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How can I raise money for mission trips?

While few people find themselves raising money professionally or as a full time volunteer, it is not uncommon to need to raise money for some special purpose, especially mission trips. Mission trips have become more and more popular among churchgoers who are looking to live their faith in a concrete way. People travel to different communities or countries to build a church, or an orphanage, or work with children, or go to a conference to get special training. Unfortunately, a lack of money is often seen as a barrier to being able to go. "I would love to go, but I can't afford it."

This excuse doesn't fly. God has lots of money. He just hides it in other people's pockets to give you an opportunity to build new relationships.

This past year, I discovered an organization that really figured this out. FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, published an excellent fundraising guide for students who wanted to attend the annual FOCUS conference. Their method is simple, straightforward, and effective. In a word, it's good fundraising. You can find the full document here, if you are interested. It is absolutely excellent.

I'll give you a birds eye view of what I think they did so well.

Eye on the prize.

Their approach starts by laying a scriptural foundation for your fundraising efforts. They acknowledge how hard it is to raise money for a mission trip, even if you're passionate about the opportunity. The packet gives a list of scripture passages for meditation and some questions to ponder.

Why do they do this? When you're pondering a verse like, "Ask and you shall receive," it will change your perspective on what you're trying to do. Calling to mind that Jesus sent out His disciples without a purse or extra provisions of any kind will give you confidence that asking for money is not a bad thing. It's good thing, even if it is a hard thing. God specifically instructed His disciples to ask for material support from the people they would evangelize. It's part of His PLAN.

Know the process.

Once FOCUS lays the foundation, they give you the plan. It's a good plan that will succeed if you follow it diligently. You'll be asking your friends, family, and members of your parish to support your mission work.

The essentials of the plan look like this:

  1. Create a budget - You have to know how much money you need to raise. Add up what your trip will cost for travel, housing, registration, food, and incidentals.
  2. Write a list of people to ask - The money you need will come from people you know. Start with your closest relationships and keep going until you have a list of 30-40 people.
  3. Draft an appeal letter - People won't give if they don't understand the need. Tell them about your mission trip, why it's important, what you'll accomplish.
  4. Mail your letter - You have to get your letter out there. You can print out the letters, but know that a hand written note (even if it's just a sentence as a P.S.) makes a huge difference.
  5. Follow up - A personal phone call is where the miracle happens. The letters have primed the pump, but you'll get a much greater response when you call each person you wrote and ask them to support your mission.
  6. Tracking - Keep good records of who gave what. It's important for the next step.
  7. Send "Thank You" note - Invest in some nice stationery and send thank you notes immediately after you receive gifts. You should wait no more than 2-3 days before sending out thank you's.
  8. Report on your experience - After you finish the mission trip or conference, write another letter sharing your experience. Your donors will get great satisfaction from hearing how their gifts made something awesome possible.

While this seems like a fair amount of work, recognize that the hardest part is stirring up your courage to ask for money. The first phone call will be the hardest to make, but you'll soon see that the vast majority of people that you talk to will be delighted to hear from you and many will help out.

Great samples.

FOCUS did their missionaries a great service by providing sample letters and phone scripts. While they might not apply specifically to your situation or your mission opportunity, they provide a great place to start. Nothing quite like a sample to help break through the dreaded "empty page writer's block."

Don't downplay the effectiveness of a phone script. Once you get on the call, you will go off script. That's a given. Having a basic call structure written down supplies one very important ingredient: confidence. If you have a script, you'll feel confident that you know what to say at the beginning of the call, what words to use when you're making the ask, and how to close. This confidence will make you feel more relaxed and the call will be easier as a result. Having a script will also prevent you from sitting and looking at the phone for an hour while you try to gather your courage to make the ask.

Build your support team.

One of the things that the packet doesn't mention is how a successful fundraising campaign can lay the groundwork for the future. You might discover on your mission trip that you'd like to engage in more regular mission work. Maybe even become a full time missionary.

If you follow the process of asking, thanking, and reporting back on the success of your trip, you now have a base of supporters that can be asked again. People like to give (or they wouldn't do it) and the person who is most likely to give is someone who has already given (unless you did a poor job thanking them and sharing the fruit of your experience).

Lifelong missionaries are supported by lifelong mission partners. Your first attempt at fundraising might open the door to donor relationships that could sustain your mission activities for decades.

Looking for more articles on personal ministry fundraising? Try this one:

Check out The Fundraiser's Playbook for a full list of fundraising articles.

Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on Amazon.com.
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