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