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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ask the Matriarch -

As ministers, most of us are well-acquainted with the need for resources to fund ministry within and beyond the church - but what about other non-profits you may be volunteering with? Whether it's your child's school or some charity near to your heart, you may be called upon to help with fundraising - and how do you handle that when your primary contacts are within the church? This is the situation in which our colleague finds herself:

I volunteer for a nonprofit ministry which is not a part of my church or denomination. I am doing so with their full endorsement and encouragement. The ministry is strapped for funds (aren't we all?) and have decided to do a fundraiser. Most of my contacts are at church, at my kids' schools, or my extended family. I could hit up my friends on Facebook... but I am conflicted. It doesn't help that they are selling smelly candles, something my asthmatic soul can not STAND.

I know that the church membership are off limits for outside fundraising. My family accepts that I am called to this work, but they are not. Yet I am expected to find contributors for this ministry (which I believe in wholeheartedly). The lay members of the group who volunteer do not have this boundary issue and do not see my problem.

Any thoughts? 

Muthah+ responds:
Fund raising is difficult these days no matter what the situation.  I would contact some of your friends and ask them for a check--smelly candles don't cut it for me either.  They might just pay NOT to have a smelly candle.  Also if there are some local businesses that you know, ask for a donation. Especially if the organization that benefits the neighborhood or the local community.  Then ask those who do donate if they know of others who might be supportive of your ministry. 
Talk to your pastor.  I understand the conflict that you have, but your parish understands who you are employed by.  I don't see it as especially conflictive as long as you are not representing your church or denomination.  I have a colleague who was the local chair of the Red Cross in our town.  We understood that when he asked for help, he was not speaking for the church but from the need of his organization.  Of course he was out for our blood...8>D.
A former parishioner who was a professional fund raiser for such organizations as Sierra Club and United Way told me once that you need to think about how much you want to ask.  She said that when you ask for a certain amount there will be a couple of reactions:  If they pull out their check books and write a check, you have asked for too little.  If they laugh at you, you have asked for too much. 
People want to help serve others.  They need to know how they can help. I have no problem with you as a cleric asking for funds for your ministry.

And Kathrynzj offers:
Well... I don't know your church ministry context so I'll say that my own fundraising comes in the form of being sponsored for a bike ride. At my previous church I let folks know I was doing it and put the form on the door to my office. If folks wanted to donate, so be it. I did not solicit directly. In my current context I don't do that because it is a lot larger congregation and I could not return the sponsoring favor, instead I rely on Facebook and emails to those I know have a heart for that particular cause.

It sounds to me like you donate to this organization greatly already (time, energy, resources). At what point is it ok to say that this project is one thing you cannot do? Only you know the answer to that. 

What a tricky issue! Thank you, matriarchs, for your good thoughts. What say the rest of you? Do you have some advice to share? What is your experience with this sort of thing? Please share with us in the comments section!

And, as always, if you have a question you'd like the matriarchs to discuss, please send us an email at askthematriarch[at]gmail[dot]com.


  1. I have been in similar scenarios. I served on a non-profit board which sold raffle tickets for a fundraiser. Couldn't sell them to my congregation. This was one fundraiser that I just couldn't participate in very much.

    Here are some ideas, however:

    As clergy, it is good for us to be active in our local communities. This can be done through clubs such as Rotary and Optimist, etc. and by serving on non-profit boards. This broadens our list of contacts and possible help when these kinds of things come up.

    Also, depending on the circumstances, we have our clergy colleagues who can help. I sold a few raffle tickets to my closest clergy friends, those who form my support network, because they understood my situation with the church. In another case, when I needed to acquire a sponsorship for a particular event, I contacted all of the churches of my denomination in our county, as them to contribute a small and do-able amount, then made the sponsorship from the UM churches of our county with each church's name listed.

    If you serve on the board and can have influence in the type of fundraiser that goes on, you might want to lean toward activities that allow group involvement rather than individual sales or donations. Your youth group or a Sunday School class might want to pay a small fee and build, say, a scarecrow for a contest that will support a good cause, rather than buy individual raffle tickets or smelly candles.

    Just my thoughts.

  2. Thanks, Nancy!

    So far, I have done very little that needed fundraising - mostly our church's CROP Walk for Hunger, and for that I ask my parents and my FB friends. But I dread the day that my kids are asked or required to sell stuff to support school activities. Ugh! I've been hit up over the years by various kids at our church, but I can't imagine letting my kids do the same.

    Such a tricky thing!

  3. I too serve on a board of directors for two organizations in the community. One is an organization directly served by the church (A food/meal ministry of 37 member churches) and one is mostly separate from my duties/connections to church (Court Appointed Special Advocates). When my CASA board was asking for addresses for direct mailings that were simply asking for a donation I did not give any church member names. However when they held a raffle for a play-house (it is a play-house that is nicer than my first apartment!) I did leave the raffle tickets and information in the narthex. My rationale is that with this raffle ticket they were actually purchasing something (a chance to win) and I was not simply soliciting a financial donation. I talked with my senior minister (I am the associate) and we felt like it was an ok thing to do. The CASA board requires that board members sell a certain $$ of tickets, but I did not use that as my goal. I left the information and the raffle tickets for those who were interested, but I also spent more time volunteering to sell the raffle tickets away from the church.

    It is a very tricky situation and I'm glad to see this discussion!

  4. Thank you all. I do appreciate the guidelines!

    I am an associate/assistant pastor for a small church so it is tricky offering anything at church. Our church has a policy of no school/outside fundraisers except for groups which we are serving as a congregation. (For instance, we work with a local children's hospital directly and are part of their toy drive; we participate in a "safe house" clothing and food drive.)

  5. If that's the case, then you can use the church's policy to back you up with the organization on why you cannot participate in this particular fundraiser.

    If that is what you choose to do.


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