The need to raise a substantial amount of money for a building project can be a daunting and incredibly time-consuming challenge. When the total you need runs to seven figures and the time line is really short, the challenge is enough to make grown men cry and women faint.
So it was at the height of the 2008 recession when Jubilee Housing, one of the ministries of The Church of the Saviour, was 90% complete with the renovation of a 60-unit apartment building for low-income families. The residents had been relocated from their homes for nearly a year and as the holiday season drew near, they were understandably anxious to return to their “new” homes.
That’s when we discovered that the Investor in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit partnership had inexplicably stopped making the scheduled equity payments on the building work. After a few months of lack of payments, the general contractor understandably threatened to stop work unless they were paid to date. And they were owed nearly $2,000,000 dollars!
I was on Jubilee Housing’s Board of Directors at that time and it fell to me to tell the rest of the board about our financial shortfall. Once that was done I had to confess that I was out of ideas for solving the problem.
That’s when Gordon Cosby asked to speak. He said something like, “well, I reckon we have no choice but to tell everyone who knows us that we need two million dollars in two weeks, or the families will miss their Christmas homecoming, and we will start the process of going out of business.”
“What?!?!,” I blurted. “You think we should tell everyone we know what kind of mess we are in? Admit our utter powerlessness at this situation?” I couldn’t bear the thought of it.
But that’s exactly what we did. Through a compelling letter that Gordon helped write, and after making dozens and dozens of phone calls to “everyone who knows us,” an amazing thing began to happen. First we received a call with a pledge of $10,000, then another for $50,000, then $100,000. Countless smaller contributions came in too and there was one as large as $500,000.
The response was amazing: in total we raised almost $2.3 million in two weeks’ time!
It was a twentieth-century miracle of provision. Like the loaves and fishes so many centuries earlier, the community pooled its resources and averted the crisis. A few months later the residents moved in for Christmas, and in the end, we repaid all the loans.
How did it happen and why did so many donors trust us?
To begin with, we had the benefit of being known by literally hundreds of people who were aware of Jubilee Housing and the other ministries of the Church of the Saviour. They cared about our mission and trusted our stewardship, knowing we would use their dollars wisely. That trust was born of decades of faithful ministry by Gordon Cosby and the incredibly generous, dedicated, hard-working, self-giving members of the Church of the Saviour.
Secondly, thanks to Gordon’s wise counsel we were able to share our genuine vulnerability with those who cared, and they were moved by the spirit, by their compassion, by whatever you might call it, to share in a lavish way. Honest vulnerability – what we could also call Christ’s way – was the invitation beyond the normal way of doing business. I am convinced it’s what moved so many people.
It is a story for the ages, a story I am awed to have been a part of, a story that inspires and encourages me about goodness. May it be so for you too.
Jim Knight, Guest Columnist and Executive Director, Jubilee Housing