Our Favorite Youth Ministry Fundraisers
Mention the word fundraiser to most youth workers, and they will probably respond with cringing, eye rolling, and facial twitching. But fundraising doesn’t have to be a necessary evil to overcome. We asked several youth ministry leaders to share with us their favorite youth group fundraisers. Their responses prove that fundraisers can do more than raise money—they can develop students.
Dodgeball Extravaganza Fundraiser
One of our best fundraisers is an annual dodgeball tournament with a purpose—we called it the Dodgeball Extravaganza. Our middle school group would create teams, and then we’d charge $5 per person to join a team. All of the money went to a community in Uganda via a nonprofit based in Nashville called Know.Think.Act. Students would invite their friends, everyone would play dodgeball and create hilarious team cheers and uniforms, and we’d finish our time talking about how our tournament also supported young people thousands of miles away. Build friendships, create awareness of global poverty, and make a difference in a community in Africa? That’s what I call a win-win-win.
Auction Idea #1: ‘Share the Love’ Auction and Dinner Fundraiser
Tye and Courtney Jackson, Youth Directors at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Amarillo Texas
We hold an annual fundraiser that the entire church looks forward to and participates in. Our “Share the Love” Silent Auction and Dinner—held every year on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day—has become an event that not only funds our missions work, but also gives students a chance to witness an inter-generational congregation come together to be the hands and feet of Christ.
Before the auction, we solicit local businesses for donated items for the silent auction including gift cards, jewelry, music lessons, and handmade items from our congregation. We also decide on a few high-value items for the live auction, such as an autographed Texas Tech football helmet, a reserved parking spot in the church parking lot for an entire year, and four backstage passes to our local TEXAS Outdoor Musical. A local auctioneer volunteers his time for the live auction. (It’s amazing how much this helps!) We also find several local sponsors to underwrite the event. All of these solicitations are done during school hours, but our students get involved in many other ways. They run the booth to sell tickets, help decorate and set up the auction location, prepare a photo booth with a fun backdrop and props, and clean up afterward.
During the auction, students prepare and plate food, greet guests, take drink orders, serve the meals, and basically attend to everyone’s needs. They also manage the individual items and bid sheets for the silent auction. This may sound like the grandest o fundraisers, but the benefit is huge! It gives our students an opportunity to serve members of their church family they might not encounter on a regular basis. They take ownership of their youth program and feel invested in the missions they worked so hard to fund. Most importantly, our students witness the generosity and commitment of our congregation—something they can carry with them throughout their lives as examples of what it means to follow and serve as Christ’s body.
Ice Cream Social Fundraiser
Summer is by far my favorite season for fundraisers. Take, for example, the ice cream social. I’ve found this fundraiser works best right after the main church service lets out. Students set up a station outside the doors where congregants can purchase an ice cream sundae. We usually charge $2.50 for a sundae and 10 cents for each topping after the first two. Ice cream always seems to make me thirsty, so we also have lemonade or some other drink on sale as well. The best part about this fundraiser? It’s almost entirely student led. One group of students plans and purchases the supplies needed. Another group creates the advertisements and sets up the booth and displays. A third team runs the booth on the days of the fundraiser. With smaller youth groups, each student can volunteer to work on multiple teams. Larger groups may need to swap out students manning the booth from time to time so everyone has a chance to serve. We saw an excellent return with this fundraiser since only three sundae sales covered the cost of one gallon of ice cream. If you ask congregants to donate supplies, the fundraiser will be that much more successful, and you’ll have the perfect opportunity to connect adults with students!
Rent-a-Student Work Day Fundraiser
You probably know this one well—people bid to have a group of students work for a few hours on household projects. It’s already a great fundraiser, because it doesn’t cost much more than the time of your students, and it connects them with other members of your church. But if you’re raising funds for a mission trip, you can easily take it to a whole new level. What will the students be doing on their trip? Pouring concrete? Putting up fences? Building a house? When students choose services to auction, have them pick something they know they’ll have to do on the mission trip. That way, they’ll get experience on their project in a comfortable environment before doing it somewhere unfamiliar.
