Ever have a month that looks like this?

Bulletin Announcements:
Feb. 29th – Sr. Youth Lenten Dinner Fundraiser
March 5th – Sr. Youth Pizza Ranch Fundraiser
March 14th – Jr. Youth Lenten Dinner Fundraiser
March 28th – Sr. Youth Lenten Dinner Fundraiser
April 8th – Easter Breakfast Fundraiser
March sometime or another – Yeah, we actually do have Bible studies, worship, mission projects, and a whole functional program attached to goals and our church’s purpose, but you (Joe average member) probably hardly notice because of all the fundraising we have to do! AAHHHH!
*Oh, and we are still collecting aluminum cans, printer cartridges, box tops, soup labels, and any other 2 cent item that can be cut off a product you purchase.

Philosophical debate #1: Should we fundraise at all?

No, absolutely not. Fundraising in no way lines up with the goals of youth ministry. We are building up disciples of Christ and sharing His love, a much more important endeavor than serving overcooked spaghetti noodles and sauce for a Lenten dinner. What are you raising money for anyway? Your annual youth group vaca…I mean mission trip to Jamaica? The people next door to your church need to hear the Gospel and your friends and family are starving for forgiveness freely given by Jesus. Fundraising is not needed for carrying out the Great Commission in our communities.

Well, yes, we should fundraise, and it can be done in a way that builds toward our goals and purposes. We create community and fellowship through youth and families working together toward a common fundraising goal, and we give an open invitation for the congregation to support our mission–not just through money, but by their prayers and words that edify and uplift our youth and families. And that mission trip–it is to middle of nowhere in Montana Native American reservation with over 50% unemployment where hundreds of kids and families are hearing the Gospel through groups like ours running summer programs.

Apologies for the bipolar roller coaster of fundraising, but the underlying point (philosophy) I want to get at, and at the risk of being too utilitarian is this:

Is fundraising, or not fundraising, accomplishing the goals and purpose of youth ministry?

I don’t know that many of us have really taken the time to give a thorough answer to this question in our own church (I haven’t). In the past I have taken the view of fundraising as a necessary evil and then just gone about doing it as efficiently and quickly as possible so it goes away. There is a lot to gain by evaluating how we fundraise–much like we would evaluate anything else, whether program or activity, done in youth ministry. Keep this concept in mind as we explore philosophical debate #2.

While handing out $20 bills to everyone as their “per diem” for food on our mission trip that particular day, Jimmy asks, “How come I don’t get more than everyone else? I sold more flowers for mother’s day than everyone else.”
“Yes Jimmy, you did an excellent job with that fundraiser. We’ve been doing fundraisers all year and everyone has helped out so everyone can go on this mission trip.”
“Yeah, but I sold more flowers.”
I’m not sure at this point if I said, “Jimmy, take the $20 and go buy your lunch,” or, “See Jimmy, there was this land owner who went out early because he needed people to work in his vineyard…” I hope it was the second.

Philosophical debate #2: Individual accounts or one big pot

Definitely, the best way is to have individual accounts. This ensures that the youth who put the most time and the most effort into fundraising will be rewarded and have larger amounts in their account to use for youth activities. It also provides a way for those families who don’t have the available funds for big mission trips or youth gatherings to earn enough by fundraising to cover their costs. And for those who don’t put in the effort for fundraising–they will have to pay out of their pocket for the event.

One big pot is the only good way to go about it. Set the expectation from the beginning that everyone participates in fundraising, everyone helps out and everyone goes on the mission trip. Together. As a community of believers. Every family contributes to planning and running fundraisers, and we understand some of you have school, basketball, band, a job, dance, Boy Scouts and swimming, but we ask for your commitment not just to fundraising, but to this group and our purpose for going on this mission trip.

I am sure you’ve heard the list of arguments between these two methods of fundraising, so I won’t belabor the pros and cons, but I encourage you again to look at the underlying philosophy of what is going on in your fundraising efforts. Whether you have individual accounts or use one big pot, have you evaluated this to see whether in practice it is uplifting or detrimental to the goals and purpose of youth ministry? Is it an enabling or disabling factor in ministry, and how can it be made more enabling?

[Added by LCMS Youth Ministry June 2014]: An important thing to keep in mind: The IRS has ruled that individual accounts for church members can no longer be used to track fundraising credit. The IRS states that these “accounts” violate a church’s 501 (c) (3) status because it requires work/services to receive funds and provides funds (i.e. payment) for work rendered.  So, one big pot is now the way to go.]

Now that I’ve (hopefully) given you a little food for thought, I would encourage you to check out Matt Cario’s article just released on “Fundraising for the Why” for a less philosophical and more practical look at fundraising.