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Ten Steps to the Successful Funding of a New Pipe Organ


The power and beauty of a pipe organ raises our spirits, it lifts our minds and hearts, and it inspires our lives. With its rich resources, the organ helps explain sacred mysteries, reveals divine grace, and stirs our deepest emotions. The unleashing of the full spectrum of an organ's power can move us to tears, can console our grief, and can enhance our joy. It has been said that no other form of music acts so powerfully as an instrument of both meditation and celebration.

Based upon experience in church fundraising throughout the country, Ten Steps to the Successful Funding of a New Pipe Organ begins when a specific builder and organ design have been selected and options narrowed to such a degree that a fund-amount can be identified.

The acquisition of organ funds is a major project for most churches, and the task often reveals unfounded fears. Will the organ drive be successful? Can we raise this amount of money? What will we do if we fail to reach our goal? Are we taking on more of a challenge than we should? Will the organ fund draw contributions away from regular church support? Ten Steps clarifies the activities required for a successful campaign, and it provides instructions on how to organize and implement an effective fundraising plan. Through Ten Steps, an organ funding committee can lead a congregation through an innovative, enthusiastic campaign, which raises funds and expands the church's understanding and appreciation of organ and choral music. While a pipe organ fundraising campaign requires dedicated labor, it has been proven over and over again that it remains an enjoyable and satisfying experience for all participants.

Step 1: Establish an Organ Fundraising Committee

If the congregation really understands the need, the new organ will become a reality.

— a minister

Churches commonly establish organ selection committees which also serve as organ fundraising committees. However, since the organ selection committee works months and sometimes years in advance of any fundraising, and since the two processes of selecting a new instrument and raising funds to meet its costs involve differing scopes of knowledge and skill we recommend the formation of two separate committees the organ selection committee and the organ fundraising committee.

Of singular importance to the success of the organ fundraising committee is the enlistment of the chairperson. Choose well. The chairperson, while knowledgeable about the organ, understands the need for the new organ, should have a greater understanding about how to motivate some individuals to serve on a committee and others to lend financial and personal will become a reality. Support to a worthwhile project. The chairperson should make a leadership gift, likely being the first to make a gift. Both time and energy are required for a successful campaign, and the chairperson should have staying power.

Members of the organ fundraising committee should be influential and involved church members, who early on make their own gifts to the organ fund. Usually, the organ fundraising committee includes representatives from various church constituencies: older members, middle-aged members, those married with children, young marrieds, singles, youth, musicians, those with local business connections, and those with college or university connections. It is important that the organ fundraising committee includes some members of the organ selection committee. The director of music, organist, or choirmaster may be considered, but having the organist and choir director visibly active in fundraising is not always good. In one church the congregation incorrectly surmised that the organist wanted a new organ for her own self interest, and that the congregation was being asked to pay for it. Even the hint of this could be a problem.

Participation on the committee requires a strong, personal commitment, but there are many wonderful rewards for the service. It is not at all unusual at an organ dedication service to find the committee gathering to talk about the fun they had while working on the campaign. Often they are sorry the project is over, they want to keep going. While many campaigns, even sizable ones, have been successful without the aid of a professional fundraiser; the organ fundraising committee will need to decide whether or not to hire a professional fundraiser. Finns are available in all local areas, and you may contact them through either of these two professional fundraising organizations:

  • Association of Fundraising Professionals
  • 4300 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 300 Arlington, Virginia 22203
  • Tel: 703.684.0410
  • American Association of FundRaising Counsel
  • 4700 W. Lake Avenue Glenview, Illinois 60025
  • Tel: 800.462.2372

Step 2: Determine the Minister's Role

How a minister fits into the organ fundraising effort is largely dependent upon church polity and the minister's personal preference and style, but the minister serves often as an ex-officio member of the organ fundraising committee.

