A World Without Church Fundraisers?

In my 33 years of professional ministry I have participated in many church fundraisers including this incomplete list:

  • Roast Pork Suppers
  • Turkey Suppers
  • Ham Suppers
  • Spaghetti Suppers
  • County Fair Food Booths
  • Bake Sales
  • Cake Walks
  • Plant Sales
  • Pumpkin Sales
  • Christmas Tree Sales
  • Quilt Raffles
  • Fall Fun Fairs
  • Fish Frys
  • Pancake Breakfasts
  • Silent Auctions
  • Car Washes
  • Yard Sales
  • Flamingo Flockings

In all the above situations, at least part of – if not all – the proceeds benefitted the general operating budget of the church.  They paid for everything from boiler repair to the pastor’s salary.

Yesterday, the Community Organizing trainees here in Baltimore were treated to the wisdom of Bob Connolly, one of the founding partners of The James Company .  He is among the best financial gurus in the non-profit world, mostly helping congregations with capital campaigns, strategies, and stewardship appeals using the principles of community organizing.

One of the things he declared yesterday was this:

“I’m morally opposed to fundraising.” 

Considering the fact that Mr. Connolly raises money for a living, I don’t think he was saying that “raising funds” is a problem. Money funds ministry.  Money can be a tool for resurrection.  I think he was talking about the kind of fundraising that is more about impersonal transaction than authentic relationship.

As he taught us yesterday, churches traditionally raise funds  three ways:

  1. Annual giving.
  2. Earned income.
  3. Endowment.

Specifically, he suggested that our budgets should reflect 70-80% from Annual Giving, 10-20% from Earned Income, and 10% from Endowments.

But knowing how our budgets “should” be funded, the truth is that:

  • some of our congregations are comprised of underemployed, unemployed or homeless people who can’t give much financially.
  • some of our churches “earn income” by everything from selling pumpkins to renting space for piano lessons.
  • some congregations have no endowment.

Mr. Connolly defines “earned income” as offering a service to the community and earning money from it.  Examples include providing affordable housing on church property or providing a community pre-school, and using the proceeds to support church mission.

Note: I don’t think he was talking about “fundraisers” that donate 100% of the proceeds to mission (on top of what those congregations already budget for local and global mission projects.)  I also don’t think he was talking about youth groups raising money for their special trips.

Instead, I think his points were that:

  • Stewardship is about relationships: our relationships with God and each other.  It’s not about “sales” or “tickets.”
  • If we are doing good ministry, there are people even beyond the congregation who will support it financially.  He suggested to a pastor whose members are homeless that the pastor should create a Prospect List.  Write down a list of people who love you (the pastor), who love your church, and who would benefit from a successful ministry here. Come up with a plan of needs to share with them. Do one-on-one meetings to ask.
  • Many/most of our congregations have plenty of resources to support the church budget.  Unfortunately, we do not know how to deepen relationships with them, share what’s needed, or ask them to give.  And we are often not fluent in the language of gratitude for their generosity.

Making ministry happen costs money.  And Bob Connolly is an excellent go-to guy for figuring out how to raise money in your particular context.  But he is allergic to ministry that has nothing to do with authentic relationships.

This begs a couple of questions for us to ask:

  • Do we have a relationship with the groups who rent space in our church buildings beyond the fact that we give them a key and they give us a monthly check?  (Note: if not, we are merely landlords, not churches.)
  • Are relationships created and bolstered by the fundraisers we sponsor – or does everyone hate doing them?
  • Do we expect all members to make a financial commitment based on their relationship with God, the people in the congregation, and the people outside the congregation who are served in the community?
  • Do we keep excellent records and thank donors well?  Mr. Connolly says that quarterly statements with a personalized thank you note is the minimum.  Respect and recognition are essential.
  • Do we expect the pastor to be the lead person in the stewardship program?  (Let’s not. It’s a little awkward asking someone whose salary is dependent on church giving to ask for more generous church giving.)

This post is way too long, but I love this final idea:  In the letter enclosed with the monthly or quarterly statement, say something like this:

Dear Joe,

Thank you so much for your donation of _____ last month.  We have a wonderful church and Pastor Lisa is doing a great job.  Because of your gifts last month, we were able to fund Vacation Bible School and many other ministries.  Coming up this month is the community Halloween party and the start of our weekly community dinners.  Please join us if you can! Thank you again for your ministry.  We really appreciate you.

Yours in Christ, _____  (a church leader who is not a member of the paid staff)

What do you think?


Image from a Florida congregation’s pumpkin patch fundraiser.

4 responses to “A World Without Church Fundraisers?

  1. For the first time in my pastoral practice, I’ve started meeting with member-contributors to the church, accompanied by a couple of other members, to have conversation about the ministry of church. We ask them “how do you think things are going?” “Do you have suggestions to improve?” And so on. It has been quite helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In my consulting work this year, I have been working with two very large judicatories that cover Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado,Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Outside the metro areas in those states, one finds, literally, thousands of small congregations in communities where there is no one who is going to rent church space, where there will be no new members as the towns are shrinking in size, where relationships are strong with the members knowing each other better than most families know each other, and where there are no endowments. Unfortunately, the philosophy that you heard doesn’t seem to address these congregations. It is pretty much an urban philosophy. Now that isn’t all bad as it will help the urban congregations. But the church and its strategists are just not thinking about the situation in which the overwhelming majority of our congregations find themselves.


  3. Carl Hilton VanOsdall

    thanks, Jan! Peace,


    Carl Hilton VanOsdall Pastor, First Presbyterian Church 802 476 3966 church 802 272 4037 mobile fpcbarrepastor@gmail.com fpcbarre.org

    Don’t worry if your job is small, And your rewards are few. Remember that the mighty oak, Was once a nut like you. ~Quote given to me by Florence Perrin, R.I.P.

    We’d love to have you come and explore the spiritual life with us. We get together at different times during the week for action and reflection…and worship on Sundays at 10 a.m.



  4. Pingback: Friday Festival: “the Duke’s Mixture” – RevGalBlogPals

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