Serving the hungry

Asking for more than loose change

Dear Fr. Zagloba,

Something you said caught my attention during announcements at Mass. You pointed out Steve standing in the back with his fundraising bucket. Everyone chuckled a little at your joke about cleaning out your couch cushions to find loose change. But I really think we need to address if this kind of fundraising has a place in the parish.

Impulse Charity

Grocery stores are masters of the impulse buy. How many times do you throw a Snickers bar on top of your groceries when you're checking out? The checkout counter is invariable surrounded by racks of items that you did not come to the store to buy… candy, Altoids, stupid magazines, soft drinks. Why? Because they know that a significant percentage of the people in line will throw one of those things into the basket.

Impulse buys are not the result of conscious thought. You see the candy bar, think "OOOHHHH delicious" and grab one. I've done it myself countless times. I've even had the thought, "I don't really need a Snickers," before picking one up and tossing it on top of the diapers.

When Steve is standing in the back shaking his bucket, he's hitting that same 'impulse' button with the genuinely good intention of raising money for the sisters in Savannah. People give automatically, almost without thinking, just like with the Snickers. They might have a vague idea of wanting to help, or they might give because they like Steve. Or they might be giving because the person in front of them gave something and they feel guilty about not following suit.

We lose when we lower the bar

Why do I bring this up? Obviously, Steven did get some gifts, so it is working to a degree. The problem with impulse fundraising is that it dramatically limits how much money you can raise. Think about it. The grocery store does not put high dollar items next to the check out line. Everything is cheap. It's like there's an unwritten rule about what the average person will spend without thinking.

The same principle works for impulse charity. A person might give the change in their pocket, or pull out a fiver. Maybe even twenty if they're Steve's friends. But they're not going to make a serious, high-level gift. Nobody walking out of our church has a roll of $100's in their pocket. Hardly anyone carries a checkbook around with them these days. Any approach that relies on impulse charity is going to raise a small amount of money because that's all that is available.

Bigger gifts, bigger impact

If we as a church are going to financially support the sisters building a new convent, it only makes sense to do it the most effective way possible. And this means giving people the opportunity to make a well-considered, thoughtful, and generous gift. I know it will mean more work. But the results will be vastly larger if you are asking people to give larger gifts.

If you ask 100 people to give you $1, the maximum that you'll get is $100. The likelihood is that you'll get far less. If, on the other hand, you ask 100 people to give you $100, you might get only get three or four people who decide to give at that level - and bring in $300-400. The reduced number of gifts still brings in 3-4 times as much money because you set your sights higher.

The difference between the pocket-change impulse gift and the intentional large gift is that the person doing the 'ask' has to do more work. Steven has to do very little besides standing in the back with a little bucket to get people's loose change. To start getting larger gifts, he'll have to give people a reason why a bigger gift is a good idea. That might include bringing a sister up from Savannah to share her testimony. It might mean producing some high quality materials (or using the ones they've already developed). It might mean actually sitting down and talking to people one on one.

The result of the more intense fundraising approach is raising a lot more money. It also increases the level of investment our parish has in the sister's success. Giving will create a deeper connection to the activity of the Church in the diocese.

The right approach makes all the difference

Obviously, Steven is trying to do something good and I applaud him. I just want him to be able to make the biggest difference that he can with his efforts. It takes the same amount of energy to raise $500 by nickels and dimes as it does to raise $5,000 by credit card. I know that he can do better.

Of course, you as the pastor need to give him permission to do so. We're about to try to raise the money to re-roof the Church, so you might not want him doing a more intensive fundraising drive on behalf of the sisters. In fact… his willingness to stand out in the back with a bucket might be a good indication that he has the right stuff to be on the roof committee. He has already shown his interest in raising money to build things, maybe it's time to put that drive to work.


Nathan - The Almoner

P.S. I do realize that the Salvation Army does impulse fundraising every Christmas ringing their little bells outside Walmart. It works because they are doing it with something like 50,000 volunteers at 3,000 stores for over a month. Impulse fundraising at that scale can work... because loose change from 100,000,000 people does eventually add up to real money. It's a different story when the audience is the same 500 people you see every week.