As a spiritual advisor and guide, the minister is always at the heart of all church activities, and the minister certainly encourages, inspires, and facilitates the fundraising committee in several specific ways. First, the minister shows support from the pulpit for the project. Second. the minister, knowing the congregation in great detail, serves as a guide concerning who should be solicited, by whom, for how much-and who should be left alone. Third, the minister often asks for gifts. In some instances, the minister alone has raised the entire amount needed for a new pipe organ.

Step 3: Set the Goal

One memorial gift gave us a fine start. Others quickly added their support.

— an organ fund committee member

In nearly all first-time campaigns, the church faces an apparent dilemma between the amount of money needed for a new organ and the amount the church believes it has the capacity to raise. Too many churches make the mistake of guessing "what can likely be raised' from the congregation, usually based only upon anecdotal information. An unreliable estimate sometimes determines the price range of a new instrument. How does a church handle this dilemma?

First, determine the most desirable instrument for the needs of the church, then the selection's cost becomes the basis for testing a possible campaign objective-and for establishing a more realistic goal. From experience, we know that organs for most churches will fall within three broad ranges of costs, depending upon the size of the church:

  • Lower Range: $100,000- $400,000
  • $400,000 - $800,000
  • $800,000 - $1.5 million

Also from experience, we know that successful campaigns will reflect the following general divisions:

  • One or two gifts will equal approximately twenty percent of the goal.
  • The top thirty gifts will equal approximately sixty percent of the goal.
  • Another seventy-five gifts will equal approximately fifteen percent of the goal.
  • The final five percent of the goal will come from many smaller gifts.

The following illustrates the basic principles described above:

Goal: $200,000
TierNumber of GiftsAmount of GiftTotal% of Goal
Upper Tier 2 $20,000 $40,000 20%
Middle Tier 3 $10,000 $30,000 60%
  5 $5,000 $25,000  
  6 $4,000 $24,000  
  7 $3,000 $21,000  
  10 $2,000 $20,000  
Lower Tier 12 $1,000 $12,000 15%
  16 $500 $8,000  
  50 $200 $10,000  
All Other Gifts     $10,000 5%

The same goal can be reached through different gift amounts and different numbers of gifts. The following example, a variation of the illustration above, depicts this guideline:

Goal: $200,000
TierNumber of GiftsAmount of GiftTotal% of Goal
Upper Tier 4 $10,000 $40,000 20%
Middle Tier 6 $5,000 $30,000 58%
  10 $2,500 $25,000  
  12 $2,000 $24,000  
  12 $1,500 $18,000  
  20 $1,000 $20,000  
Lower Tier 20 $750 $15,000 20.5%
  20 $500 $10,000  
  30 $250 $7,500  
  80 $100 $8,000  
All Other Gifts     $2,500 1.5%

Everything we tried was a success. It was easier than we anticipated.

— organ fund chairperson

For example, the organ fundraising committee, following the above illustrations, identifies prospective donors who have the capacity of making a $10,000 gift to the organ fund. They will look for others with the capacity for $5,000, others at $2,000, and so on down through the chart-listing names of individual prospects beside the gift amounts needed. In this manner, the committee emerges with a more dependable analysis of the gift potential within the congregation, and a campaign goal can be set with more reliability.

The following portrays the common occurrence of quickly raising a portion of the goal to get started. For example, if $75,000 is secured toward a $200,000 goal, the remainder could be achieved through weekly gifts:

Goal: $125,000
Number of GiftsWeeklyAmountTotal% of Goal
20 $10.00 $1,560 $31,200 25%
20 $7.50 $1,170 $23,400 19%
50 $5.00 $780 $39,000 31%
60 $2.50 $390 $23,450 19%
51 $1.00 $156 $8,112 6%

It is important to note that more gifts are raised after the church has signed a contract with the organ builder than before. Many churches sign contracts when they have approximately 30% of the objective in hand or pledged. There is usually ample time to allow pledges to be paid while the organ is being built.

