Build It and They (Really) Will Come
I must confess that I am very tired as I write this blog. I have spent the last several days working to generate time, talent and treasure for St. George Orthodox Christian Church in Fishers, Ind. Fishers is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. It is a suburb of Indianapolis. As chairman of the parish council, I have a very distinguished leadership role.
I'm tired because I was carrying heavy tables up a hill to load on a truck, taking more than 300 metal chairs from the lower church level to a warehouse, cleaning hundreds of trays over and over, plus other miscellaneous tasks. Have you ever tried when banks are closed to obtain 500 one-dollar bills from local businesses? It is a harder effort than I thought it would be, to say the least.
This was all for St. George's first festival. If you're interested in the challenges of a first-time festival, read on. Our church was built in Indianapolis in 1926 at a near downtown location. In 1962, the church moved to another location several miles north of downtown. There are more than 250 families in the church. In the early 2000s, a demographic study determined where most of the parish members lived. The parish council and priest decided to buy property in Fishers several years ago with the dream of building a new church one day.
Fishers is about 20 miles north of Indianapolis. Approximately six years ago, a capital campaign was established to generate several million dollars to build a new church. The campaign, with the help of a bank loan, enabled the new church to be built in a beautiful location on a hill looking down on a heavily traveled street.
As the new church opened in 2013, the concept of having a festival evolved. The church was known for having festivals each year in the former location, but everyone knew this would be different. In the past, more than 2,500 people would attend a several-day event. We guessed at least double that amount would attend a festival at a new location.
We felt there were at least three main purposes to having a festival. One was financial in nature. We were seeking additional dollars to apply to our church mortgage. We also wanted the community to see our beautiful facility, as we wanted to rent our lower level for parties, meetings and other events in the future as a way to bring in revenue.
The second reason was community visibility. As a Christian church with a Middle Eastern focus, we wanted to tell the community that we are a peace- and community-loving parish. We wanted the community to eat Middle Eastern food, learn Middle Eastern songs and dances, and learn more about our traditions. At the festival, adults and children could dance, eat, listen to lectures, see the architecture and meet many new friends. Children could play in fun houses, play fair-type games and ride in a hot-air balloon.
The church community came out and played a variety of volunteer roles. You have already read about the few I was engaged with for many hours. Our priest spoke to hundreds of people in the new church on various religious aspects of our wonderful iconography. We actually hired a team from Greece to personally draw icons by hand on our walls.
The third reason was to attract additional church members. There were a number of people wanting to learn more about the church and its rich history. I met many individuals who came to the festival with the desire to find a new church home. We hope to grow our parish. When not washing trays, I spent time with community leaders, including the mayor of Fishers, to build new relationships going forward.
The final financial or attendance count is not in as of yet. I was told at least 6,000 people attended our first new festival. It was held over a Friday evening and a Saturday day and night. While cold, the weather was sunny.
We learned a great deal about ourselves and others. It was a wonderful experience that generated time from volunteers, talent of having parish members do many tasks and treasure — and we hope a healthy net income to be determined. A by-product for me was to get to know my parish members in a closer way.
Finally, if you volunteer for a festival, keep Pepto-Bismol, Aleve and Visine in your car.
We built it, and they came!
Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis. He also serves as president of Duke Haddad and Associates LLC and is a freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO since 2008.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration plus a dissertation on donor characteristics. He received a master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis on public administration plus a thesis on annual fund analysis. He secured a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) with an emphasis on marketing/management. He has done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
Duke has received the Fundraising Executive of the Year Award, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Indiana Chapter. He also was given the Outstanding West Virginian Award, Kentucky Colonel Award and Sagamore of the Wabash Award from the governors of West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, for his many career contributions in the field of philanthropy. He has maintained a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation for three decades.