Beyond the offering plate: Diversifying your church’s fundraising strategy

Laura Strauss offers three tips for churches that need help making ends meet.

One tenth or tithe is basis on which Bible teaches us to give one tenth of first fruit to God. coins with Holy Bible. Biblical concept of Christian offering, generosity, and giving tithes in church.

My congregation gives generously but is unable to meet the church budget. Countless pastors are in a similar situation. We stand in the pulpit from Sunday to Sunday, announce the call to the offering and know those within the pews are doing the best they can with what they have. Yet the tyranny of the heating bill, the electric bill, salaries, the leaky roof, and the broken copier beckon. What are our churches to do?

After years of negotiating this question at a small church, I’ve learned that we must diversify fundraising our methods. Individual donor giving is just one method our congregations can use to balance our budgets. Here are three more.

1. Don’t just apply for a grant, earn a grant.

Congregations cannot overestimate the power of grants. However, winning a grant is more than just finding and applying for money. I’ve learned that to win the grant, you must earn the grant. This means building a relationship with the grant funding organization, getting to know the individual who manages the grants, and creating one-on-one opportunities to share with that individual how your congregation’s work reflects their organization’s mission. As it is with pastoral care work, grants are about relationships.

I realized the importance of relationships in grant writing after several of my applications were rejected. I am one of the many who have experienced the disappointment of being denied a sabbatical grant funded by Lilly Endowment. It was crushing! I turned to professional editors to review every grant application from there on out, certain the rejections were because of my writing skills. My current congregation then applied for a grant through our local historic landmark association. By accident, my checking in on the status of the application became an ongoing conversation on mission and vision. A relationship was born … and the grant was received!

2. Start a tradition of legacy giving.

The church is one of the only places where death is a frequent topic of conversation whether it’s planning a funeral luncheon or deacons providing hospice visitation. Therefore, it makes sense that the church should be the place where congregational leaders can talk with the congregation about caring for the church through legacy giving. The Presbyterian Foundation offers helpful resources on this topic, including material for pastors to learn how to have these conversations with their congregants.

One of the ways pastors can invite congregations into Legacy Giving is through an annual, “Church Triumphant Sunday,” which may coincide with All Saints’ Sunday. As the congregation remembers those who have died in the past year, the pastor can preach on the ways we may continue to bless the church after our passing. There may be an opportunity following worship for individuals to fill out forms communicating their desires for their funerals, such as Scriptures read and hymns sung. The event may include a Presbyterian Foundation representative and Legacy Giving literature. The best time to have these conversations is when congregants are healthy and death is not an immediate concern.

3. Translate congregational enthusiasm into annual events.

Annual giving events do not have to be limited to the congregation. Golf outings, a fun run, and other events draw from donors outside of the Sunday donor base. The prospect of having fun for a cause appeals to the family and friends of regular donors, as well as the larger community. This is more impactful if the event advertising tells a compelling story through photos of the ministries the church provides.

“Bacon in every bite,” was the coin phrase for Clinton United Presbyterian Church’s BLT luncheons. As the pastor of this rural Pittsburgh congregation for a decade, these luncheons were my favorite event of the year! Youth group volunteers basket-weaved bacon together into a patty, used tomatoes fresh from a local farm, put too much butter on toast and created a community-wide event. Word of the Bacon-In-Every-Bite BLT spread until the event became a major congregational fundraiser.  Did it bring in funds from church members? Yes. How about funds from beyond the pews? Absolutely! The aim is to harness the excitement of the congregation. Where do you sense enthusiasm in the church? Can this joy be the basis for an event that invites the community to join in?

You may notice that all three of these options to diversify your fundraising emphasize relationships. This is not about monetizing friendships but inviting individuals to participate in God’s work among you. Build relationships with grant funding agencies. Nurture relationships with those who may want to contribute to the church’s long-term future. Invite the community into the work that you are doing. If your congregation is doing the work of the Spirit, potential donors will be honored to be included.

Consider this permission to look beyond the Sunday morning offering. Diversify revenue sources through grant funding, legacy giving, and annual events that reflect your congregations’ gifts. Developing your fundraising work can be a way to think with your head and your heart at the same time.

The Presbyterian Outlook is committed to fostering faithful conversations by publishing a diversity of voices. The opinions expressed are the author’s and may or may not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Outlook’s editorial staff or the Presbyterian Outlook Foundation. Want to join the conversation? You can write to us or submit your own article here

Want to think together about church fundraising strategies? Join Outlook Social Media Producer Jesy Littlejohn (they/them) in a conversation with Laura Strauss. Jesy and Laura met on Facebook Live on April 17, 2024.