20 Free Fundraising Ideas for Church Youth Groups

Church Youth Group Holding Hands For A FundraiserDid you know charitable giving actually increased in 2020? The key is finding methods for continued connection with donors, such as members of your congregation and your community. Keep reading for some unique fundraising ideas for church youth groups that you might consider in the upcoming year.

Fundraising Ideas for Church Youth Groups

It is worth noting you should not abandon “traditional” ways of giving. Many congregation members prefer these methods because they afford a personal connection to the church.

Honor that, but don’t assume traditional methods alone will help you meet your fundraising goals. Think outside the box to target those who are not tied to traditional giving avenues.

Also, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Even if you think a big event will produce all necessary fiscal results for your ministry, this approach can be risky. If it happens to rain on the day of your big “fun run” event, then you need a plan B.

Like financial markets, it’s best to diversify. Try out different combinations of the great fundraising ideas for church youth groups described here.

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1. Online Donations

If your church doesn’t use online giving, it’s something you will want to look into. Plate or other in-person giving has fallen out of favor for many churchgoers. Even nonprofits that were not already shifting towards digital giving have embraced the trend.

A recent study involving 13,000 donors across 133 countries between March and May of last year showed that 55 percent prefer to use credit cards for charitable giving. And only 8 percent said they preferred giving using cash.

That trend is not going to slow in the future. You might investigate this option for a particular campaign. But go ahead and set up online giving options for future fundraising efforts as well.

2. Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has become a popular method for reaching larger audiences, mainly through social media. It’s a way to cast a wider net and capture potential donors outside of your congregation or your immediate social network.

They’re also very inexpensive to run. So, it's a good option even if you don’t have a lot of upfront capital to invest in the campaign.

You may get lots of small donations from people you don’t know––those who throw in a few dollars based on a post they saw someone share. Since this method can be less personal, it’s important to follow up with each donor. Express your appreciation, regardless of whether they are a member of your congregation and how large or small their donation.

One challenge is keeping the campaign “alive.” It may be easy to get started, but you will need to be self-motivated. Provide regular updates and encourage sharing to optimize the campaign’s potential.

But don’t overdo it. Make sure your church members know about the campaign without beating them over the head with it.

Initial outreach and a reminder that it is coming to a close should be sufficient for contacting likely donors. Let social media do the rest.

3. Peer-to-Peer

Peer-to-peer fundraising is an expanded version of crowdfunding. Rather than directing potential donors to a single landing page, this type of fundraising allows others to create their own mini-fundraising campaigns. The money they generate funnels into the same pool.

The big advantage is that this allows your fundraising team to individualize the message. For instance, your youth group members can talk about how much the upcoming mission trip means to them personally and will contribute to their own spirituality.

Conversely, it may take a bit more organizational work from you to ensure some level of uniformity in the information they put out. You need to be able to trust your fundraising team to represent the youth group and the church in their fundraising endeavors.

4. Mobile Fundraising

The method you use to distribute campaign information is equally important. People almost always have their phones with them, so it can make donating quick and seamless.

Platforms that support mobile giving usually offer text giving, which allows members and guests to give with a simple text message.  They also allow members to give through a mobile church app. In a few cases, the mobile app will perform a variety of other functions that can aid with fundraising, such as holding private chats for a fundraising team to communicate. It can also house links to online events and other important details for participants to access.

Last of all, you can use both the mobile app and text giving to encourage givers to make their gift a recurring one. Most platforms have some sort of follow up that streamlines the process of asking. 

5. Buy One, Give One

Matching gifts are a great motivational sales tool. It allows the buyer to participate in something good, rather than merely purchasing a product.

Different companies have popularized the “buy one, give one” by donating clothing, glasses, books, toiletries and many other items to needy individuals. And it’s effective, which makes it one of the best fundraising ideas for church youth groups.

For example, you can agree to donate a lunch to a hunger campaign or soup kitchen for each one that is sold. And you may not even have to worry about providing the actual food itself. Make a donation to a homeless shelter to cover the cost of the number of meals promised.

A great way to fund such a campaign is to reach out to church members who may be willing to sponsor the matching gift amount. You can set caps so that the donor knows the max amount they will have to contribute.

6. Make the Campaign About Sacrifices

With the season of Lent approaching, it is the perfect time to ask donors to offset sacrifices in their life with a donation to your cause. It’s a way for those giving to see the direct benefits of their sacrifices. Whether it’s fasting during the day or giving up coffee, people like to tie the money they are saving to a worthwhile ministry.

But it doesn’t have to be during the Lenten season. You can ask your congregation any time of year and for different donations. It could be as simple as requesting that they give up going out to eat for one weekend, then donating what they would have spent to the youth group.

