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This week, someone asked how to approach churches for support of a nonprofit.  Because Russell, my husband, has worked for the United Methodist Church for 30 years now, I felt like I had a few insights to offer. This is some of the advice I gave:

Just as with any donor, when you approach churches, you need to help the churches you approach understand how your mission and program accomplish the church’s mission. 

Some churches have grant-making foundations attached to them.  Some of these foundations have been created by a single family or group of families which the church administers.  These foundations will typically have an explicit application, process, and deadline. However, I think you’ll find that most churches don’t have grant making foundations attached to them.  Church foundations are more common in larger, metropolitan churches than in rural ones. 

Remember that there are many different avenues of approach and many pools of money within churches. Let me suggest a few: 

  • Many pastors have a discretionary fund with which to give funds (though these are most commonly used for relief and provision of basic needs to people who are impoverished or in crisis). 
  • The church budget: either the pastor or a trustee or finance committee member is a great avenue to approach for these funds. As with a corporation, find out what you can about the church’s fiscal year (calendar or other) and the best time to approach to be considered for the budget. 
  • Men’s and Women’s Groups: Many denominations have Men’s or Women’s groups that have budgets and make outreach donations. The amount of money that these groups raise to donate is sometimes considerable.  
  • Sunday School Classes – often fund projects, particularly at Christmas time.
  • Vacation Bible Schools – usually take up a special collection each year and designate a particular community (or international) need. 
  • Youth Groups – not a common source of funding since youth groups are typically raising funds for some youth group project (mission trips, choir tour, ski weekend, etc.), but some church youth groups raise and distribute funds. 
  • Mission Committees – sometimes raise and distribute funds over and above what is distributed through church budgets. 

Your best approach is through the churches with which you already have a connection such as where a board member is a member.  However, in addition to thinking about which churches board members have connections to, don’t forget to think about staff affiliations and the affiliations of your program participants. 

With most churches, the largest gifts are made through the church budgets and you might find suprising (I have) the dollar amounts that some, larger churches are able to give. I’ve seen gifts in the $25,000 – $100,000 through church budgets.

It can be hard for you to receive the support of churches for the first time.  Many churches–and many of the groups within churches–have causes they have been supporting for a long time, but it does happen.

Good luck!