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See the light through church fundraising

September 29, 2010

We recently sat down with Gail Wensink, FundScrip Group Administrator for St. Paul’s United Church in Bowmanville, Ontario, to speak about the church’s choice to use the FundScrip program.

For more information about St. Paul’s United Church, you can visit their Lion Lamb Blog where you’ll find David Mundy’s personal blog. David is now in his 31th year as a United Church minister and has kept a personal journal for 25 years. His blog contains his musing in a journal-like format, without the classified stuff!

Unique feature to their website is that parishioners can catch up on the sermons online here.

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FundScrip: Hi Gail, as you know we have a website that’s devoted to best practices in fundraising by way of the FundScrip program, and what we thought we’d talk to you about today about is your fundraising project, what it’s all about, how you got involved and that sort of thing; so maybe you could start by telling us that.

Gail: Ok, well a couple of years ago now, our church was looking for ways to fundraise, and this method had been mentioned – about selling gift cards – and it’s really great obviously because you aren’t asking anybody to purchase anything they don’t really need or want or can’t use; and it’s no extra money out of anyone’s pocket. If they don’t mind purchasing with gift cards, then they can be fundraising for the church at the same time. So it seemed like an idea fit.

We used to save our grocery [cash register] tapes for years for some grocery store – I believe it was A&P – and hand them in, but it was a lot of work for somebody to tally them all up and then we got a little bit [of money] back; but then they ceased that program. While that program was going, I thought “well I prefer to shop at a different grocery store” and I had actually looked into what Loblaws did [in terms of fundraising programs], and apparently you could buy bulk gift cards directly from Loblaws at a discount and then sell them to your members. However, the church never has any money on hand so that they can go out and spend a couple of thousand dollars on the cards, and I hesitated to even suggest it because, you know, you had all that amount on-hand all the time sitting there waiting for you to sell them, and I didn’t know how many other people might be interested in it.

So, anyway, at a board meeting, when it became clear that there were a couple of board members who were really anxious to get this started, and while they wanted to participate, they didn’t want to do it [administration of the program]. So when they were looking for a person to set it up and go with it, I volunteered. We signed up with another company, and that worked well for almost a year until suddenly we started having terrible back-order problems. Sometimes half my order would be back-ordered. So I had a lot of people’s money and nothing to give them in return and it was not a good picture.

Then we heard about FundScrip, and decided to look into it. It looked to me that it was pretty much the same type of program, only with a guarantee of no back-orders, which for me was a huge bonus. So we made the switch and we’ve had excellent service ever since. It sure is an easy way to raise money.

I’m still working on getting people in the habit of never shopping with cash: I tell them, “If you use a credit card or you use some other method, ok you’re collecting points, but if you’re shopping with cash, you’re leaving money behind when you buy your groceries that could be coming back to the church.” So I’m seeing increased interest in it all the time.

FundScrip: Well that’s great! So how many people do you have involved in fundraising for your group?

Gail: Well as far as helping me with this program, I just have one person for backup – and honestly she’s never had to enter an order or do anything, but it is handy to have her tallying up the cheques while I take their orders. Then we make sure I know what cheques are being handed in to the church before I come home to place the order. So it is better to have to [sets of] hands than one.

The program is for our general fund so it’s not for a specific cause at the church. It’s just that, you know, just like every church these days from what I hear, we’re in dire straits just in terms of meeting the everyday expenses. So, once I hit the “Oh, we’ve raised $1000.00” point, even the minister began to perk up his ears and start talking it up, and he and his wife started participating more.

I think the more people do, the more other people think “Oh, it must be ok”, because there’s getting to be quite a crowd that are purchasing cards.

FundScrip: So, how many people are actually supporting your church through FundScrip?

Gail: Well I would say about – over the course of time – I’ve had 30 to 40 families that have participated at some point… some more than others. Some haven’t become repeat orders but others have, and I actually have one gal – actually two gals – that go online and place their own orders and say “Wow it’s so simple that way” and of course it saves me work too.

FundScrip: So are you trying to encourage more of your supporters to go that route?

Gail: Oh absolutely, yes. I’ve been pointing out how easy it is, and actually just this week I sent out a notice to everyone that orders that I have an email address for, and I let them know that we’d be doing an extra order this week, because I’d been ordering once a month and I know a lot of people missed it this month for some reason or other and I had a couple of people come up to me last week wanting to place an order and I said “Oh, I’m delivering [the cards] this week; you’ve missed it”.