7. Festivals

Events can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. They can have a theme (think of Fall or Halloween Festivals) or revolve around the fundraising effort itself.

Have youth work festival stations. Come up with games and activities based on materials you already have lying around the church. You can get a roll of 2,000 paper tickets for around $10 online, which you can use for raffles or carnival games.

8. Movie Night

If you have access to a projector and screen, hold a movie night. Charge admission, but include with it “free” snacks like popcorn and soft drinks. These are inexpensive if you cannot get them donated. Have youth group members staff the event, refilling popcorn and drinks. 

9. Concerts

Another idea is to leverage the talent in your church or youth group and put on a concert. It can either be a band or your church choir. Or both!

Movie screenings and concerts are great for the outdoors. But make sure people bring their own camping chairs or blankets to sit on.

10. Bingo

A bingo night may seem a little too “old school” for a youth group. But they’re simple to put on, and almost everyone in your congregation––young or old––can participate. Charge per bingo card, which motivates participants to spend more to increase their chances of getting a “bingo.”

11. Auctions and Raffles

Auctions and raffles are great ways to raise money from donated items. Ask your congregation––youth and adults––to solicit gifts. They can ask their places of employment or other organizations with which they’re affiliated.

Local gyms might offer a free month that you could include in a raffle. Call around to local playhouses and sports teams to see if they will supply free tickets. Sports clubs might donate autographed pictures, balls or other memorabilia.

Some organizations might have restrictions on donating to religious organizations. But it never hurts to ask.

You can combine these with other events. If you’re having a festival, include raffle tickets in the cost of admission and allow people to buy extra ones.

Festivals are perfect for silent auctions, where attendees have a prescribed amount of time to submit bids. You can announce the winners and recognize their contribution to the youth ministry.

12. Garage Sales

Ask your congregation to donate used items, like books, clothing and furniture. Have a yard sale and use the profits for your fundraising project. You can even have your youth group members present to assist in loading heavier items.

If your church has access to a gym or other large space, you can hold the event rain or shine. (Although, if you plan to sell furniture, consider that many people will want to transport it on days when there is no precipitation.) You may want to consider a way to provide receipts for buyers who buy larger, more expensive items.

You also can hold events that are more targeted, such as a used teen clothing sale. Have your youth group (and their friends) go through their closets and find lightly worn items they would be willing to part with, or ones they have outgrown. 

Advertise the sale in your community. 

13. Bake Sale

Members of your congregation can donate more than everyday items. Ask them to make cookies, cakes, pies or other desserts for a bake sale.

You can combine these with festivals or other events. Or simply hold them immediately following Sunday-morning services.

Once you coordinate the contributed baked goods, you need very little space or personnel. Have a youth group member staff a table in the foyer of your church. If possible, allow the use of credit cards or other electronic methods of payment to increase sales on the spot.

One easy way to facilitate the sale of online baked goods is to use a portable credit card reader. They attach to most phones or tablets and are easy to set up.

14. Service Projects

Put your youth group members to work. Car washes are popular ideas. But turnout can be sporadic, especially if you don’t have access to a location that’s on a busy road.

Think about the needs of your congregation. There are older members who could use help maintaining gardens or completing chores around the house. 

Advertise the church services, along with suggested donations, in your church newsletter or email. And use online sign-up tools for requests and assignments. Of course, they can do these chores anytime but making it part of a larger fundraising campaign can be motivating for people to get involved.

15. Competition Events

Tournaments and other sporting events are a great way to raise money. And they may not be as arduous to coordinate as you think.

Charge team entry for basketball, baseball, soccer or flag football tournaments. If you have access to an appropriate course, hold a 5k or mile fun run.

You don’t need elaborate technology for smaller, more casual events. A registration table and a stopwatch will get you started.

You could even have a video game tournament, which is a good alternative to in-person events. You might think about having various genre options, like puzzles, retro games, or team games, to attract a broader audience.

Coordinate a time for the event, an admission fee and prizes for the winners. See if you can get a “grand prize,” like a gift certificate to a restaurant or department store, donated.

Alternatively, you can provide trophies to the top three teams or individuals. The goal is to incentivize participation.

16. Cook-offs

Like sporting competitions, set up a barbeque or chili cook-off for your congregation. Your church may already have pot-lucks. Turn one of these into a challenge, and require participants to pay a nominal entry fee.

Line up judges, and have a prize for the winner. You could also charge admission and allow everyone in attendance to judge.

For instance, at a chili or chowder cook-off, you can hand out small plastic tasting bowls for each contestant. Distribute different colored toothpicks associated with each competitor. And have all participant-judges drop their vote into a box.

17. Sponsored Events

Great fundraising ideas for church youth groups should be tied to a goal beyond  dollars and cents. Events like walkathons, where participants solicit donations for every quarter mile they walk, can be motivating for participants and donors.

