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What are Charitable Enterprises?

When you sell something to raise money for your cause, that's a charitable enterprise.

A bake sale by any other name…


What’s a charitable enterprise? Bake sales. Pancake breakfasts. Trappist Beer. T-shirt sales. Rummage Sales. Raffles. Egg roll sales (a favorite in my parish and my house). These are the first kinds of ‘fundraisers’ that most people first think of when they start talking about fundraising.

Rather than calling this fundraising, I prefer to call these ‘Charitable Enterprises.’ Why? What’s the difference?

With all the examples above, you will be selling some ‘thing’ that has a cost attached to it. The difference between that cost and what you charge is your profit, or what you have ‘fund raised’. Each one of those enterprises is like a little business that will hopefully end up making more money than it cost.

Indirect fundraising vs. direct fundraising.

I’ve heard charitable enterprises referred to as ‘indirect fundraising’ as compared with ‘direct fundraising.’ This clarifies the difference between charitable enterprise and regular fundraising by pointing out the fact that the indirect fundraising focuses on selling a product that will provide funding, whereas direct fundraising focuses on selling the mission of the organization.

Often, people choose a charitable enterprise model because they are embarrassed to ask people to support their mission. Or they think that fundraising is begging and that it is beneath them. So they feel safer offering an item for sale because it makes any rejection they might experience less personal. A ‘no’ to a box of egg rolls is not a ‘no’ to you or to your mission. It softens the blow a bit.

On the other hand, some charitable enterprises might fit very nicely with your mission and add value to what you are trying to accomplish. Examples are a thrift store or a clothes closet attached to a food pantry, or a storefront that sells crafts made by people receiving training.

One place where you often find very successful charitable enterprises is in religious life. A primary charism of the Benedictines is ‘Ora et labora’ — or ‘prayer and work.’ These work very well because the cost of labor is absorbed by those who are living the monastic life.


Looking for more articles on charitable enterprises? Try these:

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.

Image courtesy of Amy Gizienski, via Creative Commons License, some rights reserved.

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