Keiser Design Group’s roots are intertwined with the community of mission-minded organizations in the Ohio area. As the firm has grown, company founder Dan Keiser has refined his understanding of how to help leaders ensure that their new building is designed to match their ministry.
One of the first things a church or mission-minded organization must consider is funding. Unlike residential or commercial projects, where clients come in with a predetermined building budget, mission-minded organizations often come to Keiser Design Group looking for an estimate on their vision, which they will then submit to the generosity of their congregation, leadership board or regional governing body.
Where other firms might simply provide that estimate, Dan and his team go the extra mile in helping leaders refine their vision.
“When working with mission-minded clients, not only are we involved with designing a facility to meet congregational needs, but we are also involved with understanding a church’s capacity for raising funds and/or securing financing.”
Part of the motivation, Dan says, is to be efficient with their fees. But it also comes from a desire to serve clients by guiding them away from a path that could hurt them financially.
“If someone comes to us and frame their project with a solution—we want to build a new worship facility that seats 50,000 people—I will push back a little in order to help understand. How does that serve your congregation? If it doesn’t align with what I’m seeing, I’ll start to ask more probing questions. What is your current capacity in terms of debt? What is your annual income? How many giving units do you have?
“Also, we work with a lot of young leaders—this may be the first time they’ve gone through this, and they’re looking to us to understand how this works. We want to provide that type of resource and interaction to these leaders, to help them frame the project to be successful.”
To that end, Dan has developed a six-step process to walk churches through, in refining their vision for a building project. It starts with an informal “ideation” meeting, where Dan and his team seek to understand the leaders’ vision and direction. Next, they look at different possible solutions to accomplish that organization’s goal. After different solutions have been explored, KDG starts to navigate through the budget implications. For example, Dan says, “There are a lot of ways to accommodate 1500 people on a weekend. It can be a venue that holds 1500, or a venue that holds 500 and you have three services. Clearly, one solution is more expensive than the other.”
As a project gets underway, Dan and his team will also point clients toward trustworthy sources of guidance for financing the project.
Three of Dan’s favorite resources in this are Generis, Horizons, and InJoy. In particular, Dan has developed a relationship with Larry Armentrout and Rusty Lewis, two Generis vice presidents who live in the Ohio area. Larry Armentrout is a vice president of Generis that lives here in the area, and who have advised many successful giving campaigns for KDG clients, not only churches but also private schools, crisis pregnancy centers and other not-for-profit organizations.
“Like us, they’re driven by relationships, but they’re also content experts. They work with leadership and staff to help frame the storytelling piece of the campaign and the giving strategy—meeting with key stakeholders, making a pitch to the entire congregation. Their purpose is to help an organization frame what true biblical giving might look like, leading to the possibility of leading a facility update or expansion.”
Dan says that when you pursue a client based on relationship first, it creates an alignment of views and vision.
“We all live in the same community. We feel it’s very responsible for us to do the best job that we can, to maintain and enhance the relationship to the point that they’re crazy enough about the project and the process that they want to refer us. The gravy on top is that we’re contributing to the mission of that organization. We want to create a shelter around them that empowers them to do what they do for our community.”
When working in tandem with one of these organizations, Dan and his team will often provide additional resources that help with the campaign piece—physical models, two-dimensional graphics, digital information, etc.
“We recently created a 3 x 3 foot model that a church used during their generosity initiative to tell the story of what the building’s going to look like. They even used it on the Commitment Sunday—they invited people to leave their seats and come to the front, and actually put the envelopes on the model with the amount they’d been praying about. It was a very tangible expression of purposeful generosity.”
Recently, Dan spoke with a pastor who had been advised by his staff that their church’s children’s area needed more room. Unsure of whether it was needed, or even affordable, he called Dan to get an estimate.
Instead of simply providing an estimate, Dan made the drive to the facility, met with the pastor personally, and walked around the campus while learning the church’s story.
“Bear in mind, I’m not even under contract with these people yet—I’m just trying to frame the best approach for them. Many firms won’t do that until they get a letter of intent signed. But we want to be a resource to mission-minded leaders.”
Dan acknowledges that steps like these are beyond the call of duty for a design firm. But he sees them as integral to KDG’s own mission.
“At KDG, our goal is not to chase projects—we chase relationships that lead to projects.”