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Put fun into fund-raising

SUMMARY: Challenging times present an opportunity to refocus on what you are doing and how you can change to maximize your efforts.

One of the most challenging areas for any church is fund-raising-from the weekly collection plate to niche projects and missions. Keep passing the plate, but take time to evaluate what works and what alternatives might work even better.

Raising money sometimes can seem like the full-time mission of the church. As you "Rethink Church," rethink your fund-raising strategies to maximize people's time, energy and potential. Explore fund-raising events or activities, ongoing financial contributions, and long-term and planned giving.

Fund-raising events

If you want to raise money, creating an engaging event is the first step because-frankly-more people will attend. If they like what you are doing, they will get more involved and your fund-raising efforts will be well worth it.

The Myotubular Myopathy and Centronuclear Myopathy Family Conference offers great, real-life stories about how to raise $500 or more. Its site describes two women in Levittown, Pa., who started "Chocolate Lover's Fantasy Night," an evening of chocolate contests with adult and children bakers. For a $10 ticket, attendees get to sample everything. Consider expanding a chocolate-baking event and raising more money by renting exhibit space to local chocolate-related vendors. A coffee shop could give hot-chocolate samples. A restaurant could share bites of a chocolate dish. A doctor's office could distribute information on the health benefits of dark chocolate.

A chain dinner is another great example. With the "Chain for Church," a congregation member invites 10 people to dinner at his or her home and charges $10 per person. Then two of the 10 host their own dinners and invite 10 people each. Then ask at least one guest to continue the chain. Hosts donate the cost of the meals so the dinner fees all go to the fund-raising account.

Wesley United Methodist Women, Alexandria, Va., host an international dinner to fund activities. A charitable dinner raised money to refurbish the parlor and nursery, purchase kitchen equipment and do many other activities. An international dinner also is a great way to incorporate the many cultures within your congregation or to show your church's interest in embracing and learning from different cultures. allows groups to post experiences and devotes a section to youth fund-raising; yet the ideas could work for anyone. Combining learning, doing and raising money, one local church youth group offered oil changes for $30 ($15 if a driver brought his or her own oil and filter). They marketed aggressively, planned to buy only the supplies necessary and involved the congregation, including the women of the church who baked sweets to serve to customers. They raised $621 and even had referrals from local mechanics who did not have time that Saturday to do oil changes. Read all the details here.

Other suggestions detailed on the site included a pet show produced by a congregation member who was a dog groomer, a rubber duck race and a meatball fund-raiser.

Members of First United Methodist Church, Royal Oak, Michigan, pass the bucket the fourth Sunday each month to support Eiguliai United Methodist Church in Lithuania. The goal is to have the congregation add the "noise" by dropping all of their change into the bucket. The entire offering goes to the Lithuanian church.

"Noisy Buckets" or "Bucket Sundays" are held throughout the country, including Grace United Methodist Church, Vermilion, Ohio, and North Highland United Methodist Church, Aberdeen, S.D., which designates its offerings for youth activities. In Danville, Ill., when a local church's garden charity needed fertilizer, the "noisy bucket" brought in $96-enough to cover this year's materials and seeds for next year.

St. Paul United Methodist Church, Lenexa, Kansas, created a video to solicit funds for building expansion by showing what the church does and means to its community. This eight-minute, well-done, low-budget video was mailed to congregation members, shown during services and made available for use elsewhere.

Among other money-raising opportunities are an antique-appraisal fund-raiser, an evening of drama, and a youth group fund-raising luncheon that incorporates trivia games and worship songs.

See the long-term future

While looming financial demands can require immediate or short-term solutions, be sure to plan for the long term too. Major gifts can raise significant dollars, but they require cultivation and more education than an average fund-raiser.

Georgia United Methodist Foundation's website offers a guide to capital campaigns with helpful details to maximize effectiveness. United Methodist Retirement Homes Foundation gives a dozen scenarios based on real-life, planned-giving opportunities from bequests, annuities, IRAs and more.