Culture At Large

Raising money: thoughts on churches and fundraising

Andy Rau

How does your church or organization fund its special projects?

I stumbled across Fundable.org recently. Fundable works like this: you propose a project and specify the amount of money that's needed to make the project happen. People can then pledge money toward the project through the website. When the specified amount in pledges if reached, the money is passed to the owner. If the required amount of money isn't reached by the deadline, the project is closed and nobody is charged.

Last week, I gave this a try. A small-press publisher that I like posted a project on Fundable, so I popped on over and pledged $10 to it via Paypal. It took about 30 seconds total. I've been checking the project site off and on all week, watching to see if enough money will come in to get the project funded. It was easy and, dare I say it, sort of fun.

I don't mention this simply to hype Fundable, but because it's so very different than the way many churches and organizations make their pitches for financial support. Most churches I've attended use fairly traditional methods of raising money for special projects. I'm sure you've seen or participated in them yourself: guest speakers with slideshows and presentations followed by requests support; car washes to fund youth group mission trips; special offerings for particular causes. My wife and I just recently purchased a large quantity of (admittedly delicious) cookie dough to help support the church youth program, and I vividly remember trudging around selling magazine subscriptions and subway sandwiches as a kid to raise money for my Christian elementary school.

I'm not the first person to suggest that some of these fundraising techniques are less than ideal, both practically and theologically. Whenever I see these fundraising efforts in action, part of me thinks: Forget all this extra stuff. Just tell me why it's important, how much money you need and how I can donate. I don't want people to grovel, jump through hoops, or sell me miscellaneous products to convince me to support their cause; I just want "the facts," and I would love to see the actual impact that my support is having. Visiting Fundable was like a breath of fresh air.

Would a "Christian version" of Fundable (or Christian projects posted to Fundable, I suppose) work? Could it even represent the future of fundraising? This model suffers in that many churchgoers right now may not be interested in donating online; but it does seem to address a number of charitable fundraising trends that have risen over the last few years--namely, it appeals to a younger and more tech-savvy generation of donors, it makes donating a social activity, and it's direct and transparent. It also educates people about the specific costs of organizing special projects, and perhaps most importantly, it lets people "vote with their money" for those projects they feel are worth pursuing, rather than having them write a check to a church or organization and trusting it to put your donation toward worthwhile projects you may not even know about.

Could your church use a system like this to raise money for its special projects--youth group retreats, chuch construction work and expansion, mission trips, equipment for missionaries, a new computer for the church office, etc.? Do you see a day when your church bulletin will point people to an online site where they can choose to support those projects that they're passionate about?

I don't think that old-fashioned fundraising is going anywhere anytime soon. But I'll tell you this: I'll donate through a Fundable-style system any day of the week, if it means I can spare even one wide-eyed youth-group innocent from having to go door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church