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Conference capital campaign begins first steps

Conference capital campaign begins first steps

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference capital campaign begins first steps

July 28, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0524}

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

After several years of study, the Conference Capital Campaign has been reignited with a focus on raising funds for several areas of ministry deemed crucial to the Florida Conference.
The working theme of the campaign is “Together! Bringing Hope, Changing Lives: The Campaign for the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church,” emphasizing the church's connectional nature and focusing on life-changing ministries, according to Tom Wilkinson, vice president of development for the Florida United Methodist Foundation.

“Buildings and endowment funds are just some of the tools we use to do ministry — to bring hope and change lives,” Wilkinson said.

The campaign is the culmination of several years of study by the Capital Needs Commission and the Bishop’s Capital Commission, co-chaired by the Rev. Bill Barnes of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Windermere and Linda Wells, a lay member Trinity United Methodist Church in Tallahassee. The commission has surveyed conference ministry areas to determine which need capital or endowment funding. With those needs identified, the commission approached the Florida United Methodist Foundation “with the idea of doing capital endowment fund raising in a new way for our conference,” Wilkinson said.

Previously, Wilkinson noted, the real fund-raising constituent was the local church. While individuals donated the funds, the conference viewed the local church as the entity to carry out the fund-raising efforts. Each church was given a goal of how much money needed to be raised.

“What that felt like was a quasi-apportionment or an additional asking from the conference. We realized that’s not a very effective way to go about major gift fund raising,” Wilkinson said.

The commission recommended that the conference create a development function within the foundation to work on behalf of fund-raising needs. Working with the foundation, the commission will seek to raise capital funding, usually across a three-year period, and endowment giving, often through planned giving.

“This is nothing new for a college or hospital or other non-profit function — you maintain relationships with people who support what you’re doing,” Wilkinson said. “That’s been a major shift in the way the conference approaches capital endowment fund-raising.”

“We’ve had this top-down sort of connection from bishop to district superintendent to local church,” Wilkinson added. “This is a chance for people in the local church to get involved in conference-wide ministries. We realize there are valuable ministries that no local church can do on its own. The idea is to raise up these ministries among the members of the annual conference and ask for their support and show the value these ministries are adding to making disciples here in Florida.”

Plans for the campaign are currently being studied to determine their feasibility — what ministries can and should be funded and by how much. Items identified for funding include some broad conference ministry areas, such as the conference camps and retreat ministries, which recently developed a comprehensive master plan calling for all four conference camp facilities to receive significant upgrades.

“That was the crucial element in getting this campaign started,” Wilkinson said. “We knew that camps and retreat ministries would be the largest component of it. It’s the area that generates a lot of interest. Many of the clergy in the conference will say they discerned their call to ministry at a camp or retreat setting. It has a lot of emotional weight. It’s easy to relate to. It’s a crucial part of what we do together as a conference.”

The camp plans call for the ministry to grow more self-sufficient by enhancing its potential revenue stream. Upgrades would include renovating housing units at the Life Enrichment Center; adding a new pool and lodge at the Warren W. Willis youth camp, along with renovating the recreation center; adding new lodges and a dining center at the Lake Asbury Retreat Center; and renovating a pavilion and building a new programming and worship center at the Riverside Retreat, formerly called the South Florida Camp.

The campaign is also considering funding endowments for new church development and congregational transformation, as well as higher education. The latter involves three subcomponents — support for the campus ministry programs at 10 different Florida campuses, an endowment for ministerial scholarship funds and an endowment for Conference undergraduates to obtain scholarships to attend Bethune-Cookman or Florida Southern colleges. Wilkinson asserts the average Master of Divinity seminary graduate faces about $30,000 to $50,000 in student loans and the endowment “is crucial to attract people who are called to ministry.”

In terms of funding new ministry initiatives, Wilkinson said the campaign is considering endowing a fund to enable the conference to respond to emerging needs without having to wait until the next annual conference session for a vote. The first recipient of such funding would be the Wesley Group Home located in Hallandale, which serves developmentally disabled persons. “The commission wants to expand this service across the conference. It’s an underserved population,” Wilkinson said.

The feasibility study will test whether the identified ministry areas are the right choices and whether funding for them is realistic. Its two main components include focus groups and confidential interviews with conference leaders and potential donors.

The focus groups began in June and will take place in each district through September. “The purpose is to say to people, ‘Here’s the best thinking on behalf of the Bishop’s Capital Campaign Commission, and now we have the campaign, but what do you think?’ ” Wilkinson said. “Generally, there’s been very broad acceptance so far.”

Wilkinson said the interviews with leaders and donors will really help the commission test whether the financial goals are reasonable. Plans call for reconvening the commission in January, with a report from the focus groups and interviews and a hope to receive the go-ahead to begin fund raising.

Overall, Wilkinson said the campaign’s plans are quite flexible at this point in time. “The only thing that’s not changeable in this process is probably the name of The United Methodist Church. Everything else is open to suggestion and change.”


This article relates to Florida Conference Finances.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.