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Fundraising for Churches

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Fundraising for Churches

Julian Lomas

Over the years we’ve done quite a lot of fundraising for churches and other faith-inspired charities both for capital appeals and for social and church projects. While many of the same principles apply, there are some important differences to fundraising for purely secular causes. This short article explores some of these further, in particular:

  • The need to choose potential grant funders carefully.

  • Recognising the values of the church or charity in the fundraising methods chosen.

  • How to pitch a faith-inspired project to a “secular” funder.

Finding the right grant funders

The good news is that there are many grant making trusts and foundations out there who specifically want to fund organisations and projects that either expressly “advance religion” (using the horrendous languages of the Charities Acts) or that are inspired and motivated by a particular faith. Equally there are many “secular” funders who are eager to fund good projects that fit their criteria regardless of whether or not those projects will be run by a church or other faith-based organisation.

Of course, there are also plenty of secular funders who are nervous or even hostile about funding churches or other faith-based organisations even when the project proposed is not one that is focussed on “advancing religion” (or “proselytising” as many of them put it).

How can you tell which funders could be suitable for your project or organisation?

  • First and foremost, read their criteria carefully and if you don’t fit, don’t approach them (and be honest with yourself about this).

  • Secondly, look at what and who they have funded in the past. If there are no churches or faith-based charities in that list they may not be the right funder for you.

  • Thirdly, look at the language they use when they talk about their criteria. Do they seem hostile towards religious organisations?

  • Fourthly, ask them! Give them a call or drop them a line and gauge for yourself from their response what their position is likely to be.

  • And lastly, if you need it get some help and advice. Of course we’d be happy to advise if you engage our services. We can also recommend a great website called Church Grants set up by one of our associates. Church Grants includes a simple, easy to use (and affordable) search tool that should help you find appropriate funders for your church or project.

Recognising faith values in fundraising

Of course, secular and faith-based organisations share many values, but in our experience there are some differences that need consideration when developing fundraising strategies or appeals for faith-based organisations. These include:

  • Avoiding funders that derive their money from sources that clash with the faith’s values. This might include gambling (for example National Lottery good causes such as The Big Lottery Fund or Heritage Lottery Fund). It could also include foundations set up using funds derived from industries that work with regimes that persecute people of faith or funders with historic endowments from philanthropists who were connected with slavery. Make sure you are clear about where your organisation’s boundaries are in these respects

  • Not treating major donors in ways that differentiate them from smaller donors (e.g. not offering naming rights etc).

  • Not using certain forms of fundraising such as raffles or other forms of gambling.

These are just a few examples, but it is important to know what your ethical policies and boundaries are before embarking on fundraising in a faith context.

Pitching a church project to a secular funder

As already mentioned, there are many funders who are not motivated by “advancing religion” but who are more than happy to fund projects run by faith-based organisations. Some will even fund projects that are directly about religious activity (such as restoration or development of church buildings). Others are careful not to fund “proselytising” or “evangelising” but recognise that many good projects aiming to deliver charitable public benefit in areas other than advancing religion are run by faith-based organisations or are inspired by a faith.

When pitching your project to this latter group it is important to use the right approaches to avoid misunderstandings. In our experience the following simple hints and tips can really help get this right:

  • Be honest with yourself. Is your project really primarily about bringing more people into the church (what many funders will call “proselytising” or “evangelising”)? If it is, don’t try and pretend otherwise.

  • If your project genuinely does aim to deliver charitable public benefit with social (or secular) outcomes (such as helping homeless people, relieving poverty, supporting people with mental or physical health challenges etc.), then be clear about what those outcomes are and articulate them clearly (and early) in your bid.

  • Avoid using “churchy” language and jargon (any jargon really). They won’t understand it or they will misunderstand your intentions and could even conclude that you are trying hoodwink them into thinking your “proselytising” or “evangelising” project is a social project just to get their money. Look at the language they use on their website or in their publications and use that where you can.

  • Be careful to present a budget for your project that is just for the project and does not import budgets associated with running your church or other religious activities. Even if you are asking for core funding, make sure it is only core funding for your project (i.e. restricted funding).

If you would like to discuss whether and how to tailor your fundraising practice in a church or faith-based context we'd be delighted to hear from you. Simply contact us at julian@almondtreeconsulting.co.uk to arrange free initial telephone discussion.