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Fundraising For Pipe Organs

Raising the money for a new pipe organ is similar in scope and process to that of constructing a new house of worship.  Just as with the edifices that house them, pipe organs represent a very large initial cost.  If properly designed, built, and maintained, they possess great value due to their remarkable life expectancy.  An important part of a successful fundraising campaign will be to educate the entire congregation that they are not purchasing a luxury item, but an instrument of the greatest possible long-term value; one that mirrors the permanence of their mission and ministry.

Your organ project will only be successful if the congregation is involved in the entire process of the project: ascertaining the need for a new, renovated, or restored organ, making the big decision that only a pipe organ will be acceptable, selecting the builder, and raising the money.  Remember three critical basic principals: 1. People give to People. 2. People give to compelling causes. 3. People give to campaigns when they have been invited to provide input and advice.

      "Adhering to the following basic steps will more positively assure you that your capital campaign for your pipe organ project will succeed":

Recognize the need: Organ projects most often begin with informal conversations between the musicians and others in the organization about the need for a new, rebuilt, or restored pipe organ. These informal conversations are best directed to a more formal level as the next step in a process.

Authorize a study and inform the congregation:  Normally, the leadership will constitute an Organ Committee whose charge is to thoroughly explore the need, the options available to satisfy the need, and make recommendations to the leadership along a prescribed timeline and by a particular deadline.  Inform the congregation that an Organ Committee is being formed and invite people to participate.  Include the organist and director of music, but make certain that the Committee contains individuals who are not musicians, bringing other professional experience to the table.

Create ownership and involvement:  As the Organ Committee researches various options and organ builders, it should communicate its activity with the congregation.  Colorful visual displays at the building's entryway, communication with members at coffee hour and other social gatherings, and congregational question and answer sessions are key methods of involving the congregation.  This interaction provides valuable opportunities to identify differing opinions, which can be incorporated into the Committee's deliberations.

Receive the preliminary report and authorize the next stage:  The leadership receives the report and recommendations from the Organ Committee, which includes the proposed organ's specifications, one or more drawings of the organ, any building renovations which the organ may incur, and all the associated costs.  After review and revision by the leadership, the plans are presented to the congregation, who should be continually informed of any and all developments.  The leadership authorizes taking the next step, that of mounting a fundraising campaign.

Hold a congregational review: If the Organ Committee has been doing its job during the process, congregational review will have been ongoing, and the congregation will have been able to view the entire process leading up to the recommended course of action.  The final plans, rendering, designs, and costs should be presented in a professionally executed and colorful display, and published in the congregation's newsletter or bulletin.  Informal feedback from the congregants should be incorporated into any revisions of the plans, but if the communication channels have been open during the entire process, this should not be extensive.

At this point in the life of a fundraising campaign for a pipe organ, serious consideration may be given to hiring a professional fundraising firm to undertake a feasibility study of the congregation prior to the campaign's kick-off, and to train and manage the entire campaign.  This is often money very well spent, as fundraising professionals can provide an accurate barometer of the expected level of giving, which allows you to tailor your plans to the expected receipts.

In past years, a rough rule of thumb was that the amount a capital campaign could raise would be from two to three times the annual pledge and plate of the membership.  However, this is not always accurate in today's world in which the philanthropic dollar is stretched between religious and secular giving.  Without identifying potential major gifts, a capital campaign will be much like a boat adrift with no idea of how soon shore can be reached.

It is absolutely crucial to an organ project's success that the entire congregation be of like mind in the compelling need for the organ, so that when the feasibility study is undertaken, everyone has been apprised of the needs, the facts, and the benefits of a successful conclusion.  Many times the new organ has started an entire congregation thinking about its long-term needs.  Many times the pipe organ, which demonstrated the most compelling need, is made to take a back seat to paving the parking lot.

Many religious institutions are quite successful in raising funds for pipe organs by themselves.  If the organ is part of a larger capital campaign, then the church or synagogue would be well advised to secure the services of a fundraising professional.  Also bear in mind that a professional fundraiser may want to add other projects to the capital campaign in an effort to distribute the congregation's varying interests over the gifting spectrum.   

The highest dollar amount pledges come from a relatively small number of pledging units.  People will give to a project only after they are convinced of its success and once they have seen their peers support it.  For these reasons, a capital fundraising campaign must be well structured, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It is unrealistic to expect to have all the money in the bank, or even pledged, before signing an organ contract; fundraising will never keep up with the increasing cost of building the organ.  There are opportunities for funds to come in even after the campaign is finished, and borrowing to make up the difference may be a prudent way to allow the client to proceed.

Once the Organ Committee has presented its report to the leadership, its work is finished.  The leadership should then form an Organ Fundraising Committee.  This committee may include some members of the Organ Committee, but must include professionally and fiscally prominent members of the congregation who have indicated their support for the new organ.  the leadership, including the senior clergy, should appoint members to this committee based upon personal interviews to determine their level of support.

The capital campaign begins quietly, before it is actually opened up to the congregation for general pledges.  The members of the Fundraising Committee identify others in the congregational community who are their financial, social, or professional peers and interview them directly and personally, and ask for support of the project.  Just as the Committee members made personal visits to their peers, the rector, pastor, or rabbi may visit targeted congregants and personally ask for their pledges.  The spiritual leader's active support in this campaign is critical.  During this time, a major donor may be identified.  These initial pledges are called "lead gifts".  Hold two or three weekly congregational meetings to answer questions.  Invite the organ builder to be present at one of those meetings, making sure that professional compensation is provided.

To strengthen congregational support, sponsor benefit concerts or other fundraising events.  Although such events will not raise any substantial funds for the organ, they will build valuable community support for the project.  Remember, you cannot raise capital funds at a bake sale.  Establish a date as "Pledge Sunday" and collect the pledge cards as part of the regular worship services.  Announce your success, sign the organ contract, enjoying the knowledge that the fruits of your tremendous work will endure for many generations.

As part of your campaign, publish your fundraising standards to the congregation and stick to them.  Do not change your fund-raising requirements mid-stream if you have already established a threshold of initial giving that would be acceptable prior to signing a contract for the organ.  If your leadership is comfortable signing a contract with the organ builder once 50% or the funds are pledged, then those who have pledged even before the campaign is announced to the congregation, sign the contract in a ceremonial way on Pledge Sunday.  Success of the organ building project, and the entire campaign, will be guaranteed.

Pipe organ building is undergoing an exciting renaissance in America, and congregations are building new organs and restoring historic instruments in increasing numbers.  As imitation instruments are coming to the end of their lives, they are replaced with pipe organs by congregations that consider the long-term nature of their musical instruments as crucial as that of their ministry.  People contribute toward ambitious projects if they truly represent value, quality, and substance.

 

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