An Alternative Look at Fundraisers

October 4th, 2009

<em style=”padding: 0px; margin: 0px;”>Are you ready to scream the next time somebody even mentions a car wash? There is a way out.

I had never met the man. He walked into my office as though I should be glad to see him. He set his trunk-like case by my desk and invited me to sit down. I listened while he told me that our church youth group would raise a lot of money with his “easy to sell” product.

Maybe you've been in my situation. You've probably seen trunks like his. They come full of light bulbs, spices, greeting cards, pizza, gift wrap and candy. New ideas surface all the time.

I finally said it. “I don't want to sell your product.” “But isn't your group going to Mexico next summer?” “Yes. We're visiting a mission project.” I wondered where he got his information. “Don't you plan to raise financial support for that?” “Yes, but not this way.” “But why not?” He actually seemed confused. “Because I don't agree that our desire to serve in Mexico should be an opportunity for you to make a living.”

He left shortly after that.

I have better reasons not to sell products to raise money. I remember being in Little League baseball, where we sold candy bars to pay for our equipment. My team sold a lot of candy bars. We began our practice sessions with reports on our sales. We counted money back to our coach, then he totaled the money and told us how many batting helmets we could buy and how many more we needed. We would then sign out more cases of candy. We spent precious little time on the practice field. It probably doesn't surprise you that we lost our first eight games.

Kids or Slaves?

I see church youth groups doing the same thing. It frightens me to think that church youth workers are encouraging Christian young people to be more concerned with their group's cash flow than the real reasons for them to belong together. The implications of fund raising can be dangerous.

Selling products is not the only popular way to raise money. Many groups raise funds by selling services: car washes, baby sitting, “slaves” for home chores. In these projects the young people exchange their time and talents for money for the group. At least this is more honorable than selling something that isn't really needed or wanted at an inflated price. After all, the youth are doing something practical and beneficial for someone who desires a service.

I wonder, though, about the moral implications of selling services as opposed to donating service where needs really exist. I wonder how many young people get psyched up for the car wash to raise money for the mission trip and then choke in the clutch of Christian service when no material or measurable reward is received. It's an unnecessary risk that I don't want to take.

Breaking Out of the Fund Raising Trap

You know, as I know, that fund raising relies heavily upon people who care more for the young people and their group's cause than the products or services being offered. So why don't more youth workers forget about the candy and car washes and seek support from people for the real goals and needs of their youth groups? You know why. It's because we feel we need to offer something (anything) in exchange for people's support.

What we do need to offer people is a significant role in the project for which the youth are raising money. Instead of leaving them with a candy bar or a clean car, we can involve them in the true purpose of their investment. We can offer them more than their money's worth.

A few years ago I became aware of a ministry to children in the Bahamas that was desperate for outside help. I wanted to take some students there to observe the ministry, assist with physical chores and share with the children. Everything I knew indicated that this would bring glory of God in many ways. But we needed about $2,000 more than I could ask the youth to provide toward the cost. I considered, and discarded, various fundraisers; we then decided to do something different.

Investing in Kids, Not Light Bulbs

We invited members of our church congregation to be sponsors of our Work/Study Camp. To become a sponsor, a person would pledge $25 or more toward our project. Students on the project team were each assigned four or five sponsors to whom they would be accountable to share their personal learning and growing experiences. This accountability was structured and supervised in a four-stage plan.

First, the students visited the homes of their sponsors to meet them and thank them for their support and trust. Each student delivered a hand-written list of five personal prayer requests and expectations for the project. The students asked their sponsors to pray for them as regularly as possible while they were in the Bahamas.

Second, we hosted a continental breakfast at the church on the morning of our departure for the Bahamas. Students, parents, and sponsors shared their anticipation and excitement for what was about to begin. Before we dismissed, we formed small groups in which students could pray with their sponsors and parents.

Third, students wrote to their sponsors two times while we were in the Bahamas. We reserved two evenings, one each week, for letter writing. The students related their own personal observations of the mission field. I know many sponsors who still have those letters!

Fourth, we hosted a follow-up dinner three weeks after our return. Students each hosted a table for their sponsors and parents. Sponsors used this time to ask questions of their students. The students used this opportunity to display their pictures and souvenirs while telling their stories.

The purpose of our project in the Bahamas, along with our plan for enrolling sponsors, was presented to our congregation before we began asking for pledges. It worked beyond our expectations. We had fifty-four sponsors who contributed an average of thirty-eight dollars each. That's $2,052! It was so successful that for our next trip (to Haiti) we received support from 102 sponsors. Last year's trip to Mexico City was sponsored by 138 people. I have observed some relationships between sponsors and students that have lasted well into the kid's college years. That's better mileage than we would have received from a dozen car washes.

Eternal Benefits

Our kids and I do wash cars. We rake leaves, paint houses, mow lawns, and provide other services for elderly and needy people. All for free. We want our young people to perform when their services are needed, not when the youth group needs extra money. I have no doubt that these free services result later in sponsorships–even from people who do not receive these services themselves. But we are not intentionally offering anything in exchange for support.

Think about it. Why do our youth groups need money? Usually, the money is needed to accomplish a project or attend a conference. Can't the people who contribute to the cause also benefit from it? Of course they can. And this benefit will long outlive any product or service that we can offer in exchange for their support, especially if we use the opportunity to build relationships.

Let's let the school band members and cheerleaders sell candy and wash cars. We have something more significant to offer–the tangible love of Jesus Christ.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.