Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision, Part 3

My second post on Fulfilling the Vision is here. My fourth post is here.
I received a letter from St. Paul’s yesterday informing me that I will be called to be invited “to participate in a focus group of parishioners led by a representative of the Episcopal Church Foundation” to discuss Fulfilling the Vision. This sounded promising. The next sentence, however, declared that event “will last approximately one hour.” The group is to discuss, among other things,
  • Whether you favor or oppose the proposed plans, and why.
  • What you like and dislike about the proposed plans.
  • What the financial priorities of the campaign might be.
  • Parishioners who might be good candidates for campaign leadership.
  • What an appropriate parish financial goal for the campaign might be.
I am pleased that parishioner opinion is being solicited on the scope of Fulfilling the Vision. I am skeptical about its sincerity, however.

Let’s begin with the first sentence of the letter. It refers to a “proposed capital campaign.” As I noted in my first post about the campaign, a substantial portion of the money it has been proposed that we raise is devoted to what appear to be current, not capital expenses—to personnel and routine maintenance expenses, as well as feel-good outreach and beefing up the endowment. The last item is ironic, as we were told in Sunday’s presentation that the endowment cannot be used for capital improvements. In other words, the marketing of Fulfilling the Vision is less than forthright.

Then, there is the schedule. It was admitted at Sunday’s presentation that the schedule for getting this campaign off the ground is unusually compressed. It is not difficult to suspect that this is less about the urgency of the project as it is about selling the parish a bill of goods before parishioners have time to get their minds around what is being sold.

Is summer the best time to be soliciting parishioner opinion? Everyone knows that Episcopalians are so virtuous that God gives them the summer off! Lots of folks will be out of town or thinking more about the shore than about church fund-raising. Then, there is the length of those focus groups. The handout from Sunday’s presentation is 14 pages long and is—not to put too fine a point on it—short on details.

Lacking details and sufficient time to really understanding what is being proposed, focus group participants are likely to spend more time on clarifying what it is they are discussing than actually discussing it. Is this by design?

I find it difficult at this time to have a considered opinion about many of the components of the Fulfilling the Vision proposal. Why, for example, do we need to spend an additional $100,000 on in-reach and pastoral care? Are we currently doing a sub-par job in this vital area of ministry? If so, why is that? How have we determined this need? Are people leaving St. Paul’s because they have not been adequately supported in times of crisis? Or are we anticipating a future demand because we expect that our other expenditures are going to attract large numbers of new parishioners whose needs must be met?

A Proposal

If the focus groups are going to be effective, rather than window dressing, parishioners should know everything there is to know about the plans being put forward before they walk into the room to discuss those plans. I propose that St. Paul’s give parishioners the following information about each component of the Fulfilling the Vision proposal:
  • Project Description. Exactly what is being proposed.
  • Priority. How important is this project with respect to other projects. In what order will projects be funded.
  • Background. The problem we are solving with this project. Why is the project needed. What do we expect it to accomplish.
  • Cost. How much money needs to come from project fund-raising. Long-term, what are the budget implications of the project. Will the project save money (i.e., by increasing the building’s energy efficiency) or create ongoing liabilities (i.e., by hiring new staff whose salaries will be included in future operating budgets).
  • Alternatives Considered. What other means of addressing perceived needs have been considered. What are the consequences, if any, of not implementing the proposal.
This information should be made available before any focus groups are assembled. Only by having this sort of information going into the focus groups can those groups be effective. The information will give participants real data that can be the basis of fruitful discussion. Lacking such data, we should either reject Fulfilling the Vision out of hand or send it back to the drawing board.

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