Step 4: Research and Evaluate the Prospects

More churches raise money for pipe organs by themselves than by the use of a fundraising specialist.

— an organ fund chairperson

All individuals, groups, or businesses who could possibly contribute to your organ fund should be included on the prospect list. Enumerate those with close ties to your church: church members, former church members, choir members, former choir members, etc. Add those businesses owned or operated by church members. Community musicians and local music organizations and groups could be viable prospects. Also, national, regional, and local denominational funding sources should be explored.

A fundraising standard based upon successful campaigns suggests that the committee should identify at least three prospects for each gift needed- The committee can expect that with three prospects for a $10,000 gift, one of the prospects is likely to give $10,000 and the other two will usually make gifts, but not of that amount. A quick and easy way to conduct such prospect evaluation is to enlist an ad hoc committee, made up of three to five individuals, familiar with church giving patterns, and knowledgeable about the local community The work of the prospect evaluation committee is always conducted in absolute confidence.

For additional help, reference sections of city and university libraries are filled with fundraising resources. Either in a separate fundraising division or as part of the reference section, volumes of materials are available to guide you through individual and family giving, to direct you to biographical listings of wealthy individuals, and to instruct you in grants-writing for family foundations.

Step 5: Create Individual Cultivation Plans

When the work of the prospect evaluation committee is completed, a cultivation plan is prepared, which fists the action steps required to solicit a gift from each prospect. Many prospects will fall into categories according to gift sizes, and the organ fundraising committee might wish to solicit some prospects individually while approaching others as a group. What information is needed to bring the prospect into a full understanding of the need for the organ? Who will ask for the gift? When is it appropriate to ask for the gift? Your cultivation plan will map all the steps required to move the prospective donor to the point of making a gift.

After reviewing the gift evaluations and the prospect cultivation plans, the organ fundraising committee can determine the information and activities needed to "make the case" for the new organ: What information should be included in weekly church bulletins? in the church newsletter? in displays? in brochures? in direct mailing of information packages? etc.

Step 6: Select Ways to Raise Gift Dollars

Gifts of cash are the primary focus of each solicitation. Always the quickest route to reaching the goal, cash gifts can be solicited directly from the donor, either as a lump sum gift or as a gift payable over a period of time. The majority of new pipe organ funds are raised after signing the contract with the organ builder, and the committee can determine the length of time appropriate for gift payments-to coincide with the organ builder's payment schedule. While the bulk of the organ fund goal is most often reached only through sizable gifts of cash from individuals, the organ fundraising committee may consider other ways to raise gift dollars, as described below. During the identification and evaluation period before the actual campaign begins, consideration should be given to the several ways to raise gift dollars.

Some congregations choose to borrow all or a portion of the cost (usually one-third) from other church funds, from banks, from church members, or from other churches with large endowments. In at least one instance, a congregation borrowed a nest egg amount and gave it to investors to multiply into a larger amount. Often the amount borrowed is tied to the organ builder's payment schedule and paid back as the gifts are raised from the donors.

Using Bonds to Raise the Funds

While not frequently encountered in church-related fundraising, the issuance of bonds earning interest may become a worthwhile consideration. One successful church campaign included the use of two hundred "Organ Notes" bearing a face value of $500, earning 6% simple annual interest. The holders of these notes could donate the interest earned each year, for a tax deduction, accumulate interest payments and donate them all at the same time, donate all or a portion of the amount loaned when the note became due, or collect the total principal and interest, without making a donation.

Challenge Gift

The organ fundraising committee should consider a challenge gift to spur others to give. Often the donor of a sizable gift will agree to match other gifts within a particular period of time. A challenge gift could become an effective part of the campaign strategies and plans.

Interest Income

Interest income from early gifts is a reliable way to raise additional funds, providing a significant percentage of the total raised. It is important to focus early on donors who have the potential to give large gifts; these early gifts can produce an extra margin of interest income.

