Are You Looking for a Refreshingly New Way to Fund Raise?

I begin with a question:

Have you have ever purchased a notebook, journal, or day planner thinking it would be the best thing you have ever purchased? Perhaps you thought, I’ll use it for everything, take it everywhere I go, and keep it forever. There was so much excitement and it was a wonderful few days or weeks maybe, but the excitement eventually fizzled. Eventually, the notebook, journal, or planner was cruelly abandoned to collecting dust.

Sound familiar? Perhaps you also have a shelf full of barely started or half-full notebooks.

An Unexpected Success Story

On June 30, 2015, two aspiring entrepreneurs, Jon Richards and Jacob Durham, launched an online KickStarter campaign for a notebook they claimed would change peoples’ lives. Their campaign launch only hoped to raise a meager $10,000. Not only was this raised within 24 hours, but just nine days later, the project was 500% funded. In two months, the campaign ended having raised $383,385 with 9,100 supporters.

In an age where laptops and tablets can easily replace notebooks, blogs replace journals, and Google Calendar replaces day planners, how could two men do the unthinkable by raising over a quarter million dollars in two months for a bound volume of mostly blank paper?

Simply put, Jon and Jacob were selling much more than a notebook, journal, or day planner. They were selling a vision, a solution to a felt need, a remedy to a disease—that our lives could be significantly improved and more productive through better organization if only we had in our possession this notebook.

The Key to Their Success and Our Failure

As soon as people caught this vision, their credit cards easily made that vision a reality. Their strategy for fundraising success is the opposite of fundraising and budgeting strategies of many churches.

I am fully cognizant of my youth and my limited experience in church leadership, but I have been present in church meetings where everything is going smoothly until finances are brought up. Then, the tension in the room can be cut with a knife. Well-meaning church leaders agonize over every line item on the church budget and wonder how in the world income can possibly exceed expenses.

Empty, dreadful sermons are foisted on congregations by preachers trying to convince them with sound reasoning as to why financial support for the church is necessary, even biblical. Well-crafted letters are sent with a guilt-trip or arm-twisting closing like, “Please fill out the enclosed pledge card and return to the church office promptly.” Why is fundraising and budgeting season more often than not a disastrous turn-off rather than a Spirit-filled, joyous season of the church year?

Making Room for the Spirit

Why can two guys raise a load of money for blank books and the church, a place where Spirit works, struggles to make ends meet. For too long, there has been disconnect between the church’s vision and the church’s budget. The sacred texts during the season of fundraising and budgeting are found in leather-bound wallets, faux-leather checkbook covers, and plastic cards inscribed with “American Express” or “CapitalOne.” This is what fuels ministry. But, why do people hide these sacred texts so diligently?

What if we stopped promoting guilt-trips and obligation and instead cast a vision for what God can do in our congregations? What if we focused on the church’s vision and mission, and presented finances as an integrated subsection them? As one wise person once said, “Keep the main thing the main thing.”

In his book, Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, J. Clif Christopher offers a powerful reminder that people are more likely to give towards a vision rather than a budget (case in point, Jon and Jacob’s KickStarter notebook).

Yet for years, churches have presented budgets in all of their copious details and have essentially said, “Here it is. This is what we need. Y’all give now.” So maybe the challenge for the Church this fundraising and budgeting season is not to bludgeon people with financial manipulation or to pour salt in its fiscal wounds, but rather to capture and cast its vision and mission.

If two men can raise $383,385 with a vision for a notebook, how much more will we be able to do when we begin reclaiming and grasping the vision of the Kingdom of God as shown in the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ! Is not his Gospel of much greater value than a notebook on KickStarter, O ye of little faith? After all…

We are not offering self-improvement.
We are offering a life changed by Jesus Christ.

We are not promising simplistic organization stratagems.
We are proclaiming salvation to the utmost.

We are not striving for a productive life.
We are promising a life filled and invigorated with a divine purpose.

I firmly believe followers of Jesus are longing to believe in and to support God’s vision for their lives and congregations. They are not craving to fund line items on a budget, and most of them are tired of the same old stewardship season tactics of years past.

We believe and proclaim a Gospel that is the ultimate remedy for the soul. We preach Jesus, who is in and of his very self, the ultimate redemption in every unredeemable situation. Jesus and his Gospel have given us our vision and our mission. Our giving represents our belief and trust in this Gospel and its power to go beyond our church walls and turn the world upside down.

With that vision and mission in mind, we can enter into a new stewardship season rejoicing and thanksgiving.

Keith Turner

The Reverend Keith Turner serves as the John Wesley Minister and assistant chaplain, and assistant program director for the Lilly-funded summer youth theology institute, Open Table at the University of Evansville, a United Methodist college in Southern Indiana. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Bible and Theology from Asbury University and his Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and is a licensed pastor in the United Methodist Church. He is also a pianist, organist, and church musician.

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