Fund Raising and Festivals
from Parish Pulse December 2019
For most Parish Pulse readers the season of ‘ethnic fund raising sales’ (Bake sales, sausage sales, craft fairs, and Parish Festivals) is drawing to a close.
These events can be a source of fellowship and fun while generating income to sustain the parish. They present the parish to the neighborhood and may serve as parishioner's only parish engagement beyond Sunday morning. And they taste good.
They also have downsides. Perpetuation of an often exclusionary ethnic identity. An excuse for pecuniary cash donations/stewardship from parishioners. General parish exhaustion. Choking out activities more central to the parish mission.
Questions to Consider about Fund Raising and Festivals
In the context of a balanced review of the effectiveness and appropriateness of fund raising and festivals, here are some questions that may be useful:
Why do we do this? (Festival; Craft sale etc.) Do we regularly accomplish our objective? Are there other/better ways to accomplish it?
Is the ethnic fund raising event the primary message we communicate with the neighborhood? Is unique food, crafts and colorful ethnic dancing the primary thing for which we are known?
Does this event perpetuate an ethnic identity for the parish and Orthodox Christianity in the minds of parishioners and potential inquirers?
("I' guess I need to be Elbonian. I wont fit in.")
Do we shine an unwanted ethnic glow on other non-ethnic Orthodox parishes in our community?
(“Oh, this is an Orthodox church? What kind of food do you sell?”)
Do we overestimate the “evangelistic value” of church tours during Festivals? Does one or two inquirers in (e.g.) ten years qualify this as a true outreach effort?
What could be accomplished if similar energy were devoted to outreach?
If one of our goal(s) is fellowship and parishioner engagement do we accomplish this? Or, is it the same people, from the same generation, with the same recipes?
Are non-ethnic parishioners welcomed as valued contributors – or are they banished to a decades long apprenticeships?
“ Well, you’re learning Millicent – but that’s still not right!
Do we unwittingly scorn parishioners who choose not to participate – due to schedule or other spiritual priorities?
Surprisingly not everyone affiliates with a church to earn the ‘right’ to bake cookies. In fact, many converts come to parishes with an avowed disdain for fund raising.
Commitment to Gospel or Culture?
Does the event build a sense of commitment to Christ or ethnic heritage? Are the primary fund raising participants those on the fringe of parish life. Rarely seen after the festival?
"Who is that fellow? Does he belong to this church?"
Does the often herculean effort required for these events bring all else to a stop?
Vespers. Feast days? Lenten observances? Choir rehearsals? Charitable and educational efforts?
Is the parish noticeably tired and drained for weeks? Are nerves raw?
$ Per Hour
Is the net $ income per hour of labor (planning, promotion, baking/pinching, set up, selling, fulfilling, cleanup) sufficient for the time, energy and resources expended?
Are there better ways to achieve the same financial and social benefits?
Does the financial impact of these events serve as an excuse for minimal financial stewardship by members?
“I give my labor.”
Does the parish have an unhealthy dependency on this income?
Use of Funds
When “customers” ask what the event funds are used for are we comfortable with our answer?
Or, when we say “We’re using it to meet our budget” or “fix the roof,” does it feel off?
Is the primary message, in essence, “Help us to … help us.”
Moderating the Impact of Fund Raising Events
We’re not suggesting that parish fund raising events need to be eliminated. However, steps that reduce negative impacts may be worth exploring.
Broaden the Ethnic Label
Instead of the “Russian” or “Greek” or “Serbian” festival consider re-branding the event as “Slavic”, “Balkan” or “Mediterranean”. Or, as one parish has done, highlight multiple backgrounds via the label “A Taste of St. XXX. An Ethnic Fair.”
Many parishes now build their budgets so that a significant/increasing portion of net income from the event is directed to help others. It could be an Orthodox charity or local cause. Workers and customers alike have a better sense of contribution from their participation. As the charitable percentage increases the parish weans itself of the financial dependence on the event.
To overcome lost fund raising income commit to serious teaching, preaching and reinforcement of principles and practices of generosity, thankfulness and personal stewardship as a foundation for serious parishioner commitment to parish financial support. This needs to come from more than the priest. See Good Stewardship Practices
If we are trying to keep such events from dominating significant chunks of parish life, “core mission” efforts should not be squeezed off the calendar. (“Vladika we’d love to host your visit on the weekend of the 27th – but that’s our festival!) It’s also important that fund raising announcements (“Pierogi making this Tuesday. All Hands on Deck!!) not drown out the communication of other parish work.
Communicate in Other Ways
Orthodox Christianity has many distinctive qualities valued by many Americans. Be sure the community/neighborhood knows your parish for something more than selling nesting dolls. Effective Preaching. Speakers bureau. Choir concerts. Lecture series. Charitable efforts. Prison Ministry. A Place to Find Christ.
Review your website, press releases, Facebook postings and “shares” and other social media to be sure that you are communicating your core parish ministries, mission and worship to a clearly greater extent than the cookie or kielbasa sale.
Spread “Thank You” Around
Those working on such fund raising events deserve parish thanks. However so do others. Servers, teachers, ministry leaders, parish council members, prosphora bakers, singers, cleaners. Be sure these other essential contributions are similarly acknowledged.
Let us know your thoughts.