Gifts of Property

While some donors can't contribute much money, they might be able to give gifts of real estate, art works, rare books, etc. Prior to the campaign, the organ fundraising committee should determine how such gifts will be accepted and liquidated.

Bequests and Wills

An organ drive is a good time to educate church members to the effectiveness of including the organ fund in their wills, for a specific gift amount, for a percentage of the total worth of the estate, or for the entire estate. Other forms of planned or deferred giving could also become part of the solicitation strategies. Individuals often create deferred gifts, through their own advisors and lawyers, by including the organ fund in their wills, establishing a charitable remainder trust, and through other bequest provisions. Bankers, investment advisors, and lawyers in the church can establish an ad hoc advisory board to safeguard the interests of the church while providing counsel and advice to the donors.

Keep the progress of the organ fund before the congregation through monthly newsletters or announcements to maintain enthusiasm.

— church member

Special Offerings

Most churches only raise modest funds through special offerings, but they find them a reliable way to regularly claim the congregation's attention. Special offerings tied to concerts and music programs, "Pennies for Pipes" jars, and monthly pew envelopes are such possibilities. Collections based upon the parable of the loaves and fishes (weekly or monthly contributions equal to the cost of a loaf of bread and a piece of fish) have been used. One congregation discovered that during the Depression members in their church sold the eggs which their chickens laid on Sundays and contributed that income to a church project; current members decided to contribute for a certain period of time interest income earned on Sundays from investment "nest eggs." Another church divided the total number of Doxology notes into their organ fund goal; each Sunday the organist played only those notes which were "paid for," indicating the weekly progress of the organ fund.

Souvenir Pipes

When an old organ is dismantled to make room for a new one, selling parts of the old organ can raise additional funds. Likewise, naming specific parts of the new organ as memorial or tribute gifts is equally effective in generating gifts.

Many churches use a variety of projects to raise gift income. Dinners, car washes, bake sales, rummage sales, silent auctions, cook books, raffles, holiday wreaths and wrapping paper, recycling bins, paper drives, ice cream socials, flower arranging sales, and craft fairs have figured in many.

Single Donor

In some instances, churches discover that a new pipe organ may be donated entirely by a single donor. Such an act is often the response to an opportunity to name the organ in memory or in tribute to an individual or family.

Step 7: Organize the Fundraising Timetable

It is important to construct a fundraising schedule or timetable, and it is equally important to remember that you will likely make several schedule adjustments as the campaign unfolds. However, the committee should expect to spend from three to eighteen months on the preparation, cultivation, and solicitation phases of the campaign, while allowing pledge payments to be made over a period of two to three years. Depending upon the size of the gift, some pledge payments could take up to five years. Of course, circumstances within individual churches, such as the overall goal and the number of prospective donors, require shorter or longer periods. A quick campaign could be completed within six months; a moderate campaign usually takes from twelve to twenty-four months; a long-term campaign could stretch out for four or five years.

A campaign timetable checklist reflects the following phases:

Phase 1: Preparation (4-6 months)

  • Establish the nature and scope of the campaign
  • Determine the overall goal for the campaign
  • Relate the organ project to the general church budget
  • Explore monthly payments to possible lenders
  • Determine amount to come from gift income
  • Decide what the organ fundraising campaign will cost
  • Prepare a campaign budget
  • Draft the case for support
  • Establish the organ fundraising committee
  • Identify and evaluate the prospects
  • Develop the cultivation plans for prospects

Phase 2: Cultivation and Solicitation (6-8 months)

  • Cultivation
    • Presentation Meetings
    • Brochures
    • Concerts
    • Worship Bulletins
    • Direct Mail
  • Solicitation
    • Chair and Members of Organ Fundraising Committee
    • Key Prospects for Leadership Gifts
    • Challenge Gift
    • Individual Solicitations
    • Direct Mail Solicitations
    • Telephone Solicitations
    • Grant Proposals
  • Acknowledgements
    • Thank-you Letters
    • Order Plaques
    • Compile Recognition Opportunities
    • Plan Campaign Celebration Service

Phase 3: Pledge Payment Period (1-5 years)

Step 8: Produce Fundraising Publications

Campaign publications inform prospective donors of the need for a new organ, describe the scope of the campaign, and provide periodic updates on the progress of the organ fund.