You can tie almost any activity to this, including reading a certain number of books or performing hours of community service. The more work each participant does, the more money they make for their ministry. It’s a win-win.

18. Parents Night Out

If your church has nursery facilities, host a “parents night out” for your congregation.

Babysitters can get expensive, so charging anything below the hourly childcare rate for your area will be a good deal for parents. And they know they’re contributing to a good cause.

Give them a discount for a second and third child. Have them sign up online or through email. And be sure that you have both the space and the appropriate number of youth workers to accommodate the number of families that sign up.

19. Creative Items

Things like personalized calendars or t-shirts with pictures of your youth group are great to sell on the side. And you can do so at almost any event.

One advantage is that you can take orders ahead of time, then only buy what you need for an event. (Although you might also order a few extras to sell at future ones.)

Calculate the cost of each item and then increase it by the approximate amount needed to meet your fundraising goal. Whatever pictures you go with, be sure  every person in them has given consent to use them for this purpose. 

Another idea is to have a church-wide art show and associated sale or auction. It’s a way to showcase your youth group’s artistic talents and generate revenue at the same time. Go a step further and have youth (or adults, if necessary) provide piano, organ, or other music for the show.

But don’t leave out less-artistically-inclined youth group members. Have them make hors d’oeuvres or help set up lighting and tables.

20. Promote Your Youth Fundraisers

Creating a successful youth fundraiser requires the participation of many. Grow the attendance to your fundraising through effective event promotion. To help you boost participation, we built this free event promotion guide. It's also helpful to provide a church event permission slip for any event where parents or guardians need to give their consent for their child to attend.

How to Motivate Your Youth Group

Regardless of the fundraising strategy you go with, remember to keep your youth group members involved. Even let them lead the charge in some circumstances. There are a few motivational strategies you can employ to help get the most out of your group.

1. Incentives

Besides fundraising for an important ministry, you must assume your youth want to do the thing they are raising money for. But don’t take for granted that everyone will be as excited and motivated as everyone else.

And, while some members may be thrilled to be a part of the ministry you’re planning, the actual fundraising campaign may not be their cup of tea. Sometimes a nudge in the right direction can go a long way. Even for youth who are working extra hard to raise money, minor incentives can only help.

This doesn’t have to be something elaborate or expensive. It could be as simple as making sure all the youth working an event also get free popcorn and drinks. Using a small amount of funds to host a catered social event to celebrate a fundraising milestone can go a long way to keeping spirits and energy levels up.

2. Have Fun

Fundraising doesn’t have to be a grueling exercise. Although raising money for your ministry is the priority, make choices that optimize enjoyability. Focus on fun fundraising ideas for church youth groups.

This may seem like common sense, but it is particularly important when working with teenagers. You want them to stay engaged and motivated. Putting the “fun” in “fundraising” will help them do so.

3. Use It as an Opportunity to Teach and Learn

Fundraising should be fun, but it can also be spiritually meaningful. There are many lessons that can be drawn from service projects. They might be about hard work, dedication, teamwork, sacrificing for others and many other lessons.

Be prepared to incorporate scriptural references, as you would with any other ministry. For instance, use the parable of the gold talents (Matthew 25:14 - 30) as part of the lesson. Talk about why the master praised the servant who multiplied his gift even over the one who saved his. Have discussions with your youth group about putting their “talents” to the best uses and why it is important to make the most of what we have been given.

4. Let Them Take the Lead

There’s a good chance your youth group members know a lot more about social media than you do. Technology is an area where you can let your youth group members take the lead.

Ask them for ideas, and let them decide how best to reach out to their friends and classmates. This can be a great lesson in responsibility and leadership.

Try to match up specific fundraising tasks with each teenager's personal attributes. Even if the role is not considered a “church leadership” one, ensure that everyone has responsibilities. Expect a lot out of them, but also...

5. Be Realistic

Be strategic in organizing your fundraising responsibilities. And be honest about what you can expect out of each member.

Understand that your youth group members have a lot on their plates. Juggling school responsibilities with extra-curricular and social activities is a lot for teenagers. 

Know that not every team member will bring to the table everything they did to the last event. But recognize they may also bring something different this time. Be ready and willing to roll with the punches, and know that whatever amount you end up raising, it will be enough.

6. Establish and Follow Guidelines

With any fundraiser, you'll need to establish guidelines to ensure the safety of your volunteers and participants. You'll also need a set of standard operating procedures to make sure your fundraiser doesn't go over budget. 

If you're looking for help to build the guidelines needed to create a successful program, check out this free guide. It will not only help you with your fundraising guidelines, but give you a few extra fundraising ideas you can use.

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