One of the things that caused me the most anxiety and stress over the years in youth ministry had to do with fundraising. There were times where I felt more like a development professional than a person charged with ministering with our young people (you can add this to the list of things they don’t teach you in seminary!).
But what is the real anxiety with fundraising and talking about money when it comes to youth ministry? Let’s be honest, the actual fundraising events are not rocket science. Sure, they take a ton of time, energy, and people, but ultimately (hopefully) these events turn out to be pretty fun. The real anxiety for me has been, and still is at times, simply asking for money. Growing up in Parma Heights, Ohio, my family lived comfortably. But one phrase I heard time and time again: ‘We don’t have the money for that.’ As I spent time with other families around the neighborhood I realized that my family wasn’t the only family stretching dollars to make ends meet. The lesson I learned from that message growing up went something like this: people need to work for their money. I took this to heart as I had my first job as a paperboy at age 14, and haven’t stopped working yet. I work hard for my money (musical interlude?), and I’ll be honest in saying that I expect others to do as well.
I had to get past a mental hurdle (my personality type has many mental hurdles) when it came to understanding how money relates to our lives, and ultimately to God’s work in the world. I’ll be honest, I never gave it much thought as a kid washing cars or selling candy bars in the neighborhood when I was raising money for our summer mission trip. But now as an adult I sat at my desk trying to figure out how to raise several thousand dollars for our youth ministry, a connection was being made. To put it briefly, I needed to rationalize the request of money for a greater good. I wasn’t asking for a sweet new phone or the coolest new shoes for myself. I was looking for financial support to help do God’s work (insert “We’re on a mission from God” line here). Once I got past that hurdle in my mind (and theology), I felt like I was given a new freedom and boldness when it came to thinking about fundraising, budgeting, and stewardship.
Yes, ministry with youth (and all ministry for that matter) costs money. Some churches dedicate a lot of money towards the ministry, others do the bare minimum. I remember Mark Devries writing that it costs about $1000/child in order to support a healthy youth ministry. No matter how you calculate the costs (staff, property, food, travel, supplies, registration fees, etc.), it costs money to do youth ministry. And now with my newfound hurdle completed, I had no problem asking for the financial support I needed.
With all of this being said, I want to share a few ideas on how money and youth ministry can work:
- Budgeting. Each church should have at least one line item for youth ministry. Yes, it will depend on the overall budget as to how much, but if a church is serious about welcoming young people, then there needs to be some money to spend. When requesting a youth budget, be sure to clearly communicate your expectations of expenses.
- ‘Rolling Accounts’. Some treasurers don’t like this, but I find it helpful to have an account dedicated to youth that will roll over funds each fiscal year. You want to make sure that any fundraising money that has not been spent will be transferred to the coming year.
- Fundraisers. There are tons of fundraisers out there that youth groups can use to help raise funds. Some friends of mine will make a few hundred dollars each event; some of my friends raise tens of thousands of dollars in a single day. I suggest varying the types of events and monetary goals. Have at least one ‘big’ event, but several other smaller events are also effective. More events mean more opportunities for others to participate.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Ask. As I noted before, you are not asking for something frivolous; you are asking people to join you in ministry. Most people are excited by the opportunity (and it helps if it is tax deductable!). Letter writing campaigns, on-line fundraisers, and especially personal conversations are effective. I also find it helpful to have a determined amount ready when they ask ‘How much’. I vary this based on the individual or group.
- Youth Involvement. I’m not a fan of parents or the youth leader doing all the leg work when it comes to actual fundraising events. The youth need to be there and helping out. If they can’t be there at the time of the actual event, offer opportunities for them to help at other times.
- Congregational Effort. This is not just a youth thing; this is a church thing. Be sure to communicate that the entirety of the church is involved in what is going on, and everyone is part of the effort, as well as the reward. When asking for money to help support the financial side of the ministry, also be sure to ask for the prayers to help support the spiritual side!
- Community. If we are to think missionally, then we understand that the community is part of our ministry; this includes fundraising. Neighbors and local businesses are often very receptive to hearing about your ministry efforts. You may be surprised that this conversation may even be an invitation for them to join you in the ministry with your congregation.