Planning studies are intended to set the stage for a successful capital campaign.
The 2019 study at St. Pius Catholic Church in Urbandale, Iowa, accomplished just that. The parish took into consideration its parishioners’ feedback, adjusted its campaign goals and ultimately raised over $5 million through the Living Our Mission – Building Our Future Capital Campaign.
After beginning a master planning process in 2013, parish leaders developed plans to construct a 28,000-square-foot parish center at a cost of $7.3 million. St. Pius engaged the Steier Group to conduct a planning study to gauge support for the project and prepare for the upcoming campaign.
While the study uncovered strong support for a new parish center, respondents shared their concern about the price tag. With responses from over 500 parishioners through personal interviews and mail, online and in-pew surveys, the Steier Group projected that St. Pius could raise $4 million to $5.25 million through a three-year campaign.
“You came in with a range and we realized, OK, we’ve got to scale things back,” said Dave Merschman, who served with his wife, Anne, as general chairs of the campaign. “So we went back to the architectural company and they came up with another plan that was more within our budget, based on what you felt we could raise. That was very beneficial. Otherwise, we would’ve been biting off more than we could chew. It would’ve been too aggressive of a project and we would not have raised enough. We would’ve set ourselves up for defeat if we went forward with the grandiose plan of ($7.2 million).”
Following the Steier Group’s recommendation, St. Pius created a new plan with a tiered approach.
By reaching its $3.5 million Celebration Goal, St. Pius would be able to build a 10,000-square-foot, two-story interconnected building between its existing parish center and the parish school. Meeting the $4.5 million Challenge Goal would also allow St. Pius to renovate the parish center. The final tier, the $5 million Vision Goal, would mean the parish could complete a 2,250-square-foot addition to the parish center.
“The new plan ended up being more sensible and worked out better for our parish in the long run,” Merschman said. “The original plan was more than what we really needed.”
Upon solidifying the tiered plan, St. Pius embarked on the Living Our Mission – Building Our Future campaign in January 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic provided a significant challenge to the campaign, ultimately prompting St. Pius to pause the campaign just before the public phase was set to begin. Parish leaders elected to relaunch the effort in the fall, and knew they would need to take a creative approach to communicate the campaign.
For instance, because of social distancing restrictions, volunteer outreach focused on phone or video conference. It wound up being a blessing in disguise.
“There were many members of the cabinet, including myself, that were quite hesitant about doing that,” Merschman said. “But here’s a positive of the pandemic: People on our cabinet were willing to make more phone calls and talk to people because there were no personal visits because of the pandemic. We were able to reach more people because of phone calls. People were more willing to talk to people about the campaign. … With the pandemic, it gave the potential donor an opportunity to talk to somebody from the parish.”
One couple on the campaign cabinet, Mike and Diane Finan, made a whopping 130 phone calls to fellow parishioners, which may be a record in the Steier Group’s 24-year history.
“My job was to make the phone calls and her job was to make the follow-up emails to try to reach people we were unable to get a hold of, just to explain why the call came through,” Mike Finan said, a parishioner since 1990. “I’m recently retired and we had plans for doing things earlier in the year that obviously with COVID we were unable to do so I had free time. My wife and I both feel strongly about our campaign and what it was about.”
The campaign also benefited from several generous matching gifts that inspired new donors to the campaign. The first – called a matching donors fund – provided a dollar-for-dollar match up to $750,000. Another dollar-for-dollar match, created by eight families who increased their pledges, totaled $125,000. A third match of $50,000 in January 2021 helped St. Pius reach its Vision Goal of $5 million.
To date, the campaign has raised $5,025,260 in pledges and gifts, with nearly half of that already collected.