So I thought “Ok, let’s see how this goes.”, and I’ve got it here: it’s over $2000.00 in orders today, so it was a good thing to do. I may find that my orders are smaller in size and don’t qualify for free shipping this way if I continue to do this, but I thought that I’d give it a try doing it more often.

FundScrip: Do you find that people are often ordering the same items on a recurring basis?

Gail: Yes, the majority do. They have their favourite grocery stores and some do a mix of two or three grocery stores and that’s fine too, but they seem to do the same ones every month. One of the gals that does it online has made hers an automatically recurring order…

FundScrip: Ah; so don’t you think that would simplify your life considerably if more folks would shop that way?

Gail: It would… and even them going online and placing it. I think if they go online and do it themselves they will soon see the benefits of doing it as a recurring order, but we haven’t quite reached that point yet.

Another interesting thing is, I spoke to another local church before I was with FundScrip actually – I went and spoke to their board of stewards, and told them all about it and how simple it was and how it just took a little bit of time from the person who was coordinating it. So, it took them a year honestly to find somebody who would take it on. Eventually they did get two gals who would take it on together and they started doing it.

But I thought it was funny I didn’t hear that they’d joined and I actually asked Kathy about it; and it turned out that they joined the wrong one – they’d signed up with the old company I used to use. I had sent a message through my sister (because it’s her church) “tell them not to join that one, tell them to use FundScrip”. But anyway, I guess the message didn’t get through.

So I was talking to my sister, and I was telling her that she was with the wrong company – she’s one of the coordinators – and I explained to her some of the differences: like that orders all come in their sealed envelopes with the recipient’s name on them; so you don’t even have to sort the cards and she said “Wow, that would be a huge bonus”. And I said, “So, you’re getting good service are you?” and she said, “Well we’ve had a few back-orders but not too many” so, I said, “well you definitely are not with the right company!”

FundScrip: That’s great! So, what kind of strategies do you use to encourage participation from your supporters?

Gail: Well, I’ve spoken from the pulpit a couple of times. I’m not much of a public speaker, but I have gotten up in the pulpit a couple of times and explained that it’s so simple – nothing to it – and that was back of course in the beginning when I was with the other company. And I do print off the monthly specials and I have that on my table. I have a table set up pretty much every Sunday at church where people can place orders and I have a big sign: it’s like a fold out cardboard stand. It’s about 2 ½ feet high and when it’s opened it takes up the whole card table. So I put the monthly specials up on there and I have a pouch on there that holds the order forms. There’s always something new on that board that they can see, and when the monthly specials come out I also usually post those on the church bulletin board.

I think I’m going to start doing at least monthly emails if not every time I’m going to place an order. I think I’ll send one the middle of the week before, because some people forget to bring their chequebook on Sundays. I haven’t been particularly encouraging them to give me their email addresses, but I think I’m going to start. I’ve built myself up a contact list that I just hit to send them a message, and I would say this week 8 people ordered, and some of these people had just picked up an order last Sunday from me, and they were all on the list that got my email, so that tells me the email helped.

In the email I actually copied part of Kathy’s email to me to tell them what the monthly specials were and explained to them that I was going to start placing orders every couple of weeks from now until Christmas, just to see how that went.

I feel a little bit competitive with this other church!

FundScrip: Ok, so given, as you know, this is a conversation that we’re going to share with other groups and people who are potentially looking to start up a new program with FundScrip, what would be the main advice you would give someone who was just starting out and brand new in the program?

Gail: Just, I think you know, that it’s quite exciting. I certainly got that out there at first that “this is really exciting folks; without spending another cent on anything you don’t buy anyway, you could be getting money back for the church.” I took that approach right from the get-go, that it’s really an exciting program and the way it works best is if everybody gets behind it and at least give it a try. And you know I like the way they see just how much they’ve contributed, it’s on their envelopes every month when they get their cards… I just think it’s great. We aren’t asking you to purchase anything, just to purchase in a different way. Also it’s a really good feeling – I brought it out when I did speak to the congregation – that it’s kind of neat knowing that “Oh I’m stopping for groceries tonight and I don’t have to touch my bank account… they’re already paid for.” And I know you’ve paid for them ahead of time but I’ve actually had people say to me that not only is it good for budgeting, but it’s a really good feeling when you go to the grocery store and it’s not, “Oh I wonder how much it’s going to cost”, it’s already been paid for.

So I think it’s an exciting program, and I think if they start off with that message it encourages people to try it and see how easy it is.

FundScrip: Well that’s excellent Gail, we really appreciate your time today for providing some insights on the program that we can share with our existing and future groups. Best of luck with your continuing fundraising efforts!

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