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The lighter side of fund-raising

27 November 2015

A competition to find the best fund-raising ideas, run jointly with Ecclesiastical Insurance, has turned up many great ideas. As we profile the best, Maggie Durran reviews the entries

Wriggle room: participants at the Aspull worm-charming contest

Wriggle room: participants at the Aspull worm-charming contest

THERE can be a great deal of fun in fund-raising, as all the short-listed churches in the competition illustrate with their written entries and photographs.

More than 250 churches made submissions, all of which revealed high levels of enthusiasm and hard work. The shortlist, though, focused on innovation, community involvement, and how easily the idea could be adopted by other churches. Otherwise attractive projects fell down on one of those three, till the finalists emerged by consensus.

Looking back over the process, what continues to impress me is the sheer ingenuity of so many people. Larger churches were able to capitalise on the skills found among their members with impressive projects. Tiny churches shone with their careful use of limited volunteer time. Almost everyone impressed by using a focal event — look at the paper aeroplanes, or the worm-charming — and around these wove a series of other initiatives, such as stalls, that added to the income achieved.


THE need for church repairs has not lessened in urgency; installing facilities such as lavatories and serveries still requires attention and effort — even though we are in an extended season of austerity which is progressively reducing the funds that churches can tap into from sources such as trusts, quangos, and government departments. And this financial winter has lasted much longer than the one in the early 1990s, which led to similar hardship.

Austerity will pass, but probably it will take several years. In the mean time, good causes across the board are being challenged. Many small charities will lose funding and disappear; others that have the right communication skills will increasingly turn to public appeals.

Charities that care directly for needy, underprivileged, or disabled and sick people will tend to get general donations before churches. This tells us to communicate carefully about the people who will benefit from our projects, and also not to be dispirited when the going is slow.

On the whole, churches show great steadfastness, gaining encouragement from dioceses and advisers, and tend to ride out the storms of austerity. But it is important to realise that the fun event may raise only £6000 of the £60,000 that is needed. Keeping as fresh for the tenth event as the first requires careful management by the fundraising organisers.


IT WOULD be possible for a church to work its way through all the creative ideas submitted to the competition. Note several points, however:

• assess your skills and do what comes easiest;

• tackle events that draw in the gifts and talents of lots of people, including non-churchgoing neighbours and friends;

• set out a calendar that is sustainable and does not wear everyone out in the early days;

• above all, keep in mind both that this is going to take a long time and that you are not going to give up.


In the light of this, you might try to change your committee members every couple of years so that everyone has times of fun without responsibility.

The gifts of leadership in running fund-raising events are particular: being able to enthuse others, inspire volunteers, organise efficiently, communicate in ways that captivate non-churchgoers, say thank you lots of times. . .

These gifts may not all come in one person. If they do, you are particularly blessed. But it might be healthier, ultimately, if they are found in a small and committed group that embodies the overall commit-ment of the church to seeing this project through the long haul, even when they are stamping the ground to charm up the worms.

For churches with a target that goes beyond the tens of thousands, the task may look insurmountable, even with the steadfastness displayed by many of the churches that entered our competition.

There may be some charitable trusts that will help with funds, but churches are still not very good at having legacy strategies.

A church that is clearly fun to belong to, has lots of friends among the parishioners, and sees its events not just as fund-raising but also friend-making, is also one to which members of the congregation and friends may be prepared to leave legacies.


The Revd Maggie Durran, author of The UK Church Fundraising Handbook (Canterbury Press, £19.99 (£18), writes on fund-raising and the care of churches in the Church Times each week. She was one of the competition judges.


Finding buried treasure


THE winner of this year’s com­petition came from the village of Aspull, near Wigan. In what is fast becoming a village tradition, on the second Saturday in June, hundreds of people gather on the village green, frantically jumping up and down, competing to be Champion Worm Charmer of the village.

The competition is simple: teams of four pay £5 to rent for half an hour a patch of ground, three metres square, out of which they attempt to charm as many worms as possible.

Most use the traditional method of banging a fork stuck in the ground; the unlucky worms mistake the vibrations for a mole, and make their way to the surface, where they are caught in a jar to be counted by the judges.

The whole community gets involved, including schools, busi­nesses, and youth groups.

"There have been some ingen­ious ways of worm-charming," says Ruth Atherton, who chairs the Friends of St Elizabeth’s Church.

"We had one man, dressed up as a large bird, stamping on the ground, with his children in hysterics picking up the worms that he had tricked."

Some of the worm-charming implements may look like instruments of torture, but no worms are harmed on the day. A wildlife officer is on hand to look after the worms’ welfare, and every worm is put back once the sun has gone down and the birds have gone to roost.

Before then, the worming committee will have awarded the two trophies: one for the most worms caught, and one for "Big Jim" — the fattest, juiciest worm caught on the day.

