Consider how Jesus Fundraised

Jesus did NOT sell furniture!

Dear Fr. Zagloba,

Yes, I am serious that I do not consider bake sales fundraisers: neither are rosary, pancake breakfasts and egg roll sales for that matter. I agree that the Pancake Breakfast is an institution, and I know that I will be able to stop the moon before I stop the Knights of Columbus from doing it. People may enjoy it, but it is not fundraising.

Why? This distinction between what is and is not fundraising is vital.

Bake sales and all other forms of sales are a business. What is a business? You make a product and then sell it for a price higher than your cost. The difference between those two values is your profit. In the history of the Church, there are plenty of great examples of these kinds of ‘charitable enterprises’.

I love Trappist beer. Beer is an excellent example of a charitable enterprise model. The monks pray, and they make beer. They sell the beer and use the money to support their monastery. Prayer elevates everything, including beer making, which is why Trappist beer is so delicious. Is this fundraising? No. It is beer selling.

Fundraising has a different focus.

In fundraising, you are ‘selling’ the mission, not a product. Last week, I was in a parking lot. Crowding the street exit were a group 13-year-old boys wearing football uniforms, carrying signs, and using their helmets to collect donations. They were raising money so they could go to football camp. They weren’t offering anything in return for a donation, except for the warm fuzzy feeling of helping them do something good.

The boys’ activity is fundraising at it’s most basic level. They wanted people who drove by them to buy into their mission. Their ‘ask’ was, “If you give us money, it will support a wholesome summer activity for a bunch of boys who would otherwise be out getting into trouble.”

I bought into their message, and I handed the boys a few dollars.

Though it was basic fundraising, I must admit it isn’t the most efficient form of fundraising because they are not establishing long-term relationships with their donors, but this is a topic for another letter.

When you have the Pearl of Great Price, don’t sell doughnuts.

A few days later, two ladies carrying 12 boxes of doughnuts approached me in a different parking lot. One told me that she was selling doughnuts to raise money for her mission trip to Africa. I’m a fan of mission trips. I, however, politely declined.

Why? Apart from not being hungry for a sugar rush, I did not want to give my money to buy a doughnut. The ladies were selling doughnuts, not the mission trip. The request was, “Will you buy THESE doughnuts, so I can go build an orphanage in Africa.” Do you see the difference between their ask and that of the boys? It’s a fine line, but that is why selling things is not fundraising. When you engage in a charitable enterprise (business), you focus your potential donor on the benefit they will receive from their purchase. Whatever you try to sell, beer, doughnuts, rosaries, books, your potential donors are asking themselves, “Do I want this [product]?”

Rather, when you fundraise, focus on the good your donor will accomplish by giving their money. You do so by helping people get excited about being a part of something greater than themselves. You tell stories about the ministries that the Church will perform; the new members of the Church that will receive the sacraments, the outreach to the poor that will be enabled, the people who walk in darkness who will see a great Light. Their generosity helps make these moments possible.

The potential donor considers the ‘ask’ an invitation to participate in the greater work of the Church. This moment, therefore, is also a time of conversion! The potential donor chooses between the benefit of holding on to their money and giving it away for the sake of someone else.

Jesus did not sell chairs to support His ministry.

Jesus, as a carpenter, likely made the best chairs ever. He, however, did not support his ministry by selling furniture. Instead, Jesus relied on donors – women in fact – who gave of their resources BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED IN HIS MISSION (rather than a product). When the fullness of time arrived, he set aside his tools and preached the Kingdom. When he called His disciples, they too left their businesses (fishing and accounting) to preach the Kingdom.

When a person awakens to the Kingdom of God, they respond in the same way. When your fundraising focuses on your mission, on “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,” people get excited. They want to give because they have caught hold of a vision greater than themselves. This supernatural reality, not some business transaction, should be the foundation of your Catholic fundraising.

Plus, you don’t have to wash the dishes required to bake 182,000 brownies.



– “The Almoner”

->Next Letter - Fundraise Like a Franciscan

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