Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Connecting the Dots to Build a Fund for Sacred Places  

12-09-2015 17:35

Preserving historic properties is all about building relationships. That’s what they say at Partners for Sacred Places, the nation’s leading provider of information, resources, and advocacy to save America’s diverse houses of worship and strengthen its communities. When the national organization (headquartered in Philadelphia) began developing the Philadelphia Regional Fund for Sacred Places two years ago, it put that mantra to the test. Envisioning a fund that would grant $7 million to 75 historic churches, synagogues, and meetinghouses over the next ten years took ambition. Building a constituency to raise that kind of money was going to require Partners to take its relationship-building to a whole new level.

The Fund was started with a $1.2 million challenge grant from the William Penn Foundation in Philadelphia. The purpose of the challenge grant was threefold: raise public awareness about endangered sacred places in the region; build a broad base of support for the issue among policy makers, faith leaders, philanthropists, and nonprofit organizations; and develop a model fund for historic sacred places that could be replicated in other parts of the country. To help Partners lay the groundwork, the foundation awarded $275,000 up front to develop a plan for the Fund, set up an advisory committee, hire a Fund coordinator, compile a database of historic churches and synagogues that were potential Fund grantees and meet with them, and launch a public awareness campaign in the print and electronic media.

To meet the financial challenge of the grant, Partners met with foundations, individuals, and public agencies, expecting that most of the matching funds would come from foundations. But in less than a year and with no previous experience navigating the legislative and executive branches of state government, Partners secured $575,000 in state funds (with another $375,000 in the pipeline), including major grants from the state’s historical and museum commission and governor’s office, and bipartisan legislative grants from both the House and Senate. How did Partners do it? The following case study details the steps taken and the lessons learned to help historic preservationists around the country access new sources of funding in their home states.

A Model Fund

The Philadelphia Regional Fund for Sacred Places provides major capital grants to help endangered, historically significant sacred places in Southeastern Pennsylvania make urgently needed structural repairs, and supplements those grants with technical assistance and in-depth training on project management and fundraising. This intensive level of support ensures that congregations develop long-term funding plans to stabilize their building for the future. It also guarantees that investments in the Fund are leveraged with other funding. Through a rigorous selection process, the Fund makes awards to endangered sacred places that demonstrate: 1) architectural and historical significance; 2) a major role in community service provision and neighborhood stabilization; 3) high congregational capacity, including stable and committed leadership; and 4) a comprehensive plan to address urgent repair needs.

Developing a Strong Case

In developing its case for the Fund, Partners drew on 16 years of experience providing advocacy and direct assistance to congregations, historic preservation groups, and other community-based organizations. In the mid 1990s, Partners sponsored the groundbreaking study Sacred Places at Risk, which documented the significant contributions urban congregations with historic buildings make to communities around the country. The study showed that 90 percent of congregations host community services ranging from daycare to job training to cultural events, and that 80 percent of the people who benefit from these programs are not members of the congregation.

A recent survey conducted by Partners in one of the poorest areas of North Philadelphia found that historic religious buildings there need $1–2 million to stay standing and in active use. Factoring this survey into the range of building disrepair across the region, Partners estimated that the average congregation served by the Fund will need $500,000 in repairs within the next few years.

In making its case for the Fund, Partners also pointed to the region’s unique architectural and cultural heritage. The religious tolerance espoused by Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn led to the birth of “mother churches” from many denominations in Philadelphia, and the city’s long history of architectural and artistic excellence is most notable in its religious buildings.

Building Relationships

The first, and most critical, relationship Partners forged at the state level was with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), the commonwealth’s official history agency, which manages historic museums and provides grants to preserve historic landmarks. In October 2004 Partners Executive Director Bob Jaeger met PHMC Executive Director and State Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Franco at a Pennsylvania Law Institute conference about preserving religious properties. Jaeger made a presentation on Partners’ newest program—New Dollars/New Partners, which teaches congregations with older buildings how to broaden their base of support. He also introduced the Fund, which would expand resources for historic religious properties by providing capital grants as well as the New Dollars training.

