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Thursday, March 06, 2008

FUNDRAISING: A TALE OF TWO BLOGS


The following was published in this month's edition of THE VOICE, a publication of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

Fundraising. It’s the bane of many in parochial ministry, a harsh necessity to provide financial support for particular social justice programs or organizations, some of which are missions of the church, above and beyond (and often in addition to) the regular stewardship campaign.

Technology has been an enormous help. Information is more easily available, and almost anyone has the ability to produce promotional information that is effective and looks professional. Communication by email is often more efficient than a telephone call or ‘snail mail’. When inevitable problems or glitches arise, a group email can settle the problem in a matter of hours.

Fundraising in Cyberspace? Get out! No way!

Yes way. Not only do I know it exists, I’ve seen it happen.

From December 1, 2007 to January 6, 2008, I was privileged to be part of an international effort which raised over $10,000 in cyberspace for a special ministry of Cristo Rei(Christ the King) Episcopal Anglican Church in Cidade de Deus (City of God), the poorest section of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To know how we did that is to know the story of two Blogs and the power of the Internet as a highly influential post-modern medium of message.

Jonathan Hagger, an Anglican Priest at St. Francis, Newcastle Upon Tyne has a blog “Of Course I Could Be Wrong” where his alter-ego, “MadPriest” is the virtual mayor of an international “neighbourhood” where absolutely everyone is invited and no holds are barred.

In preparation for General Convention 2006, Randy Johnson, the Parish Administrator at St. Paul’s, set up a Blog for me as a place where I could keep my wardens, vestry and parish members informed of my perceptions of General Convention. I called it “Telling Secrets” which, in my naiveté, I thought only they would read. I’m embarrassed to admit it now, but I had no clue that Blogs were such a vastly public place or that anyone else would find my reflections of any interest. Almost 170,000 visitors later, it has become an unintended hobby where I now post reflective essays about various topics that interest or confound me as well as various news items concerning events in the World Wide Anglican Communion in general and The Episcopal Church in particular.

Luiz Coehlo is a frequent commenter on both Blogs, with a few Blogs of his own. He is a seminarian who did an internship in Cidade de Deus, often telling us what he witnessed in his ministry among the children, there, sometimes sending us pictures or videos.

Jonathan contacted me by phone one mid-November morning and together we hatched a simple plan to raise money for “Luiz’s kids”. It would be a Christmas Appeal to the readership of our Blogs. We thought we might be able to raise, oh, perhaps, a couple thousand dollars. Maybe buy some Christmas presents for the kiddos. We had no idea!

There were 134 contributors to the Appeal: 122 from the US, 6 from the UK, 3 from Canada, one from Sweden and two from Australia. More than a handful of contributions were in the amount of $5 and one in the amount of $500; most were in the range of $25 -$75. Approximately 10 people contributed more than once - several contributed several times in small amounts of $5 and large amounts of $100. There was one challenge donation of $200 and an appeal to sacrifice our “Starbucks fix” for one week and contribute that amount to the Appeal.

Laura Weinbrom, our Parish Financial Coordinator, set up a PayPal Account through St. Paul’s, Chatham as well as a checking account designated for this specific purpose. Contributors were told that they could donate either by credit card through PayPal or check to St. Paul’s.

Jonathan and I ‘launched’ the campaign on the first of December on our Blogs. We provided updates every couple of days. Jonathan was a particularly effective fundraiser, sometimes using outrageous humor to promote generous giving. We rejoice to have been able to wire $10,180 to the church’s account in Rio bank.

I should say that while PayPal provided the most efficient and most often used means for contributions, it was not the easiest administratively. They do charge a hefty surcharge of 30% and their requirements were sometimes daunting for a small tax-exempt organization. I think we learned a great deal from this experience and we’ll be ready for it next time.

Yes, there will be a next time. We already provide automatic monthly cash withdrawal for those who pledge at St. Paul’s. My finance committee and I are in conversation with my Wardens and Vestry about how we might use credit cards and/or PayPal and the Internet for specific fundraising efforts. Might we ‘partner’ with a ‘sister’ parish in a ‘companion’ diocese? Might there be people who do not claim membership in a particular church or denomination who, nevertheless, might want to support a good work of ministry?

In these days of financial constraint and concern, it behooves us, I think, to apply our imagination to ways we might use technology creatively to assist us in raising the funds needed to do the work of Christ’s mission in the world.

After all, Jesus used the web of the technology of his day - sandals. He sent his disciples out two by two to create webs of information and community, which eventually (and very effectively) became international in their composition.