The Wigan Warriors Rugby League captain, Sean O’Lough­lin, came along to last summer’s event with his family. Mrs Ander­­son reports: "Despite pos­sibly being the strongest and fittest contestant on the field, unfortunately he was beaten by an eight- and an 11-year-old."

There are other activities on the day, too, such as "Splat the rat", "Hook a duck", and face-painting. Last year, the day raised £1700 for the church.



The parish’s cunning flan


THE Dodbrooke Parish and Community Hall was originally built in 1898, but was showing its age, and the roof needed urgent restoration.

In response to the fund-raising challenge, the PCC of St Thomas of Canterbury organised "The Great Dodbrooke Quiche Bake Off".

Competitors brought home-baked quiches, and each one was judged by a professional chef on its appearance and taste.

"We were expecting just six quiches," the event organiser, Christopher Stephens, says, "but, on the night, we had 14 to choose from." At the end of the evening, any remainders were sold to raise extra funds.

The organisers linked the competition with World Book Night (held on 23 April every year), and devised a whole evening of activities inspired by the lighthearted crime novel Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, by M. C. Beaton.

As well as the bake-off, there was a recipe-book swap, and a quiz that involved matching pictures of crime writers with their novels. Everyone in the neighbourhood got involved, and the event meant that churchgoers mingled with non-churchgoers. "Food appears to interest everyone," Mr Stephens says.

One young mother said that she didn’t know that Christians could have such fun. "That’s become our fund-raising mantra," Mr Stephens says.


Making a virtue of paperwork


ST ANDREW’s, Chardstock, in Devon, had been awarded a grant for essential repair work, but the PCC needed to raise an extra £30,000 to cover its share of the costs.

The organisers had the idea of making the most of their church building, and, in particular, its high ceilings and 22-metre-long aisle, from the chancel steps to the back of the bell-tower.

And so the idea of "The Great Chardstock Paper Plane Competition" was born.

During the Chardstock street fair, people were invited to come inside the church and have a go. The interest that the event generated was overwhelming. "We had over 140 contestants," one of the organisers, Tim Purrett, says. "And many came back time after time."

Most contestants made streamlined aerodynamic planes; a few simply crushed their paper into a ball and threw it. Every entry was valid, as long as it was from a single piece of A4 paper. Some planes faltered or hit columns; some even flew backwards.

"Our winning plane flew an incredible 18.2 metres down the length of the aisle, then hit the bell-tower screen," Mr Purrett says. All through the day, there were spectators watching from the sidelines, or the "airfield" as it became known.

"What is even better is that many said they would be coming back next year to try and better their previous throws," Mr Purrett says.


Happy to have an infestation


IN 2014, St Paul’s, Walton-in-Gordano, in North Somerset, urgently needed to raise funds to pay the next year’s bills. Thankfully, "CM" (standing for "Church Mouse") saved the day.

CM is the knitted mascot of St Paul’s, and spearheads much of its fund-raising activity. Events include Mouse Suppers, and the Great Mouse Hunt. The latter involved children from an infant school near by, who were invited to colour in an outline of CM. St Paul’s received 100 colourful mice, 24 of which were then hidden in gardens around the village.

Many families took part in the hunt, paying an entry fee to see how many mice they could find. There were also refreshments on sale, and stalls in the church to raise extra funds.

Thanks to CM, the PCC now has enough money to take it to the end of the year, and to pay the Parish Share for 2016, too.


Not so wet


LEGEND has it that, if it rains on St Swithun’s Day, it will rain for the next 40 days. Members of the congregation at St Chad’s, Rochdale, turned this legend into an effective fund-raising tool that got the whole community involved.

Every year now, on 16 July, participants sign up to give between 10p and £1 for every wet day until 26 August. They are each given a pocket calendar so that they can keep score of the rainy days and the amount they owe.

"We all love talking about the weather," Norman Frisby, from St Chad’s, says. Costs are minimal, and the competition provides unifying themes for sermons, prayers, and Sunday-school projects.

"Climate change is on everybody’s agenda today," Mr Frisby says, "and the whole community can join in."


Marking a significant moment


THE 24-inch clock at St George’s, Barbourne, Worcester, is a landmark that dates from 1830. When it stopped working last year, the Friends of St George’s came up with the idea of a "Just a Minute" appeal to raise the £15,000 needed for the repair.

People were asked to sponsor a minute that was special to them. The idea was simple, and yet it struck a chord with many, and led to the telling of poignant stories.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, chose the minute that his wife died. Another sponsor, John Butterworth, chose the time when he knelt before the Queen to receive his MBE.

The Just a Minute appeal has generated a great deal of regional publicity. St George’s intends to hold a public service of celebration and thanksgiving once all the money has been raised.


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