There are few words that bring more dread into the hearts of student pastors than the word “fundraising.” In the ministry where I serve in Andalusia, it is a necessary evil to fundraise. Although my church blesses our youth group with a generous budget that takes care of my necessary expenses through the year, sometimes there are still extra things that require me to raise money.
From my experience over the past 20 years in student ministry, I have found some helpful tips and ideas that make fundraising a little easier. Before I share what I’ve learned, let me say that what has worked for me and my setting may not necessarily work in all ministry settings. Even within my area of Andalusia, each church has their own ideas and guidelines for fundraising. However, I hope the following four strategies will help you in the future as you fundraise.
#1: State the need within the group.
This idea seems very simple, but so many times we do not ask so people do not know there is a need. For several years, I needed scholarships for camp and other costly events. I would worry and fret over where the money would come from. As a rule, I never turn a student away because of a lack of money, but I still must cover the cost. There were many times that, instead of asking around, I would just take money out of my pocket to cover the cost of the student. After several years of doing this, I had a wealthy church member come to me and say they would love to pay for any student that did not have the resources they needed for camp, retreats, etc. When I told them what a blessing that was and that many times I had to cover it myself, they responded that they would have loved to have given it in the past but did not know of the need. One practical way that I communicated financial needs within our student ministry is by printing announcements in the church bulletin and on the screen during announcements. It might say something like:
“We have students from time to time that need scholarships for church camp or winter retreat. If you would be interested in helping with this ministry, please see Bro. Garrett.”
After several weeks of sharing this need, I had about 10 church members willing to help with whatever I needed. They remained anonymous, and they still come to me before any event to ask how many students need money to participate in our events. One warning that I might add is to not overuse your generous people. I only ask for funds for big events that are more costly. One other helpful tip is that I ask the students who receive a scholarship to write a thank you card to the donor and talk about how God spoke to them during the event. This allows the donor to specifically see how God used their money to impact the lives of these students. I also do not disclose the names of the students in need unless it is absolutely necessary.
#2: Make the request specific.
If there is a project or a trip that you are working toward, give the specifics. A couple of years ago, the projectors in the youth room were dying a slow and painful death. The remote would no longer turn them on, and the bulbs were beginning to die. Our sound and tech volunteer brought me an estimate of what it would take to repair the projectors, and we found that the repairs were not worth the cost. We decided that it was time to upgrade to better equipment. This was not going to be a cheap fix, but it was going to be a better long-term option. The cost to replace the projectors was going to be in the $2,000 range. When I spoke to the church about this need and showed the pros and cons for replacing over repairing, the people had a visual of what the need was. So instead of asking for a random $2,000, we were asking for money to improve our students’ worship space. The need was specific, and people jumped on board to help. The same rule goes for asking for help with camp, retreats, etc. It is better to communicate specific needs, such as money to provide for the cost of food for camp or to help pay for a cabin for Strength to Stand in the mountains. Be specific about what you ask for, and let the people see the importance behind it.
#3: Make the students work for the money.
I do not know about your area, but in South Alabama my people respond better to fundraising when the students must work for it. One of the worst fundraisers that I ever did was the “envelope fundraiser.” I numbered the envelopes $1-$100 and asked church members to give the amount written on the outside of the envelope they chose. If all the envelopes were taken and returned with the amount in them, roughly $5,000 would have been raised. Whoa! I thought I had just hit the youth group fundraising jackpot. The deadline came, less than half of the envelopes were gone, and they were mostly small amounts. I raised a whopping $375. When I asked around to my church family, they said there was no work behind that for the students. They would gladly give if the students earned it. So, I changed my method. Now, we do fundraiser meals called “Sunday After Church” where the students serve the lunch, clean up and do most of the cooking (with adult help), and they bring in over a $1,000 each time. To be successful, let your church see the students working for the money. If your students work for it, it will mean more to them.
#4: Finally, keep the fundraiser in house.
I do not know about your school districts, but my local schools sell stuff all the time – cookie dough, cupcakes, FFA fruit, chances on a gun/trip/etc., shirts that are the same color and designs every year, Boston butts, BBQ chicken, chances on a butchered cow and the freezer (I can get behind this one!) – you fill in the blank. However, instead of selling, I believe that the church should take care of the church’s needs. We typically try not to sell anything, but if we do (church sweatshirt) it is just with our church people. We may differ on this. I have heard some people say that the devil has had the community’s money long enough, so let them give it to the church. It is my belief that the church should help take care of the church’s own costs.
#5: A few practical ideas.
For many of you, this last section is what you’re here for, so here are some practical and easy ideas I have used that worked well. One of my top fundraisers is the dessert auction. I typically make over $1,500 at this fundraiser. I bring in a real auctioneer who entertains the crowd, and the students carry around the desserts for people to see. I make coffee and let the kids serve the church people the coffee. Ask the ladies (or maybe guys) to make their favorite or famous homemade dessert. Many of our desserts sell for more than $100. The atmosphere is fun, and with the right auctioneer your church people’s wallets will loosen.
Like I stated earlier, Sunday After Church is also easy and effective. Lunch is provided for a donation only. If you put a price on the meal, you will only get that much for the meal. For example, if you say $10 a plate, people will only give $10. If you do “donation only for church camp” people seem more likely to give more. If you want to save money on this event, assign each student something to bring. I provided the meat out of my youth budget, and we assigned small items for each student to donate. This keeps the cost very low and results in larger profits for the youth group.
A few more ideas for fundraisers are letting students work for church members. I have many members who are elderly or in poor health so they “hire” the youth group for work in their yard. We have also held seasonal fundraisers that have done well. One of my favorites is the annual Valentine Banquet. I would dress in a tuxedo and the students would dress in their best. Two of the best attended years was a murder mystery theme banquet and the newlywed game.
These are just a few ideas that have worked well for me over the years. I hope this article has helped you think through some of your questions and maybe you will not dread it next time you have to raise funds with your kids.
Garrett Davis is student pastor at Carolina Baptist Church in Andalusia where he has served for 16 years. He has been in student ministry for a total of 20 years. Garrett is married with three children and when not at the church, he can be found hunting ducks, playing golf or making people laugh.