Avoiding the Common Mistakes in Project Planning

Avoiding the Common Mistakes in Project Planning

Most churches doom their capital campaign long before they even unwrap it before the congregation. That has been my experience in the last twenty-plus years of working with top 100 churches and churches running 100. Church leaders inexperienced in the process of project development often make critical mistakes early in the process that hinders their ability to raise the funds they need. As I continue this series on raising capital dollars, I want this issue to focus on the topic of Avoiding the Common Mistakes in Project Planning.

There are seven common mistakes churches make at the start of project planning. I find that when it comes to developing a project successfully, most churches make mistakes far in advance of the start of the project. In this post, I want to share with you the top seven I have seen so that you can learn them and avoid them.

1. Not planning far enough in advance. Perhaps it is the tyranny of the urgent but too many churches do not start the planning process early enough. I believe you can never start soon enough. Long-range planning is not twelve months out. For a project, it is about twenty-four months at least. That is the planning timeline, not the project development timeline! So, it might well be later than you think. Start planning now!

2. Oversimplifying the process. This is why mistake number one is number one. Too many churches do not understand the complexity of project development. I had a client once that faced ten years of hard work to finally get the city to approve their project! There are so many land mines out there that can blow your leg off. It is much more complex than you think. That is one reason you need outside professional help.

3. Over selling the potential to be raised. I talked to a church once that told the congregation they could raise $4 million dollars. This was two times their operating budget. In their last campaign three years ago, they did not raise one times their budget. They minister in a state still ravished by the economy, with declining membership and offerings. Why in the world would they “sell” the idea that they could raise that much? They are trying to do just that, “sell” the congregation with overly optimistic projections so that the members would vote for the project. What if they “only” raise $3.5 million? Will they scale back or put off the project? Be careful what you promise on this side of the river.
I once worked for a pastor that, previously to my coming on board, told the congregation that if they built the new building they would double in size. They grew that first year in the new building by less than 10%. Three years after the opening, that pastor is now at another church. If only he had gotten professional help before the “sell” to the congregation the results might have gone differently.

4. Under selling the cost. Trust me, it will take you longer than you think and cost you more than you want. If an architect is telling you it “might” cost around $3 to $5 million I would use the high number, not the low number. You might want to avoid sticker shock with your congregation but if the final tab is over what you promised you loose change out of your pocket with your members. The next time you make a decision they will remember how you missed it on the last decision. They might even accuse you of misleading them!

5. Sequential thinking. I once asked a potential client, “Have you talked to the bank yet?” The reply back was, “How can we talk to the bank when we don’t have the final estimate from the architect?” I replied, “Do you at least have an estimated range of cost?” The answer was yes. I again pressed the need to find out if the range of cost was something they could successfully acquire from banks. The problem that many churches have is that they view project development as happening sequentially. Building and remodeling are like playing chess on three levels. There are three levels of project development.

  1. The Project – Whatever you are raising over and above dollars for. Included in this is everything from permitting to the final walkthrough for the Certificate of Occupancy.
  2. Financing – Who will loan you the money to do what you have in your heart?
  3. Funding – Raising the funds to pay for the financing.

You must keep your eye on all three levels simultaneously as well as in sequence.

I think, when it comes to the mistake of sequential thinking, much of the blame might be that we preachers tend to preach that way. Point number two follows point number one and so on. When it comes to project development, we can’t think about what in our minds is step three until steps one and two are finalized. Indeed, projects do have a sequence to them. However, you must be thinking on multiple levels simultaneously to be successful. My wife regularly beats me in Scrabble because she thinks one to two steps ahead while I am thrilled to spell pig. A good partner can help you think in advance, avoiding the mistakes of sequential thinking.

6. Going cheap. More mistakes are made here by church leaders wanting to hold the cost down. Remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for?” The same is true for project development. I often hear churches brag that they were going to run their own stewardship campaign. Then I watch them make huge mistakes and raise far less than they would have with a professional firm. I once had a stewardship committee member tell me that his church ran its own campaign the second time and raised one million dollars less. What amazes me is this same church held another stewardship campaign without outside help. That campaign raised less than the two before it. Already they are making huge mistakes that will probably mean raising fewer funds. Get help. The fee you pay will be more than made up by the funds you raise.

Making any of the above mistakes will derail your project and put you in the ditch. When your car goes into a ditch it does not mean you will never get where you were going. It does mean however that it will take you longer and cost you more. My goal is to help you stay on the paved road so that you get there faster with a smoother ride. Avoid these mistakes and you might even enjoy the ride!

7. Not giving enough time before the launch of the campaign. I always say you can’t get an idea on a Saturday night and implement it on Sunday morning. This is especially true for raising over and above dollars. I have found that the larger the amount you need to raise, the longer you will need to give to the process. If you are asking me to contribute to sending kids to camp, that doesn’t require much thought. However, if you are asking me to make a three or two-year sacrificial commitment, that will require more time to think, pray, and plan how to give what I feel is a sacrificial gift. I believe you need to start your planning twelve to twenty-four months ahead of the launch of your campaign. See the Bonus Section for more information about timing.

“You never have to recover from a good start.” My mentor in campaigns, Dave Sutherland, drilled that into our heads about the importance of planning. Avoiding the mistakes above will give you a better chance of successfully raising the dollars you need to fund the dream God has given you.

Stay tuned as next week’s Coach will be on financing your project with a special interview with the man who guides and counsels me on all things finance-related, Dennis Moses.

My goal is to help you avoid the costly mistake that so many churches make.

Mark Brooks – The Stewardship Coach

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