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Maggie Durran: Can we help other churches fund-raise?

29 August 2007

A small group at my church has successfully fund-raised for major repairs and alterations. We are thinking of offering our skills to other churches. Are there any pitfalls we should consider?

THIS IS a great idea — both from the point of view of volunteering, and because we have far more churches in need of fund-raising skills than there are practitioners available to help.

The scary thing about fund-raising is that you never know if it is going to work. Local events, from jumble sales to church fêtes, always work to a greater or lesser extent. But the complicated and skilled stuff — applying to repair schemes, trusts and foundations, and to the Lottery — involves a lot of work with unpredictable returns. You will not get a good return unless your application is good, but even a good application may not be successful, for reasons not under the control of the applicant.

If your church group, or an individual from it, wants to help others, consider further: if you work for free, only time will be lost if you are unsuccessful; if you intend this to be paid work, the track record for fund-raisers with only one successful project under their belts, and no training, is not great. All too often the one success is due to a lucky confluence of things rather than to skill.

I have met a number of people whose second project goes nowhere because they have not learned the key principles, but instead depend on having another lucky break.

Being the kind of person who finds the challenge scary, but not enough to stop me, I attend regular seminars on fund-raising to make sure that I am doing the work as well as it can be done — or better. But, even then, I have to make sure that the church I am working with understands the arbitrary nature of fund-raising; that is, that good work may fail, and that failure is not necessarily a sign of poor quality. Of course, after a failure, you “get back on the horse” and make new and altered applications in order to achieve your target.

There is a relatively new Institute of Fundraising, which has a system for assessing practising fund-raisers to ensure quality, and a programme of training for newcomers. If the majority of charity fund-raisers join this scheme, it may be worth all of us in the church sector registering.

For those working in a part-time or voluntary capacity, the seminars run nationally by the Directory of Social Change mark the industry standard, but you may be able to find seminars in your area organised by the Council for the Voluntary Sector, or by the Voluntary Action Council, which will aid small-scale initiatives. These organisations often have knowledge of particular funding streams, especially from local authorities, and are a great help with the skills needed for applying.

Good luck with your future fund-raising. I am sure you will succeed, if you add some training to your already positive experience.


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