Helpful Things: Fundraising Essentials FOR YOU

By Tana McKenna and Crysten Sanchez

Regardless of what level of experience you have in fundraising--from beginner to veteran--Higher Things will equip you to thrive in this often challenging but rewarding aspect of youth leadership.

That’s why we’ve decided to pick the creative brains of two of our staff: Crysten Sanchez, our events executive, and Tana McKenna, our logistics assistant and retreats coordinator. Both have an abundance of experience working in youth ministry settings.

Not only will this encouragement help you along the journey toward a Forgiven summer conference, it will also be an asset to any sort of adventure or project your group sets out to accomplish.

Cultivating a Successful Fundraiser

Tana: Get as many people and ideas involved as possible. Let the people who come up with the ideas implement them. There is better buy-in to making it happen when it’s their idea to begin with.

Crysten: Think through every piece of the puzzle. Delegate so you aren't doing it all. Get the kids involved in making plans (with parents in conjunction because sometimes the kids overpromise).

When Is the Ideal Time to Start Planning?

Tana: Constantly! Think ongoing fundraisers, such as serving Sunday morning coffee and rolls. Try not to think about raising a fixed amount, but rather work on developing a culture of service. A willing servant prompts a cheerful giver! Our congregation does a “mission of the month” and our Higher Things youth are that mission for the month of February--every year no matter how many kids we have attending or how far away we’re going.  

Crysten: At the beginning of the school year, plan out what the year ahead looks like and approximately how much you might make during each fundraiser (taking into account what has been accomplished in the past). Plot it out.

But What If It’s Too Late?

Tana: It’s never too late! One year we were way behind and had to approach the council for a “loan”. It was such a humbling experience! We had more youth interested in attending than we had funds available. What a great problem to have! And the congregation was more than willing to kick in the extra we needed; they were just so thrilled that we had active youth.

Crysten: Do what you can. You may have to ask parents to pay a bit more this year. Apply for an HT scholarship (individual, group, or church worker) if money really isn't coming in as planned.

How to Stay Organized

Tana: Keep track of stuff. Write it ALL down! Keep a file for each fundraiser and each year. More isn’t always better. Do what you do well and make it count.

Crysten: Checklists! Use the same one from year to year, tweaking it as you go. Keep good notes from the previous year. Once you have sign-up docs created, there's no need to recreate them if they worked last year. It’s good to have a routine in the year so you know what is coming next. Ideally, don’t wait until the last minute to start in order to allow time for things to go wrong and be fixed.

Examples of Successful Fundraisers

Tana: Youth serve and clean up from the Lenten and Advent soup suppers. Members of the congregation sign up to bring the food, but the youth are the face behind the counter. The older folks love to see the youth serving, and the youth love the responsibility of being “in charge” of the meal. It’s a win all the way around. We don’t charge a fee, but do a free will offering and usually make over $100 per meal.

Another favorite is the Christmas cookie sale. Kids and parents get together and make their favorite Christmas goodies, then set up a table on Sunday morning loaded with the goods. Members pick up a container and the kids fill it as they go down the table, keeping track of how many dozen. We charge a flat rate, but the folks often pay with larger bills and will tell us to keep the change.
So basically the fundraisers that work well have the kids in front of the congregation, serving or giving in some tangible way!  

Crysten: We did a bake sale around Christmas, getting together and baking on Saturday, and then selling on Sunday. We had five recipes to make on Saturday, pre-made cookies (by a parent) to decorate with frosting and sprinkles, and then each family donated something else (a cake, brownies, etc.) It filled out nicely. Free-will donations often bring more in than pricing everything.

Also, you can do an envelope fundraiser. Make 25-50 envelopes, and put a random dollar amount in each one, ranging from $1 to however high the envelope numbers go. People randomly pick an envelope and promise to donate the amount that’s noted inside. If they get a low number and want to give more, they'll pick another envelope or just donate extra. This works if you have a church that doesn't like to buy things but likes to give. It won't work as much for a church that likes to see tangible things for their money.

Planning for Other Costs Related to a Summer Conference

Tana: Travel - A bus will definitely cost more, but it’s also a lot more fun than splitting up into multiple cars.
Hotel - Stay along the way if you need to. It’s an extra expense, but better than sleeping on a cold church floor.
Fun Activity - Give your youth options here as well. Do they want to do something major? That’s going to take more money, and you’ve got to earn it but it will be worth it. Keep reminding the kids (if they complain about the fundraisers) what they’re getting in the end.
Meals - Make sure you feed the hungry teenagers!!

Crysten: Determine your mode of travel (plane, train, or automobile). Hotels, food along the way. Will the kids pay for themselves or have a mix of funds raised and self-paying? Are you planning on doing anything fun to tack on to either end of the trip, such as an amusement park or national park? If flying, take into account baggage fees, car rental, and gas.

Parting Thoughts

Tana: Fundraising is hard, and not always fun, but the end result of encouraging a culture of service in the youth and rejoicing in their growth is totally worth it.

Crysten: Successful fundraising involves showing the congregation that we aren't there just to take. It's a fine line between demonstrating that the youth are important and the church should support them because the youth are just as much a part of the church as the after-service coffee (which is always in the budget), and not wanting to mooch too much. I have always appreciated helping the church members and being a part of the Body of Christ.

Stay tuned to our Helpful Things column (every other Tuesday) for specific fundraising ideas you can implement in your groups!

Tana McKenna was introduced to HT as a parent and youth leader at the Te Deum 2015 conference in Seward, Nebraska, and has been encouraging and assisting youth, adult leaders, and pastors across the state of North Dakota (and beyond) to participate in conferences and retreats ever since. 
Crysten Sanchez has been blessed to work for HT in one way or another since 2010. While also working as a Youth Coordinator through those years, Crysten solidified her opinion on youth: they aren't given as much credit as they deserve, and we "grown ups" can learn just as much from them as they can learn from us. 

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