Auction Idea #2: Students Secure the Items Fundraiser
We held an auction (with a professional fundraiser who donated his time) to aid students in raising money for missions. The event was catered with BBQ plate dinners (priced at two times the cost—because it’s a fundraiser!). Students were responsible for securing all auction items, which had to be new, valuable, and desirable to most people. In other words, this was not a garage sale. After these items were secured about two weeks out, a team of students, parents, and volunteers put packages together for the live auction. For instance a tuxedo rental, flowers, and an evening of limo service were put together as a prom package for the live auction. A vacation package included frequent flier miles, car rental, and a timeshare condo in Maui. We typically raised $15,000 to $20,000 in one afternoon.
Babysitting Night Fundraiser
John Vandervelde, Executive Director at LeaderTreks
One of my favorite mission trip fundraisers is a babysitting night at the church. The youth group invites families to drop their kids off at church for a few hours so the parents can go out. In exchange, the parents donate money to the youth group’s mission trip. Sounds simple enough, but the best part of this fundraiser starts when the parents leave. For the evening, the youth run the VBS program they will be running on their trip. They can practice the songs, crafts, and skits, working out any problems so everything will go smoother in the mission trip context.
Chipotle Dinner and Car Wash Fundraiser
Over the years, my students have sold candy, jewelry, and Mary Kay cosmetics. We have baked our hearts out only to have someone haggle with us over the price of a cupcake. That’s why the best fundraisers are ones students come up with or totally invest in. Here are two examples.
Our local Chipotle will give groups 50 percent of all sales during a three-hour period (Chick-fil-A and Fuddruckers offer similar opportunities). My students came up with this idea because they and their friends love Chipotle. The catch is, the only blocks of time available are when sales are usually low. That just means your students will have to do some work to get people through the doors! You can encourage them to create a social media campaign or make an announcement during the service. Our students recruited their school’s entire soccer and cross country teams to meet for burritos after practice. They passed out fliers and held up hand-made signs. They coordinated entire families to have a “take-out night” if they couldn’t eat in. They even told parents they could “spend more time together as a family by not cooking!” Hands down, we made more money here than anywhere else, even similar food-based initiatives.
Another idea I stole from a friend. Instead of planning a traditional car wash, he gives students pledge forms. The students set a goal to wash at least 100 cars. Donors can pledge a base amount or an amount per car. Then, on the day of the event, all car washes are free. Students prepare the event, run the car wash, and make sure it is in a well-trafficked area. Nine times out of ten, when people stop and ask, “Why is this free?” they make donations on the spot. Remember, if students aren’t excited, the fundraiser will probably flop. Fundraising is the ancillary benefit. The primary goal is twofold: First, students will see that there are lessons from the Lord on the journey, not just at the destination. Second, they will have the opportunity to get invested in the ministry and whatever the funds are being raised for.
Support Letters: Verbalize the Vision Fundraiser
So many students sign up for mission trips because their friend chose to or because their parents expect it. No matter why or how they came to be on the trip, we must help them communicate and own the vision for what they are about to do. In my experience, the best way to help them capture the vision is to walk alongside them as they create fundraising support letters.
Start by giving your students a template for writing a letter, and help them put into their own words the what and the why of the trip. Ask them to come up with a list of 20 of more family members and friends outside of the church (to avoid sending church members multiple support letters). Then students should take ownership of sending the letters and collecting funds. This has become my church’s main fundraising method, and we have not had to create additional fundraising events because of the success of these support letters. Not only are students raising sufficient funds, but the letter writing also pushes them to verbalize and ultimately own the vision of their trip.
Auction Idea #3: The Big Money Fundraiser
This fundraiser works like a typical auction, but instead of soliciting local businesses to donate items, ask church members to donate services and handmade items. You don’t have to rely solely on your team members to recruit donators. One church in Michigan used “pushy” moms to call around and collect donations from other church members. When people donate, they are more likely to come to the dinner and buy an auctioned item. If members tell you they have nothing to offer, tell them this story: Each year we did this fundraiser, the same man would get behind the microphone and say, “I will come to your house, eat your snacks, turn off the volume on your TV, and give you a play-by-play of your favorite sports game.” Sounds crazy, right? But that offer would consistently bring in a $75 donation! One friend whose church tried this fundraiser told me that, at the end of the event, his senior pastor hugged the youth director and thanked him for providing the best all-church community event of the year. How often are you able to watch your students lead the church in community building?
Do you have a great fundraiser idea that both raises money and develops students? Please share it in the comments! Or find additional ideas here.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry […]