Putting the ‘Fun’ in ‘Fundraiser’


Both my stomach and heart are filled each year at my church’s annual chili cook-off and dessert bake-off. Always well-attended, the cook-off is a high point for our church.

The fellowship and food serve as a backdrop for fundraising for hunger-related causes, or perhaps it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s been almost two weeks, and there is still a warm glow around our church, and to think it was generated by the fundraiser.

Each church is different when it comes to its embracing of fundraisers. I have belonged to churches in which fundraisers were forbidden. If a ministry was worth doing or supporting, it was in the annual budget.

I have also belonged to churches in which fundraisers were not only allowed, they formed the primary activity for the youth group.

Both approaches have merit, depending on the context and setting. On the one hand, we should value our ministries enough to support them with our tithes and offerings so that the activity isn’t around the raising of money but in the ministering. On the other hand, youth groups can just as easily if not more easily bond while washing cars or baking cookies rather than playing video games or going on a hayride.

Let’s assume fundraisers are okay. Here are a few thoughts on how to get the most out of them practically and spiritually:

Special events. Our chili cook-off is a good example of an event-driven fundraiser. Most of the costs are covered by the price of admission, with at least a percentage of the proceeds going to the cause du jour. Our church happens to use money to “vote” on the best chili, appetizer, or dessert, so admission is free. But whether the event is a pancake breakfast, fish fry, spaghetti supper, or wild game cook out, it’s vital that you estimate your expenses correctly. The best way to maximize your return is to have all the food supplied through donations. In our chili cook-off, the prizes are hand-crafted items donated by artists in our church—quilted or knitted items, paintings, wood-working, ceramics, and pottery. If you’re going to the trouble of having a fundraiser, you want as much of the money as possible going to the cause. And no matter what you’re doing to attract a crowd, be sure it’s fun. For annual events, this means keeping it fresh. You can live off the glory of past success for only so long before people stop coming. Remember to recognize your volunteers who work so hard to pull it off, and thank everyone tangibly and publicly.

Sales. If you are within arm’s reach of a school-aged child these days, chances are good you have been approached to buy something for their school, sports team, scouting organization, or extracurricular activity. This can feel so burdensome that even when the youth group elects to do a sale you feel an immediate revulsion. The best strategy with selling products is to remember, less is more. Our youth group does one big push each year to sell frozen pastries. For a sale to be successful at your church, you must find the right product to sell at the right time. My family has made our annually purchased patries part of our Christmas morning tradition, as I’m sure many have in our congregation. The youth aren’t trying to foist something off on us that we don’t want. It’s a quality product that we value. And, it always helps to frequently remind the church of the cause behind the sale.

Services. One of the fondest memories of my youth group experience was washing cars. Oh, yeah, and learning about the Bible. We washed cars to raise money for out-of-state choir and Bible quiz team competitions, preaching conferences, and drama camps. The key with selling a service, such as a car wash, is you can’t do it too often in the same place or your business will dry up. It’s okay to offer your service once a month if you move it around or if it’s a service people require on a regular basis. One pitfall to avoid is offering a service, such as renting the youth group for a few hours of yard work for people who the church should be taking care anyway. You’re getting into dangerous territory if your ministry has become a fee-for-service model. Be careful to price your service appropriately. Most churches have figured out by now that a donation for service will garner a higher return than a set fee.

So, there are a few thoughts on fundraisers. Focus on ministry, and you’ll never have to worry about money changers in your temple.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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