Like a growing number of state historic agencies around the country (more than 20 to date), PHMC provides capital grants for preservation-related projects at historically significant churches and synagogues through its Keystone Grants program. Partners had recently learned that PHMC’s latest five-year strategic plan emphasized developing partnerships with nonprofits at the local level. So, at a break in the conference, Jaeger found an opportunity to discuss the Fund with Franco, and later began meeting with Franco and her staff to explore ways the two groups could work together.

PHMC was already providing an average of $150,000 in Keystone Grants to two Philadelphia-area historic religious properties each year. And in 2005, five Philadelphia- area churches submitted proposals to the Keystone program that far exceeded minimum eligibility requirements for receiving this funding. If PHMC supported Partners’ Fund with a $250,000 grant, its money would be matched by Partners and provide grants of $100,000 each to these five Philadelphia area churches— doubling PHMC’s money— and the congregations would also receive New Dollars training and project oversight from Partners.

So PHMC joined the Fund, and in November 2005, the Fund awarded its first round of grants to the five Philadelphia –area congregations that had submitted exemplary proposals to the Keystone Grants program: Christ Church Episcopal (Old City), Old Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church (Old City), Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church (Society Hill), Calvary United Methodist Church (West Philadelphia), and Shiloh Baptist Church (South Philadelphia).

The Partners-PHMC partnership is highly innovative: While many state historic commissions provide money to nonprofit groups that is re-granted for historic preservation projects, this collaboration is unique because it focuses on historic religious properties and includes an intensive training program. PHMC’s Franco notes: “Grantees of the Fund will receive strong technical training that will enhance their ability to manage a preservation project. Preservation projects are challenging undertakings and often congregations don’t have the capacity to manage them. Partners proved through its New Dollars training program that it can provide that kind of technical assistance. This ensures PHMC’s financial support of the Regional Fund will result in the successful rehabilitation of numerous important sacred places in the state.”

Partner’s relationship with PHMC was critical in several ways. While Partners had received several mid-size grants from foundations, the PHMC grant became the lead contribution toward the challenge grant. It created momentum and helped establish Partner’s credibility with state government. Additionally, PHMC staff provided extensive guidance and support. PHMC Historic Preservation Grant Program Manager Scott Doyle served on Partner’s advisory committee for the Fund, guiding the development of everything from application forms and eligibility requirements to invoicing, reimbursement structure, and evaluation criteria. Doyle invited Partners’ Fund Coordinator Erin Coryell to serve on PHMC’s Keystone Grant review panel, which provided an invaluable insider’s view into the granting process. Finally, by funding Partners to provide bricks-and-mortar grants to religious properties, PHMC set a state precedent that would prove extremely important later on.

Getting Support from the Executive and Legislative Branches

The William Penn challenge grant lent credibility to Partners as it courted funders around the state. But perhaps more importantly, the December 2005 deadline for matching funds created an urgency that forced Partners to explore every funding possibility. Partners formed an advisory committee and hired fundraising counsel to strategize ways to garner support from foundations, individuals, businesses, and the public sector. With little knowledge of the funding streams at the state level, Partners sought out an insider at the state capitol in Harrisburg to provide direction.

They found that guidance in Donna Cooper, secretary of planning and policy in Governor Edward G. Rendell’s cabinet. Cooper has a long history of working with religious groups and community organizations. While serving as Rendell’s deputy mayor in Philadelphia in the mid 1990s, she participated in a roundtable hosted by Partners to explore the local impact of its national study, Sacred Places at Risk. Partners reconnected with Cooper, who became a generous ally.

Partners also sought to approach key state legislators to request discretionary grants for community improvements which are administered through the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). Partners learned that while it would be fairly simple to find a single legislator to support a small discretionary grant, a larger grant would require bipartisan support from all four caucuses—House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and Senate Democrats. A single caucus would be reluctant to support a large discretionary grant on its own.

Partners honed in on four state legislative caucus leaders with constituencies in Philadelphia: Sen. Robert Thompson (recently deceased), a Republican and former chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Rep. John Perzel, a Republican and Speaker of the House; Rep. Dwight Evans, a Democrat and chair of the House Democratic Appropriations Committee; and Sen. Vincent Fumo, a Democrat and minority chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Partners set a goal of raising $500,000 in discretionary funds—$125,000 from each caucus—and hit the ground running. It would take tenacity and persistence to connect the dots between Partners’ friends and key legislators, and the clock was ticking on the challenge grant.