Early campaign plans should include careful consideration of the use of Sunday bulletins for updates, progress charts conspicuously posted, and a special campaign newsletter and progress reports along with interesting and motivating stories about the organ fundraising committee, the organ itself, the organ builder, etc.

An important campaign publication is the case statement brochure, which literally makes the "case" for the new organ, through a narrative which includes several important elements: history of the old organ, evaluation of the old organ, the need for a new organ, the process of selecting a new organ, description of new organ with pictures, history of organ builder, cost of the new organ, fundraising plan, committee, timetable, etc, asking for a gift, ways to make a gift to the organ fund.

Obviously, the case for support should be drafted by someone with full knowledge of the organ and the fundraising process. After revisions, additions, corrections, etc, by the organ committee and/or the organ fundraising committee, a final edited version will serve as the basis for the printed case for support.

The case statement and other publications should be attractive (not to be confused with expensive) and concise. Remember, most potential donors will devote only a few minutes of reading time to your materials. Loading them with stacks of diverse publications will likely ensure that they throw them all in the trash.

Other campaign publications will include pledge cards, materials for volunteer solicitors to use, written proposals, thank you letters, etc. Of course, with the presence of desk-top publication possibilities, many churches-or church members-have the capacity to produce economical and imaginative publications to serve the campaign.

Step 9: Ask for the Gift

People like to be asked.

Asking for the gift is the most crucial step in your entire fundraising process. Everything the organ fundraising committee does should facilitate this vital step. Based upon the cultivation plans for each prospect, solicitation efforts will include individuals asking other individuals, congregational appeals, direct mail solicitations, grant proposals to foundations, phonathons, etc.

Gifts to the organ fund continue long after our organ has been paid for.

— a church organist

Orchestrating the solicitations is the key to success. It is advisable to begin this process with those closest to the project: the chair and members of the organ fundraising committee, key individuals who can make leadership gifts, the congregation, and others. Share with the prospects the fundraising plan, including the range of specific gifts needed. When a prospect sees that the goal can't be reached unless certain gift levels are obtained, they are more likely to seriously consider solicitations of particular amounts. Also, early gifts allow donors to influence and help other donors. Who asks for the gift? Simply put, the person who asks for the gift is the one person to whom the donor won't say "no." Your cultivation plan for each donor should identify the donor's key solicitation volunteer. it can be the minister, the organist, a close friend, etc.

How does one actually ask for the gift? There is no exact formula for success in asking for a gift. One should always find a way that is innately comfortable, which also allows one to rely upon well-practiced interpersonal communication skills. It is often helpful to tell what other gifts have been made. For many, one of the hardest moments in the solicitation process is asking the donor for a specific gift amount. How should the question be asked? Never say, "We have put you down for $. Experienced fundraisers suggest this approach: Will you consider a gift of $? Usually this phrasing is more comfortable for both the volunteer and for the donor.

Step 10: Recognize the Gift

Each gift to the organ fund should be recognized immediately through a thank-you letter from the campaign chairperson, the minister, or both. Neither the name of the donor nor the size of the gift should ever be published without the permission of the donor, but special honor lists are usually prepared at the conclusion of the campaign. Plaques listing all donors, usually arranged according to gift ranges (leadership, major, special, etc.), are frequently mounted in a public space. Naming opportunities for parts of the organ, or for all of it, are normally recognized with plaques. The organ dedication event offers many wonderful opportunities to publicly acknowledge all the donors.