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Inspiring Generosity: Fundraisers: What's the Problem?

I love it when an intriguing question shows up in my email. Something intriguing makes me go, "huh, let me think about that" – which would probably be a very good thing for me to do with many a question. But why muse when I can shoot from the hip?

The question that had me stop and think for a couple of days was from someone I'll call "Meryl Streep":

Our finance committee limits the number of fundraisers by groups in the church. Their reasoning is because it takes away from our stewardship giving.

I can understand the concern of the finance committee about too many fundraisers.

Fundraising negatives:

  1. Whether in a church or in a non-profit, there tends to be an over-reliance on them - when in fact, they are very time-consuming without a big ROI (return on investment).
  2. You run the risk of donor fatigue - people being asked to support various fundraisers too many times.
  3. People think that buying a $4 pack of cookies is really an ample donation to the youth group or UMW.
  4. People can confuse giving to a designated fundraiser with giving to the general church budget – they are not the same.
                                    Bake Sale Anyone?

Fundraising positives:
There is a place for fundraisers – they can:

  1. Bring in new people
  2. Be a great source of fellowship
  3. Raise a decent amount of money
  4. Move your mission forward.

Holding fundraiser after fundraiser without an understanding of the importance of stewardship and the difference between a fundraiser and a straight gift can lead to problems. It's important to remember: the difference between a fundraiser and a gift is transactional.

At a fundraiser, you get something tangible in return for your donation (cookies, a t-shirt, a piece of jewelry).

Giving sacrificially, on the other hand means that you receive intangible returns (the great feeling of changing the world, feeling happier, more at peace).

Receiving a tangible versus an intangible return on your giving investment are very different experiences. The church and most non-profits want to – and should – encourage the latter type of giving.

The larger context for the question is not only how much money is being raised, but what kind of community you are building. Fundraisers are good for bringing in new people, for fellowship among your established folks, for raising some money outside the usual budget, and moving your mission forward. But fundraisers shouldn't take the place of nurturing generosity through stewardship education to support your mission and ministry. That builds a community which is growing in its faith as well as its giving.

Meryl, thanks for your question. It's one that needs to be asked more often. I hope that helps.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann, grant writing and stewardship/development, Oregon-Idaho AC

United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about giving click here.

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