As budgets are squeezed and funding is cut, we are forced to do more and more with less and less. How much money is enough for good youth work, and how do you raise an extra few quid? Kevin Colyer gives some ideas in an article written for Premier Youthwork.
Youth work budgets can drift in importance, falling somewhere under the PA budget and just above the toilet cleaning allocation. They tend to be the least funded budgets in many churches. I was once in a planning meeting and noticed that the minister's book fund was three times that of the children's budget! Ignoring church politics for a moment, and the fact that the vast proportion of the churches' income goes into supporting the adult programme, what do you actually need to do youth work well? How much do you actually require?
The best things in life are free
The first and most important thing to say is that you and your time are the most vital things that you have to offer in youth work: more vital than a youth room, more significant than a table football game, more life-changing than a video projector. Listening to young people is perhaps the single most important thing you have to offer and that only costs time. Making a safe place for young people to talk and share is also more about your skills as a team builder than about the decor or ambiance of the place you are in. You discover this in detached youth work, where being present to young people on a regular and consistent basis is of far more importance than the content of your message. Standing under their bus shelter is entering into and remaining in their world.
Passing on to young people the compassionate beating heart of God for people is more vital and can be much cheaper than entertaining them. Training and developing young people is also something that need not cost the earth. It takes time to craft materials and produce stimulating teaching, leading to deeper discipleship. Challenging ourselves to think creatively is vital. We may struggle to find ideas and resources, although the wonderful culture of sharing good ideas and materials on the internet is a great boost to us. A subscription to a monthly publication focusing on youth work was a vital resource to me and often the only fixed thing on my budget for many years! [Editor: we can't possibly disclose the name of such a publication…]
All this said, moments arise when you need some money to buy food, to subsidise a trip away, to buy some materials or to pay for all those trips to the coffee shop for mentoring sessions. Where will it come from? It has probably been coming from your pockets, the pockets of the other volunteers or the parents of the young people. This is fine, when people can afford it! But extending the reach of youth work to families outside the church who may be in very different or even dire circumstances is difficult if we assume that parents can't always pay.
From zero to hero
So how do you go about getting the funds that you need? Knowing what you want is vital. If you have started with a clear strategy then you should know where you want to get to. Backwards planning is key here. Set aside some time once you know your strategy and direction (it is valuable to do the whole exercise with two or three key helpers). Look at the next twelve months (the simplest significant cycle) and go through this process:
- Ask the question: what will it look like when I get here? What will I need?
- Write it down.
- Move one step back from your end point and ask the questions from point one.
- Keep repeating this until you get to today.
- Reverse your plan and you should have a step-by-step guide for the next 12 months.
- Make sure you put a date in the diary to do this exercise again!
Take your list of what you need and turn this into a budget to go alongside your plan of getting there. Be as realistic as possible about your budget. If you expect to do 20 face-to-face meetings over coffee, what will that cost? Even if you pay for this from your own pocket it is very helpful to know the value of this investment you are making. Get some wise opinions and thoughts, and adapt your budget and strategy plan as needed. Write the big goal for the next season at the top of your strategy plan.
The next thorny issue is to enter into the mire of church politics. Do not be too discouraged here. You have a reasonable and sensible plan for your youth work. Approach your supervisor or minister and ask to talk about the budget. Seek to explain where you want to go and how you aim to get there, and explain your plan and budget. Seek their help to know how to get this as fully funded as possible. You might be successful and they will cut down the PA and coffee budgets to free up cash for you. You may get all you need!
But if you don't, don't fret, but do ask for permission to raise funds. You may not get it, but I hope you will. If you don't, you may have to go back to the drawing board with extra creativity and consider afresh how to get to your goals with less expense. Coming back to the permission givers with a refined plan will gain you favour and respect for having adapted your plans to their concerns.
From this point onwards, fundraising might be the best option. This may be a simple fundraising event, a sponsored abseil down the church spire or a sponsored kissing contest; whatever you and your team can dream up. But what if the amount is simply too great?