In spring 2005, Partners staff conferred with board and advisory committee members, denominational leaders, and supporters from around the Philadelphia region in the search for people who could open doors in the legislature. An early meeting with The Reverend Roy G. Almquist, bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was fortuitous. Almquist was a personal friend of Sen. Thompson and a longtime supporter of Partners’ work. He called the senator, and joined Partners staff at a meeting to make a case for how the Fund would benefit the senator’s constituency. Sen. Thompson agreed to support a discretionary grant from his caucus with the caveat that Partners secure support from the other caucuses.

Partners used a similar strategy to reach the three other legislative leaders. For example, the pastor of a prominent African American church helped connect Partners to Rep. Dwight Evans, and Partners’ staff met Sen. Vincent Fumo at a lunch sponsored by a business group.

Partners worked not only peer-to-peer but also from the ground up. They identified churches or synagogues in each legislator’s district that could benefit from the Fund and asked several congregation members to contact the legislator through letters of support, e-mails, and phone calls.

To keep the Fund on the legislators’ radar, Partners asked contacts to call or e-mail legislators repeatedly over the next several months and to contact other legislators they knew to garner their support as well. Partners’ staff continued to follow up with each legislator’s staff, which required persistence and patience, given the staffers’ hectic schedules.

Bumps in the Road

In August 2005, after requesting support from the four caucus leaders, Partners began developing a single application to DCED, the state agency that administers the dicretionary grants. Partners was already working on an application for the governor’s discretionary grant, which would also be administered through DCED. As Partners staff worked with legislative staff to complete the complex web-based application, they hit a major snag. An aid to Rep. Dwight Evans discovered that DCED had concerns about directing funds to bricks-and-mortar projects for religious properties with active congregations.

Partners acted quickly. With assistance from the governor’s office, the legislative caucuses, and PHMC, Partners secured a meeting with staff from DCED and PHMC to work out guidelines under which DCED could process the funds. DCED staff conferred with their colleagues at PHMC and established that a statewide precedent for funding historic preservation of religious properties already existed. DCED used PHMC’s grant-making guidelines to ensure that the funds were directed exclusively to the rehabilitation and restoration of character-defining features that contribute toward a building’s architectural or historical significance.

In November 2005, Partners was approved by DCED for a discretionary grant under its Community Revitalization Program. Partners recently received the first check for $125,000, and more is expected to follow. In December 2005, Partners was approved for a $200,000 governor’s discretionary grant.

Building on its early success with state funding, Part- ners is setting its sights on developing similar relationships at the local and federal level in the coming year. “Working at the state level like this was completely new to us and we couldn’t have done it without our colleagues at PHMC and the new friends we made along the way,” Jaeger reflects. “We will take the lessons learned this year and apply them to building relationships with local and federal policy makers in the future.”

Hints for Navigating State Funding Streams

Seek out an insider who can provide guidance about state funding streams.

  • Ask friends of the cause with ties to legislative leaders and other key public officials to make calls for meetings. Cast a wide net—you’ll be surprised who knows whom.
  • Don’t be discouraged when one source doesn’t bear fruit. Keep trying to make contact.
  • Be persistent. Try to get face time with the legislator, even if for just a 30-second pitch.
  • Look for opportunities to come in contact with legislators and public officials at events.
  • Do your homework—check legislators’ websites for public appearances.

Find the match between what you want to accomplish and what the official cares about.

  • Link the issue to the legislator’s constituency— identify a group that will benefit and ask members to contact the legislator on your behalf.
  • Develop a clear, concise case statement that you can articulate to a public official in a 30-second “elevator speech.”
  • Once you’ve got the support of legislators, you’ll do most of your work with their staff. However, you should continue to follow up with legislators so you remain on their radar.

Develop a relationship with key legislative staff.

  • Don’t wait for staff to call you back. They are far too busy to return phone calls on a regular basis. You’ll need to keep on top of the communication.
  • If problems arise, act quickly and seek help from those who already support you at the state level.

Publication Date: Spring 2006


Author(s):Martha McDonald

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