Grants are often an untapped resource for a church building campaign or capital project. While churches should consider many sources of funding, including loans and fundraising, grants can provide a solid resource for developing and improving church property and facilities. Many grants to help build churches are denominationally or regionally focused, though, so they will often take a little more work to locate.
Even before you look for funding, consider the church’s overall vision for the property and the buildings. What will your needs be for the completed building project? Which staff will need office space, which supplies will need storage, and what events will occur on the property? What programs will be housed in the completed buildings? Completing a facility needs analysis will help with fundraising, as well as provide the necessary paperwork for grant applications. Most granters will require formal documentation of your church’s facility needs.
In addition to analyzing needs, your church should begin to plan the overall building project. At this stage, consider hiring a consultant to guide you through the process and to assist with hiring the necessary contractors, such as the architect and the construction company. Even if you do not choose to work with a church building consultant, you will need to assign oversight of the various stages of the building project. An administrative team will be needed to handle fundraising, as well as delegation of work to the appropriate committees and work groups. Granters will require that your church building project has appropriate oversight of financing, design, assessment, and other areas.
Many private organizations and foundations provide funds for church building projects. Some of these granters are denominational or regional organizations, such as the WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc., which funds land purchases or building projects for mission congregations of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The Foundation Center maintains an exhaustive database of privately-funded grants, including those targeted at regional and local churches. Even though government grants are not available to fund the building of a church, a variety of federal grants are available to non-profit organizations that meet specific community needs, such as operating programs for the homeless, at-risk youth, ex-offenders, substance abusers, and more. Your church may be able to offset some of the overall building costs through a federal grant. For example, if your church’s facility needs analysis includes affordable housing units for welfare-to-work families, then you may be able to qualify for federal funds to cover that part of the capital project.
In addition to researching traditional grant sources when preparing to fund a capital campaign, consider what other forms of funding might be available. These can include construction loans, church bonds, and fundraising campaigns. Exploring additional funding options can help to distribute the cost of building a church among a variety of sources. Some organizations may not be able to provide funds but may be able to donate building supplies, construction expertise, or other resources. Communicate with local organizations early on and throughout the course of the building project, so that they know what you need and how they might help.
When building a church, early planning and assistance can be one of the most important steps toward a successful capital campaign. Problems and complications often occur as a result of insufficient information and ineffective planning, and the further into the capital building project a church is, the more complicated and costly it will be to fix problems. Also, consider the grantor-grantee relationship as an ongoing, long-term one. Staying connected with granters can provide avenues for potential funding in the future. Easy ways to maintain this relationship include sending event invitations, media updates and annual reports to the granting organization on a regular basis.