This is where relational fundraising will play a part. While all fundraising is to some extent relational (as it involves an appeal to the heart of the donor), relational fundraising in this context means approaching people directly, and building relationships with them in order to ask them to partner with you financially. You may know about this from the approach taken by many missionaries or Christian workers who raise their support from 50-100 individual donors. These donors have a personal connection with them and give occasionally or regularly. This may well be the approach you feel you need to take, especially if the investment of extra time is the greatest need of your youth work. You might need to take a parttime job and supplement your income from donors. You may want to go full time. The good news is that there are several resources to help you with this.
Asking people to give generously to support God's work is a very good and important thing for their discipleship. It is said that Jesus spoke more about money than about heaven in the Gospels (see Matthew 6.24, Mark 12.41-42, Luke 12.21 and Luke 18.18-30 for examples). The need to address the powerful hold over our security and freedom that money provides is vital for us all as we seek to follow the call of Christ.
Communicating well is the key to the whole approach: before asking, when asking, when thanking and in ongoing feedback about your project. If you can make a clear presentation and explain why the funding of your project is so important, people are very likely to support your cause rather than the local cats' home.
The next step is to divide the total you want to raise into more manageable chunks. Try seeking regular monthly gifts (make sure you have a church bank account available), as splitting the budgets into twelve monthly chunks will be much easier: £6,000 over twelve months is £500 per month. Next, take the £500 and split that down into slices, one lot of £75, three £50s, six £25s, seven £10s and eleven £5s. In this format you need 17 donors. Now start to compile a list with your team of who you could approach. Seventeen people will take a while, so you will want to start at the end where people can afford the most. The gifts of £10 or £5 might be achievable via a presentation to a group or an email. It will help that you can show you have already raised £375pm at this point!
It is good to practise your presentation beforehand with some trusted people. You might be nervous; most people do not enjoy the process of asking. It does get better with practice you will be pleased to know. Now you need to ask with confidence. Arrange a quick face-to-face meeting or call up the people on your list one by one. Explain you want to see them about whether or not they will consider funding your youth work. It is important that you make the purpose of the visit clear. They need to be able to say no just as easily as yes!
When the time comes, go and give your presentation to them. Listen to them and learn what motivates them, how they view youth work and what their concerns are. When you feel they are ready (and you could come back for further meetings to get to know them better, or invite them to visit your work to see you in action), ask them to consider funding you for X or Y per month. They may want to pray and consider this, so arrange to call back later. Leave them with all the information they need, so that they can continue to ponder – and also make the all-important gift should they want to.
From this point on you have a new member of your team. Respect them as such with thanks, appreciation and as much information as they wish to receive about the progress of your project. Who knows, they might even get a desire to work alongside you. It can be a very rewarding journey for all. Keep communicating and thanking, whatever you do.
There is vastly more to be said than I can write in this short space. I hope this article will help those who are not in the wonderful position of being funded to do youth work and also those who are struggling with tiny budget allowances to find a fresh angle on the squeeze and look creatively at what opportunities are on offer. It might make you look sideways at what you are doing and help to ask the more deeply strategic questions of what you are actually trying to achieve in your work. Where are we taking these young people on their journey of faith?
For those who are well-funded, blessings on you. However, the same strategic questions need to be asked: what are we doing here? What are we really achieving? Just good activity? Perhaps asking the question of what I would do differently if I only had half my budget is a helpful one. And maybe you could put the rest of the funds into the retirement fund for old and penniless youth workers!
Some suggested resources
- Friend raising: building a missionary support team that lasts (Betty Barnett)
- More than money, more than faith: successfully raising missionary support in the Twenty-First Century (Paul Johnson)
- Funding your ministry: whether you’re gifted or not (Scott Morton)
- The spirituality of fundraising (Henri Nouwen)
- Funding the family business: the handbook for raising personal support (Myles Wilson)
- Self-supporting ministry (Kevin Colyer)
- Stewardship provides a range of services to help Christian workers and organisations with giving and receiving money. They can receive gifts on behalf of a Christian worker and forward them on. See stewardship.org.uk for the most relevant information.