I am happy to share the particulars of our experience with anyone who wishes to give this a try. I would love to learn about your experiences. The best way to reach me is either on my cell phone or by email – but, of course!

Information about Cristo Rei: http://cristorei.anglicanarj.org/home-en.html
Cidade de Deus: http://cristorei.anglicanarj.org/cidade_de_deus-en.html

8 comments:

David Austin Allen said...

There was one contribution from Mexico, but I could not get Pay Pal to accept my bank card from a Mexican bank. After a number of days of trying without success, I used an account I have in a bank in the USA to make my contribution.

Jim of L-Town said...

Did PayPal really take $3,000 of the donations simply for being the go between?
That's pathetic and would hamper any possibility that I would use that site to send a contribution to anyone.
That information should have been made known at the time people were donating.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, David, for the clarification. You do understand that my reporting, at least as we received it from PayPal, was accurate.

Jim - I couldn't agree with you more. Jonathan and I had long discussions and disagreements about that, but were finally convinced that we could get more donations through PayPal then through checks. Turns out, that was right. I hate it that it was right, but, well, there it is.

Seems to me that PayPal ought to have a different rate for charitable organizations. It doesn't. Perhaps we should write and protest and get them to change their policy.

If anyone knows of another way to handle international contributions for charitable organizations online, please do let me know.

Janet Detter Margul said...

Elizabeth, you might investigate the viability of getting a merchant account and take credit cards your own self. There's still a fee, nothing is free, but it's going to average you more like four percent or so. A huge savings over PayPal. And being able to take credit cards directly may be of some use to your church.

We raised about the same amount of money in the fall of 2001 for the Red Cross, ran an online auction which was a ton of fun, and used PayPal. At the time they were charging half as much, but it upset us and upset our donors. I swore we'd not do that again, and within a year had gotten the merchant account. (I'd also opened a small business, taking credit cards helps big time with that.) Turns out my minimum fee is $20 a month, once beyond that it's about four percent of the charges.

I'd volunteer to take credit cards on mine and send you the cash minus my fees, if I can just figure out how to handle my taxes. I've got to do those soon and will look and ponder and see if I can see a way. And if I can, perhaps someone in your parish can, too, then the donations stay much closer to you.

Just a suggestion, but I think you must take credit cards to reach your international donors, and your own or someone else's merchant account is, I think, the good way to go.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Janet - I'm not very clear on all of this, but I believe that we needed the church's tax exempt status to do charitable fundraising, so a 'merchant account' wouldn't apply. But, I will certainly check out that option and get greater clarity about it.

Our church has also made a decision not to accept credit cards because of the ethical issue of credit card debt, so that's out for us. Besides, the $20 monthly fee is simply not worth it for us if we're not going to use it on a regular basis. You're right, though, credit cards are the way to get international contributions.

Thanks for your suggestions, Janet. PayPal was not easy to deal with - demanded a personal credit card before they would relinquish any of the money (WTF!!!!), even though they had our tax exempt number, and then only wanted to release the money a few thousand dollars a month - obviously a move to their benefit. It took a great deal of haggling, HOURS on hold listening to musac, and lots and lots of persistence and stubbornness, but we finally got the job done.

We are not a 'major' corporate sized church, so this was a real pain in the neck we didn't need. It's really a tribute to Laura (our financial guru) and her tenacity and intelligence and skill.

I think we got the kinks worked out, but it is still disturbing that they charge such a high rate for international service. If we do go with PayPal next year, I think it is important to let folk know about the service charge.

whiteycat4104 said...

Had I known this ahead of time I definitely would have mailed you a check... twice! I will remember this for next time.

Paul said...

While PayPal may indeed have been usurius (aka a rip-off), nonetheless it made it easy for me to make my small contributions, which I otherwise would most likely not have made. I almost never write checks.

Returning to the positive side of this experience, I was very happy to add my tidbits repeatedly, in spite of being unemployed and knowing my funds were running out. I was also overjoyed to push it on my own blog with colorful updates each time Jonathan released a new total. The excitement at seeing this project take off was wonderful. It also helped those of us who began blogging as little ego outlets to put our energies to something larger than and beyond ourselves, a true act of mission and community building.

Thanks, Elizabeth and Jonathan, for making this possible.

Lindy said...

Yeah... I probably would have made mine a check too, if I'd known. No big deal though. You and MP did a great thing and I think it was great that so many of us could be part of it.

You would probably find a lot of people in the cyber world who would give a dab to support some special project, or just to contribute to the life of your parish. Your own ministry extends far beyond Newark you know.