raising; it requires several months and usually some financial investment to complete. It should be carried out by a trusted outside source that will tell the parish not what it wants to hear but what it needs to hear about the viability of the project. 

What can happen when this crucial planning step is not taken in time?  Buildings may be only half-finished when funds run short.  Slow initial giving and pledging may limit the parish’s ability to attain construction financing.  In other cases, early donations remain unspent, waiting until enough is raised to cover the budget. Disheartened donors may hesitate to fulfill pledges when the time comes or to support this or other projects in the future.

Jim’s parish would likely have faced these sorts of challenges.  The church had envisioned a multi-million dollar project to build a much-needed community center, having operated for decades with inadequate education and fellowship facilities.  Jim himself was inspired to give significantly because he believes that if we want our youth to remain connected to the Church into adulthood, we need to give them reasons to come to church on more than just Sundays.

Consensus had been attained on the need for the building, and a General Assembly had confirmed the will of the community to proceed and to support the project financially.  The Planning Study, however, revealed information critical to the scope of the project: pledges anticipated through the study were only about a third of the anticipated project cost.  This is a possible outcome of a Planning Study.  On the one hand, it might cultivate the enthusiasm needed for a large multi-million dollar project and give the community the confidence that parishioners are willing to dig deep to make it happen.  Or it can be a reality check, showing that the project needs to be scaled back or done in phases in order to make it financially viable.

For Jim’s parish, the outcome was positive, even though the Planning Study recommended setting a much smaller fund raising goal. The community rallied around the idea of building something that they could afford.  Once the General Assembly approved the detailed architectural design, Jim roped off the footprint of the new building to give people a visual sense of the project.  He was overjoyed when this area attracted a group of parish youth for an impromptu soccer game after Divine Liturgy.  After all, creating a place to cultivate the faith and fellowship of the next generation of parishioners was the goal of this project in the first place.

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