If you ask anyone who has ever attended Catholic church or school, you’ll be assured that fundraising was probably a big part of the culture. Why it is that raising money is such a focus when the attention should really be centered on our faith formation? The reality of keeping up the maintenance of a church and school is that expenses (electricity, staff salaries, groundskeeping, and much more) can add up. So how we do keep our focus holy when fundraising is overpowered by money-making gimmicks and schools or churches look more like banks? How can we do our diligence and still keep God at the center? As a parent with girls who attend our local Catholic school and growing up with family who was immersed in the Catholic fundraising culture, I’ve participated in my share of fundraisers and I’ve found some helpful tips along the way that can help make an event or a specific fundraiser faith-centered and still successful.
Focus on fundraising and still model a holy attitude
- Pray about it. Starting with prayer is the strongest and most powerful, yet it’s very easy to forget this crucial step. Lead with the Holy Spirit’s guidance to ask for help, offering up frustrations or worries. Ask Him to lead you and direct you in making the best decisions. He will guide you along the right path and close the doors for the wrong ones.
- How big or small do you want to set your sights? Some fundraisers take less time to plan, whereas others may take months on end. Decide what you have energy and resources for. If you know you have a big network of support then reach out for help in pulling off a major event, but if you need something a little lower-key, its sometimes good to pull in those outside agencies and start selling the cookie dough or candy bars.
- Create fundraisers that build community. Make it about community, not money. A family fun night can not only help pay the bills but bring community together. An event may not be profitable one year, but once the word spreads that it was a great social opportunity that will reinforce support and essentially lead to financial gain. Every year my daughters’ school does a Breakfast with Santa. It’s a great activity to bring kids, parents, and also grandparents together. It’s a great fundraiser but more importantly a great sense of community all in one morning. Finally, get other parish ministries involved. Not only will they get to spread the word about their ministry, they will lend support and get involved.
- Match the type of your fundraiser with the need. Use fundraising as a way to draw attention to a particular need. Combine the efforts of money making with self-improvement. If you are raising money for your parish library, then have a read-athon. If you’re trying to improve the gymnasium, host a basketball tournament. Get more out of the experience by creating similarities in your goals.
- Share concerns with your community. If you promote your goal and amount you want to raise, people are more inclined to back it up if they feel it’s something worthy. Its a lot easier to get people on board if they know the cause. If a classroom needs new paint or carpeting, share the reason for your funding efforts. By sharing your needs and reasons, you may even find a person in the community who can do the job at a less expensive rate or offer to help to cut the expenses. You’ll be able to network and build new relationships. You can also get grants or corporate sponsors if they know the cause and the purpose. Many businesses or corporations will support projects if they know it will promote their business but also help with their own philanthropy.
- Don’t nickel and dime every opportunity. Too many fundraisers can go back to the feeling that your Catholic community has lost sight of its goals. Yes, you need to keep the heat and air conditioning going, but if you’re doing a fundraiser every free moment, not only will you drain all the your resources, you’ll drain your support. A few small moneymakers are okay, but should again go back to some of the other items mentioned above, (for example: build community, have a purpose, and so on). Instead, try to focus on two or three major events a year, and do them well.
- Don’t get discouraged if your fundraiser doesn’t reach the goal you planned. Was it a busy weekend? Was the audience not engaged? Don’t assume if a fundraiser has a low turnout or return that it was a total flop. Sometimes fundraisers need time to grow or they need tweaking. Pray for guidance on if this to see if this is the right approach. Also, set realistic expectations. If you plan to raise $50,000 but haven’t even hit $500, this can lead to resentment in trying to move forward. if you set small goals for yourself and inform your audience, you might get donations or a more enthusiastic group to help you reach your goal.
- Consider how you market. Getting support for a fundraiser can seem frightening, especially when everyone these days seem to have a busy schedule. Posting a sign or creating a Facebook invite just doesn’t cut it anymore. The old-fashioned method of talking to people may seem exhausting and outdated, but it is one method that will stand the test of time. When we take the time to talk to people and create relationships, giving and supporting will naturally come along. Posters, social media, and emails are still valuable, but the draw of interface will make the other methods come alive. And, as mentioned before, find community partners. Sponsors to help offset the cost and other ministries will fully support and market with you, especially if you take the time to meet with them.
- Don’t just raise funds, raise spirits. Some fundraisers take a while to build, especially newer-style fundraisers, so be patient with the success. As more people talk about it, the more the word gets out. At the same time, consider what you have created and the community you’re building around it. You’d be surprised what you’re raising besides funds: friendships, community, self worth, giving back, and developing new talents. These will build a larger purpose and continue your efforts in the long run.
- Thank you’s can go a long way. Before, during, and after your fundraiser, thank those who have helped in any way. If the custodian is helping. give him some praise. Give a shoutout to the parent volunteers while in the parking lot, reminding them of their part in the big event. Thank those who are attending for their support. If you only thank once or not at all, your blessings will not be abundant. Offering thanksgiving is a huge component that shows the appreciation of all the talents that have been shared.
Here are some ideas for fundraisers you might consider at your Catholic parish or school. Most of these have been tried out, stick to a faith-filled purpose, and have great turnouts.
Major or more time-invested fundraisers
- Crab or lobster feeds, fish fries, oh my! Whatever side of the USA you live, you’re sure to find a local food feed of some sort. In my neck of the woods of Northern California it’s crab every January though March. Partner with a local supplier and host an all-you-can eat feast and sell tickets for a night out.
- Food feeds are great as mentioned above, but also include one where kids can attend. This helps families with the babysitting element and involves the religious-education families, plus creates a school-wide buy-in. Have a Hawaiian luau or a family barn dance. Create a theme with kids’ activities and line dances to keep kids entertained and parents interacting. Incorporate the saints too!
- Food, beer or wine strolls: Invite local restaurants to donate food for a special tasting and sell tickets.
- 5 or 10k walks. These promote healthy living, and families can get sponsors in the process.
- Hosting a boutique: Invite local vendors to showcase their crafts while charging a fee to rent the space.
- Create a community cookbook. Ask parishioners or parents to donate their local favorite recipe and combine them into a great cookbook that’s sure to sell! It lets others know who are the aspiring cooks!
- Art night: Showcase your children’s work and auction off donated masterpieces.
- Do a school- or parish-wide readathon and get pledges to promote literacy.
- Drive thru/take-out. People love a take-out dinner where you run their food to their car. Prepare a meal and pre-sell tickets.
- Spring musical productions. Put on a show of a favorite Bible story or theatrical favorite.
- Classic car show. Coordinate this with the local car clubs in the area and promote Elijah, the patron saint of cars.
- Family paint night. Get supplies and create opportunities for families to create beautiful artwork together.
Smaller or less time-consuming fundraisers that are still faith focused
It certainly makes sense to bring in outside agencies that will donate profits (cookie dough, chocolate, magazine sales, and so on). There is an abundance of small moneymakers. The ideas below are smaller fundraisers with the goal of keeping God at the center. So my list is more about achieving all the tips mentioned above.
- Donut hole sales with a “holy” approach
- Parent coffee mingles
- Penny drives. Less can be more!
- Pledges for education chain (post signs with the donors’ names and amount pledged ($1 to $100) and create a physical chain to support your Catholic school or religious-education program.
- Balloon Raffles. Insert prize descriptions in balloons and recipients can pay for a surprise inside. Include a Bible passage inside every balloon, along with the prize.
- Match the donation. Find sponsors who will match your earnings, while helping them also promote their organization.
Share your ideas with our readers: what is your favorite school or parish fundraiser?
Copyright 2019 Andrea Bear