How do you make an idea for a large service project a reality? Karen Smith serves on the leadership team of Ginghamsburg Church as its coordinator of communications and global outreach, helping implement local and international service projects, including the Sudan Project.
Since 2004, the congregation of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, has raised $4.4 million to fund projects in Darfur, Sudan. They’ve organized their fundraising efforts around a holiday theme: “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, not yours,” encouraging members to spend on Sudan an amount equal to what they spent on themselves for Christmas.
Smith offered advice for others interested in helping an entire congregation develop a commitment to a cause.
Choose a memorable tagline and a consistent visual identity. Choose a phrase that is smart, easily repeatable and something people can really hang onto and own, Smith said. “We call it a ‘sticky.’ You throw it out there, and it just sticks.” Complement the phrase with a consistent branding look. “Even if you don’t have a graphic designer on staff, pick a color and go with it. Pick a font and go with it.” Choose a look that complements your theme and stick with it.
Give clear instruction. It’s not enough to get people to rally. You also have to tell them exactly what you’re asking them to do. So church leaders told congregants how they could spend on Sudan an amount equal to their Christmas spending. “Our clear instruction was to spend half as much as you would normally spend for Christmas, and bring the rest in for the project,” Smith said.
Engage hearts. Tell stories about why the work you’re doing is important. Ginghambsurg has the means to produce professional-quality videos, but Smith pointed out that today’s consumer-model video and still cameras can capture great images. “You can even use that most secular of places, Hollywood,” she said. Her church showed clips from films such as “Hotel Rwanda” to bring the costs of conflict closer to home. “You have to get them emotionally invested in what needs to be done.”
Engage heads too. Different people respond to different types of appeals. “We put articles in the bulletin with the news headlines from Sudan,” she said. And use numbers. One year, Ginghamsburg pointed out that the number of people their project was feeding was equivalent to the populations of two mid-sized towns in the area, Tipp City and Troy, Ohio.
Empower people to engage their other networks. Ginghamsburg printed and distributed cards that allowed members to ask friends and relatives to make donations to the project in lieu of Christmas gifts. Sometimes members called asking to sell donuts or other items in the church lobby. “I would say, ‘What a fantastic idea,’” Smith said. “As a church, we really have to keep our focus on our main strategy, but we’d love you to take that idea and go out and use it in your workplace or schools.”
Don’t forget the younger generation. Children at Ginghamsburg gave up birthday presents to direct money to the Sudan Project, and high school students organized fundraisers, including a fashion show. “Usually kids and teens get it before we grown-ups do,” she said.