Fundraisers: What's the Problem?

Fundraisers: What’s the Problem?
   Bake sale, anyone? Photo by Viktor Forgaes
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? Oh well (sigh), add, “think before speaking” to my never-ending list of New Year’s resolutions.
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. My thinking is if you have active groups like youth, UMW [United Methodist Women], etc., it makes your church stronger and it is a real benefit to keep supporting them. Any thoughts?
Dear Meryl S. (have I told you how awesome you are in “The Post”?):
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.
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.
That being said, I’m not sure a “policy” is needed (I always hate adding rules when they can be avoided). I would encourage a healthy conversation about the role of fundraisers in the life of the church or non-profit: what kind, how many, and what they are for.
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. And…good luck with Oscar nomination #21!
Let me know if your church or non-profit has a policy on fundraisers and what role fundraisers play in your church or organization. Plus a bonus question: Who do you think got snubbed in the Oscar nominations?
P.S. No doubt, Chick Lane and Grace Duddy Pomroy have an opinion on fundraisers. Come ask them on February 10th at the “Inspiring Generosity in Your Congregation” workshop. To sign up, click here.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past fifteen years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over three million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She’s pumped that “Get Out” and “Lady Bird” got Oscar love. “The Florida Project” should have got more. She was the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. She is available to consult with churches. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.