For anyone who has been in ministry for some time, you’ve witnessed or done too many bake sales, car washes, or pulpit pleas to fund ministry events (honestly, even if you’ve just done one, it may feel like too many). Well I say, “off with its head!”

We need to shift our perspectives on fundraising to a way that engages charity and builds a firmer foundation of what ministry really is. I want to empower you to develop relationships that will launch your ministry forward without having to sell stuff.

Just to get your imagination jump-started:

What would you do this semester if you had an extra $500 in your ministry budget that you had to spend?
What would you do in the next 2 years if you had an extra $5,000 for your ministry?
Keep dreaming! $50,000?

Death to Fundraising?

Ok, so I don’t mean that you’ll never have to raise any money. If you feel like I duped you with the title, don’t worry, keep reading. What I mean by “Death To Fundraising” is that I propose a quick and painful death to ‘product based’ fundraising. I want you to build up your missionary support team and build up benefactors. I look forward to a day when ministers around the world have the tools and inspiration they need to raise the funds for their ministry without resorting to bake sales, candy bars or kidneys.

There is a huge difference between selling stuff and building up partnerships with benefactors. When you sell stuff, there is a material exchange of goods, it’s like your trying to convince them to invest in your ministry, like you’re trying to pry their money out of their hands. People who give in this way often feel pressured or guilted into buying something they don’t want

When you build a support team there is a building up of a relationship and a communication of vision. Ask yourself this: Would you rather have a parish full of people dreading the next sales gimmick OR a team of benefactors who are bought into your vision for ministry, praying for you and personally supporting your team?

For us to recognize that there is no need for ‘product based’ fundraising at your parish we need our pastors, parishioners, and ourselves transform the way we think about ministry. Ministry is an Investment, not an expense.

Product-Based Fundraising has Failed Us

Talking about money is difficult. “Finances are the leading cause of stress in a relationship, according to a survey of people in a relationship or partnership released by SunTrust Bank. Some 35 percent of all respondents experiencing relationship stress said money was the primary cause of friction. (Annoying habits came in second, at 25 percent.) Among respondents with relationship stress aged 44 to 54, 44 percent said money was the primary cause.”

If it is a difficult stressor for those you are closest to, then it is certainly a challenge for those you only know through church. So the solution to the awkwardness that we’ve used up to now is that we offer an exchange of goods. Donate to the ministry and you’ll receive a baked good. Buy a raffle ticket for a chance at a visa gift card. Overpay for this auction package, and we’ll both feel better because you have given money to the church and I gave you something in return. Product-based Fundraising robs people of their treasures in heaven, Matthew 6:2-4: “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

We allow people to exchange their heavenly reward for a donut and that doesn’t make any sense!

 Traditional Fundraising is Inefficient

It takes a ton of TIME. Whether it’s a bake sale or a car wash or a coupon book or an auction. The legwork behind it could be better used as direct ministry to those you serve. In ministry, I’ve spent weeks preparing for a fundraiser, and yes, teens helped too. But if I had invested that time into direct ministry with the youth or preparing a bible study, the teens would have walked away closer to Jesus, not just closer to their fundraising goal.

The Return on Investment is not good. All traditional fundraisers have overhead. “Well, hey, you gotta spend money to make money”. But that’s the problem, we’re not trying to make money, we are seeking to invest in a ministry. I had a slew of horrid fundraiser ideas come my way:

I want 100% of your time to go to investing in your ministry. I want 100% of the money given to go to your ministry. Product-based fundraising is a never-ending cycle. The well runs dry after each event. Once an event is done, it’s time to start fundraising for the next event. The cycle goes on year after year. Let me just say that it’s ok to have ministry events budgeted in the parish budget. The church exists to evangelize after all, use your time for that.

Traditional Fundraising creates a temptation to avoid personal investment

For a youth trip, I’ve had teens who wanted the church to provide opportunities to fundraise the entirety of the trip. Oftentimes, these are teens coming from families with means. It drives me crazy when I have a teen request a scholarship, and they have a brand new phone and a car that is nicer than mine.

Personal investment is vital. I no longer give full scholarships to events. This is because for events, participants have a to have a bit of skin in the game. It changes the way they approach the event if they have had to make a personal investment, no matter how small.

What we can learn from Personal Support Raising

So Traditional Fundraising is problematic at best, yet many of our ministries depending on funding beyond our budget. How do we go about meeting these needs? I propose you replace product-based fundraising with something that looks much more like personal support raising. Much of what I’ve learned in this realm has been through my experience as a missionary raising my own support based on the outstanding book “The God Ask” by Steve Shadrach. You can learn a lot from that book and can get it on Amazon here:

A quick run-down of one such model you could use, influenced by “The God Ask”, with a few modifications:

  1. First step is to Pray, I mean it. “The God Ask” is titled that for a reason, you MUST ask God first!
  2. Clarify your vision and make a budget
  3. Pray
  4. Share your vision with the pastor
    1. Only after you’ve shared the vision should you share with him the budget.
    2. Ask him how much of the budget he thinks the parish can/should cover
    3. Get permission to fundraise the rest
  5. Pray
  6. Make a list of people in the parish that you should meet with. Brainstorm with the pastor to start your list.
  7. Pray
  8. Call everyone on the list and setup face-to-face meetings
    1. Pray before & after every meeting
    2. Invest in the potential partner, find out how their relationship with God is.
      1. This is relational ministry!
    3. At the face-to-face communicate your vision, the parishes partnership in the vision and the need.
    4. Then make the ask and shut up

Don’t stop here, there is A LOT more you can learn from the book.

Does a bake sale still have a place for a ministry?

I have a degree in marketing and I will let you know that all publicity is valuable. So yes, there can still be things that look like Traditional Fundraising that can be utilized to create awareness of your ministry and what takes place. But you must be clear about the purpose of your event, focus on telling the story, whether it be about the community your going to serve, if your preparing for a mission trip, or how the event will benefit the parish. Do not charge for any goods or services. Awareness raising is different than Fundraising and it can often happen after the event.

What would it look like to have a teen share at the end of Mass about how amazing the mission trip or conference was that they were able to attend, and then invite the parish to enjoy a baked good after Mass as a thank you for their support in getting the group on this trip. I guarantee that if this happens, the next time you approach someone to be a benefactor from that community, they will be eager to be giving to something so dynamic.