Mission Trip Fundraisers – Are Car Washes A Bad Idea?

Just this week my good mate Brit, (I like his name), wrote a post concerning the disparity of car washes collecting money compared to the homeless not being allowed to collect money on the streets. It’s a great post, you can read it here.

Well, here’s the deal, Brit’s post really got me thinking about car washes that many of us do to raise money for our missions trips. As Brit’s post communicated,

“I know we have a panhandler and then you have a fundraiser… but why is one who is in need forced to move on, while others who are desiring something more (new skirts, new trumpets, new shoes, bus to go on a mission trip) they can wave their signs and get hand outs.”

Now before you read on, know that I am only asking questions that I am struggling through. I would really love your thoughts on this and get a different vantage point. For now, I am struggling with the idea of the local church soliciting the local community to pay for a church event… Here’s my point in a nutshell:

As churches, why are we asking the community to pay for a missions trip when our church family should be supporting it?

I mean, honestly, is this the right message we should be sending our community?

“Hey, we are doing a missions trip to this cool place… Can you pay for it?”

Or, maybe the message they receive is,

“Hey, we’re doing this missions trip to this cool place, and our church doesn’t have enough money to pay for it, so we will ask our community to fund it instead of our church family…”

Now, you need to know that on this Memorial Weekend myself and bunch of students WILL be doing a car wash, but it won’t be for a missions trip. It will be free to our community, but if people insist on paying, we’ll donate it to Tornado Relief Funds or a similar charity. Is this different? I don’t know? What are your thoughts on this? I have not considered all the angles on this one, but I would love your thoughts. Feel free to comment!

Phil <><

19 Responses to Mission Trip Fundraisers – Are Car Washes A Bad Idea?

  1. Benjer McVeigh April 26, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Great point. I’ve always felt strongly that these kinds of fundraisers send the wrong kind of message. We don’t do any group fundraisers for a mission trip–we do them, but like you, we save those for simply raising money to give away to a cause. Our approach is this: We set a price that we feel is doable for families, and the rest is picked up as a part of our budget. We also:

    -provide a small “scholarship” that’s open to everyone who participates in some sort of spiritual discipline (it’s different every year, but usually it’s related to the trip, as a way to prepare)

    -offer two individual fundraising opportunities through local businesses for families who want to raise money towards their student’s trip cost. We frame is as “if you (the teenager) don’t have a part-time job to save up money for the trip, this is a good alternative.” They aren’t required, and if a family can just write a check, they are welcome to do so. They are also good fundraisers that people actually remember from year to year and look forward to buying from the students, so they are set up for success, not frustration because no one will buy their cookie dough or discount card.

    -We also make it clear that finances should not keep a student from attending. We have a payment plan, and if they are having trouble keeping up, we just have a frank conversation, and if we feel there’s a real need, we’ll offer an additional scholarship.

    To me, it comes down to this: are we supporting students, or are we asking them to “work” for things that should be a part of the budget? I’m not saying trips should be free, but sometimes I think the expectation of fundraisers comes from the terrible idea that since “kids” don’t give much to the church, they need to do fundraisers as a group to fund the budget. Set a fair price, teach good stewardship, and then help out where there’s financial need.

  2. Phil Bell April 26, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    Great thoughts here Benjer. I agree, it’s important to ensure that we create heathy expectation for our students and their families from year to year. Payment plans are key and good planning on part of our ministries and our families will always make the fundraising process easier.

    Phil <><

  3. Jonathan Hale April 26, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    This is interesting to think about, seeing how it’s never been put to me this way before. I also am not at a point where I’d take a very hard stance, but would like to offer my thoughts. I think a car wash is slightly different from a person who is homeless asking for a hand-out because of the service it offers. I, for one, LOVE to see youth group car washes and have patronized several of them. I’m simply (usually) too lazy to HAND-WASH my own car, so I pay the youth to do it. I’ve also done the same for Girl Scouts, etc. I feel like I’m getting something for my money, so I don’t mind it. As far as the church funding its own missions– well, yes, that’s ideal. Unfortunately, church members are often tapped out or drained dry in their pocketbooks because of the multiple requests for their money for a great number of things. Even though most, if not all, are good things, it’s still hard to “do it all.” Just my thoughts. I appreciate this post you made, Phil.

  4. Phil Bell April 26, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    Jonathan. Really appreciate your thoughts. These are the kind of thoughts and ideas I was hoping we could look at. I agree that many members of our church are tapped our financially, however, is there a better option than a community car wash that solicits funds from people outside our church and family.

