Fundraising, that dirty little word. Through the years, I have heard from many new youth workers, “My church told me, ‘Oh, don’t worry. You never will need to fundraise. We fully fund our ministries.’ What they mean is, ‘You won’t need to fundraise unless you actually decide to do your job…because this stuff is too expensive.'” It is a startling reality every rookie faces when he or she realizes the mission trip they want to take their kids on costs between $10,000 and $20,000, and the church only allocates $4,000 for the entire youth ministry budget. It has become the default that the students need to fundraise.
I have been a youth director for nine years; the past seven years, the ministry has needed to fundraise between $15,000 and $20,000 annually. I admit we have taken our students to some really incredible places: Mexico, Vermont, Montana, Belize, Pittsburgh and suburban Philadelphia. Through all of these experiences, I realize at least two things about the church:
First, congregations support good youth ministry. During the past several years, we always have received the money needed to go where we have been called to go. Even during the latest recession, people supported the youth ministry.
Second, for some reason there is a disconnect between budgeting and fundraising; and it is an unfortunate part of our culture. In most school districts, students have to fundraise. People won’t think twice about paying for a car wash or dropping money into a football helmet, but if the school district increased school taxes $5 or $10 a year, people would go nuts. It is the same with most churches; if everyone (who was able) increased his or her pledge $5 or $8 a month, most youth ministries would not need to fundraise. At this point in my career, I have come to accept fundraising as an unfortunate part of my job. Here are some things I have found helpful through the years.
1. Annually ask the church budget committee to increase the youth budget to reflect the actual cost, and make a case for it. Churches should be spending between $1,000 and $1,500 per active student directly on the youth ministry (this figure obviously includes the salary of youth pastor).
2. Publicize the actual cost of the event and the cost parents are paying. This helps parents understand that even though the retreat their kid just went on was $100, that did not cover the cost of leaders or the transportation. I have had several parents who have the means to cover the actual cost of the event do so because we advertised it.
3. Form your own fundraising committee, but do not chair it. I only attend one meeting a year for the youth fundraising committee.
4. Go for the Big Events! I don’t think a fundraising event is worth the committee’s time unless it is going to raise at least $4,000.
5. Use the gifts and talents of your congregation because often people are willing to donate. One of our youth leaders is a chef, and every year she puts on a world-class dinner, donating her time and energy.
6. Finally, ask your senior pastor to organize a youth ministry fundraising event. He or she may not be able to change the funding situation, but this person at least will know the pain you go through. (I have met only a few who are willing to do this; but when they do, it often changes the dynamic between the youth ministry and the church).
So, until churches begin funding youth ministries at the appropriate level, realize you need to allocate the time to fundraising. Don’t hesitate to ask people politely to help meet needs, and go for the big events. As Jesus said in Luke 25:1, “Go forth and sell frozen pizza in My name.”