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July 4th fireworks at The National Mall, Washington, D.C., during a 2008 celebration. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

July 4th fireworks at The National Mall, Washington, D.C., 2008. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Cropped from original.

Beyond the Bake Sale: Cool fundraising ideas for everyone

Let's face it. Often, there's no "fun" in fundraiser. If your congregation is growing weary of the same old events every year, try some cool variations of familiar ideas. Giving a new twist to auctions, dinners, consignment sales and other events has the potential to bring in big dollars while involving multiple generations. While we're not suggesting a fireworks display in your parking lot, celebrations around holidays can be a unmined opportunity. Check out all our ideas below.

Try a youth auction.
Many churches have silent auctions. That's nothing new. However, consider having your youth identify services they are willing and able to offer for auction – then let the bidding begin! A few ideas are:

  • Tutoring
  • Babysitting for an evening
  • Pet-sitting for a weekend
  • Doing yard work or housework
  • Car washing and detailing
  • Storing/retrieving items from the attic
  • Helping with holiday decorating

Invite a gregarious member of your congregation to be the emcee. Name the starting bid for each service. To add to the fun, have the youth dress the part (covered in strands of lights for Christmas decorating or in overalls with a rake for yard work). To increase the audience size, consider combining the auction with a spaghetti dinner or coffee and desserts.

If you consign it, they will come.
Does the mere mention of consignment make you groan? Organized properly, a consignment sale of items for children should not break anyone’s back (or spirit). Here are some tips to be sure the event goes smoothly:

  • Appoint a shared-leadership team of the same number of people as sale days. (For instance, a Friday-Saturday-Sunday sale would have three leaders.)
  • Ask leaders to take responsibility for one day of item drop-off as well as one day of the sale. Duties include recruiting volunteers to work that day.
  • Be sure you have enough volunteers. You will need five or six volunteers each night of drop-off and at least four working each day of the public sale.
  • Enlist other congregants, including some men for heavier lifting, and youth to set up for the sale. After a mid-week dinner is a great time to set up racks. With 10 people helping, you’ll finish quickly!
  • Borrow racks from another church or school in your area or find them on eBay or Craigslist.
  • Make sure the profit sharing is sufficient to attract consignors. A 70-30 percent split is recommended.
  • Many larger cities have twin and triplet organizations. Check out their consignment sale calendar before setting your date (and then ask if your sale can be listed on their website).
  • Begin sending postcards and e-blasts to people in your community and congregation at least six weeks ahead of the sale. Invite them both to consign items and to shop. Be sure to advertise with banners on your church lawn and message board.
  • Tell shoppers how the proceeds will be used.

Keep in mind that your first sale may only net a few thousand dollars (assuming you have at least 75 consignors). However, within several years, that figure could easily triple. One church in Nashville, Tenn., reported net revenues of $30,000 per sale.

Sponsor a series of “An Evening with …” concerts.
Putting on a concert can be costly if you have to hire the talent. However, your church probably has talent in the choir that most members would be willing to donate. Consider hosting quarterly concerts with a small admission fee. Make it a concert series and offer season passes as well as individual tickets. Cluster concerts around seasonal celebrations such as:

  • Valentine’s Day (Broadway melodies about love);
  • Memorial Day or Veterans Day (military anthems and other patriotic songs); and
  • Fourth of July (patriotic and folk songs along with a cookout and perhaps fireworks in the church parking lot or field).

A series might not yield huge profits, but it could provide enough to underwrite the music department’s special needs. If you commit to a series, you may be surprised to see how many congregants — especially older members — are willing to buy a season pass. To draw even more people, make sure you publicize the concerts with front-lawn signage.

Celebrate stewardship.
Make Stewardship Sunday a time of celebration. Involve children with a penny or loose-change drive. See "Fun ministry ideas to teach kids stewardship" for ideas for including children in the process. Consider a potluck (or catered, if funds permit) “Thanks for Giving” luncheon after worship. This is particularly timely if Stewardship Sunday falls around Thanksgiving.

And to make your fundraiser a success:

  • Remember to promote!
    Always promote your events through print and digital newsletters, email and website. Do not forget community newspapers, television bulletin boards and community websites. Learn how to “Plan and promote church events with social media.”
     
  • Don’t give up. 
    Often, new fundraising ideas don’t appear successful immediately. Be patient and willing to try something at least twice before you gauge how effective it can be.
     
  • Be specific. Keep in mind that fundraisers are not intended to pay all the apportionments or support most of the church budget. They are most effective when raising funds for specific needs such as youth mission trips or new choir robes.
     
  • Count the side benefits. Never underestimate the power of fundraisers to bring your congregation together, create fun and expose your faith family to the outside community. Remember that while raising money is one goal, bringing people together is even more important.