    Would it be better to send ‘support’ letters to our families and friends first before engaging the car wash idea? What are your thoughts?

    Phil <

  5. David Perez April 26, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Awesome! When the topic of fundraising came up at my very first youth board meeting, I was explicitly told, “Whatever you do, DON’T do a car wash. DON’T.” And to this day, we’ve never done a car wash. However, fundraising has always been a struggle for me and you’ve raised some great questions that I’ll be bringing to my team. Thanks!

  6. Jonathan Hale April 26, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    As long as there’s a “need” that’s met. Perhaps it’s providing a BBQ, spaghetti, or pancake meal for which tickets are sold in the community. If a family is going out to eat anyway and would pay anyway, then if they buy a ticket from a local teenager from a church for a meal, then it’s money well-spent. There’s also the touchy area of selling doughnuts at Wal-Mart or coupon books. Sometimes people buy them and are glad (I know that I’ve used my coupon book a LOT). Other times, people feel pressure, so that’s touchy. The car wash and the dinners meet a need that people don’t mind paying to receive, I think. The support letters are a good idea, especially if it’s for a foreign trip that requires $1000+.

  7. Michele April 26, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    My husband (youth pastor) and I stopped doing fundraisers years ago. We were putting an incredible amount of time into planning and advertising for raising money that people were usually willing to give anyway. When we explained the spiritual growth events that we wanted the youth to be able to go to and how much it was going to cost each youth, the congregation voluntarily came up with the solution to have 4 “youth services” a year where the youth lead the entire service and they collected a special offering for their trips and events. This was also in a very poor community and we never had a hard time getting all the money we needed. If it really is such a spiritually beneficial trip or event that the youth are going to, then you shouldn’t have a problem having the money donated by the church. And the youth certainly shouldn’t have to “prove” their worthiness to go by working their way there. They shouldn’t have to earn spiritual growth opportunities. Isn’t it these opportunities that the church is suppose to provide for them. Let the world teach them about capitalism. Lets just teach grace.

  8. Phil Bell April 26, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    “Let the world teach them about capitalism. Lets just teach grace…” Great thoughts here Michelle! I agree with you, there can be so much focus on fundraising and it can take away from our regular spiritual growth opportunities throughout the year too.

    Last year we took a team of 77 students and leaders on mission trip to poor rural Appalachia. We had our students send out support letters and we raised MORE than we needed. No car washes, no spaghetti dinners, just letters that were sent out well in advance and well planned…

    I am so glad your church gives 4 services to support your missions opportunities! That is a great show of support and vision!

    Phil <

  9. Phil Steiner April 26, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    Great thoughts and very challenging!
    Historically we have been limited to one fundraiser (we park cars in our parking lot for the county fair), but could not do any other fundraiser. This year our budget is extrememly tight and our mission trip budget was cut to $0 and we are now allowed to do fundraisers. We are planning on doing the parking lot fundraiser and mail letters to people in the church and family. I think letters is a great way to get the story out about what the youth are doing. We are considering a car wash, but we would sell pre-sale tickets to raise the majority of our money and not depend on “off the street” cars for income.

    But Michele, you got me thinking about the churches responsibility to provide these “spiritual growth” experiences for our students.

    Great thoughts!

  10. Sara G April 26, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    1. Panhandling is NOT = to fundraising. If we want to call anything panhandling, should we call our passing of the plate that on Sunday? (I’ll get hate mail for that, please spare the whole doctrine on tithing, I get it.)
    2. If “Hey, we are doing a missions trip to this cool place… Can you pay for it?”, is your reasoning for a mission trip, don’t do it or go. Sorry, completely wrong motive, most mission trips are not cool places.
    Fundraisers offer people who are unable to “go” or participate in a mission trip to “participate” with their funds, whether they are believers or not! As a non-believer, I would really appreciate that!
    For those of you who have done a car wash, whether free or not, there is a one-on-one opportunity to touch people of the community face-to-face. Yes, I prefer free car washes to the community. In fact, free or free will offering is always nice with people knowing what the church is doing the car wash for is a great thing. How about having people fill out prayer requests while their car is being washed? Hummm, doesn’t sound like panhandling to me.
    So, if we are equating our car wash fundraising motives as being the same as a pan-handler, we are in serious trouble. It’s not even close. Sadly the truth is most (not all) panhandlers are using their money for drugs, very few are buying food, yes, this is true not something I made up. MOST churches have good missional intentions with their car washes. Not like we are buying better curtains or watches with the money.
    So, would it be bad to do a car wash for the homeless and hand it to a panhandler? According to the statements made, they are both wrong. That breaks my heart. I love to see students come together, feel welcomed, loved and a part of something for good with other students and to have an impact on the community. Leave it to some buzz-kill to once again question the motives of our students and youth workers.
    If we were to do a car wash and hand people an envelope with the churches address on it and information on the mission trip as well as a prayer request and tell them to donate or not to whatever they feel led to do but it’s truly a free service, we have now truly offered the community a free car wash as well as an opportunity to serve on the mission of expanding the Kingdom and being Christ deliverers.
    I imagine there is way too much time spent on this as opposed to just doing what needs to get done to save the lost and feed the hungry around the world. But I will defend the motives of hard working youth workers as well as the heart of our students who have the capacity to light this world on fire for Christ.

  11. Justin Hanneken April 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    We have always done car wash fundraisers for the 30 Hour Famine and it has given us countless opportunities to share with non-church folk about how Jesus is using our students to make a difference in the nations. We never set an amount on how much to give, but when people heard about the cause, they often gave more and we sent 100% of those funds to World Vision. In addition, FREE car washes we have done many times and it’s an opportunity to show kindness to people and creates some lovely awkward moments when you refuse to take their money.

    I do not believe Brit’s pan-handler example is valid for comparison. A pan-handler is not offering a service – he’s not working for something, he simply wants a hand-out, and I generally will give him one. (Luke 6:30). The injustice is not that car washes are allowed. The injustice is that the pan-handler is told by government of certain cities (like Nashville) that he is not allowed to ask for money. If you go to Nashville, you will notice that there are still 2 types of people who are asking for $$ on the street, legally! They are musicians – playing an instrument, whether poorly or well, they are playing – offering something to the people walking by – often times, they have a large binder and will play any song you ask them to. The other group is of homeless folks who are selling a newspaper – for 25 cents. Many of them have an article or piece of artwork in that very paper.

  12. Phil Bell April 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Justin and Sara, I agree about the impact of FREE car washes and the opportunity to involve to either serve our community or help them become aware of a cause. But is there a difference when a youth group does a car wash for the purpose to raise money for their mission trip?

    Again, the guts of my question was, “As churches, why are we asking the community to pay for a missions trip when our church family should be supporting it?”

    This is great conversation ya’ll (for my Nashville and Southern friends), and I greatly appreciate the ongoing sense of togetherness as we try to hash out the issues presented.

    Phil <

  13. Leneita April 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    This is thought provoking. In working with kids who are mostly coming from underresourced communities, my thought process used to be what kids couldn’t do. I used to be out there trying to get the “poor kids” funded. I actually live in an area where we have a lot of panhandlers on the medians of our roadways. They are set up everyday. Each and everyone destitute and struggling in their own ways. Here is my thought process- Did the students come up with it? I agree with the statement made that it is exhausting work to “fund raise.” I was challenged awhile ago that my students are quite capable and parents are willing to step up. So rather than us running it I put it in the hands of my students. “So we feel we want to go to this place and do X- how do we ALL get there.” The students come up with the options and then they run it. Actually the only time we did a car wash was to raise money to dig a well in Tanzania. I know it isn’t the point here, but I think a deeper issue is teaching our students to serve. So sometimes it comes in the form of a car wash and sometimes it comes in the form of offering to carry someone’s groceries to their car. I think what I struggle with on any trip is that we have a tendency to focus so much on the “big” trip we forget service is mostly in the day to day living. It needs to be a both and. As you know Phil in Britain the homeless sell newspapers as well. It is much less degrading than standing on the side of anything anywhere.

  14. StuffJesuswouldntsay April 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    🙂 I just don’t like getting my car all scratched up cause the kids got some rocks mixed in their watering pails. At least the $20 I hand to the homeless guy won’t interfere with my busy pace…

  15. Darren Sutton April 26, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    We’re supposed to be taking kids on mission trips?

  16. Darren Sutton April 26, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    Haha – just kidding.

    For years, I never did anything outside our church. Period.

    I still don’t do large ‘come fund our trip’ events like car washes, etc.

    Recently, I have offered one fund-raising event to our students that they do individually (OK, it was selling Christmas greenery because we have nothing like that in Corpus Christi or calendars with Scripture on it). We asked them to only sell to people from our church or to people with whom they could share the vision and mission of what we were doing. (Most sold to church and family members – some sold to teachers and family friends – a few had parents who sold to co-workers and one sold to a local business). All of them shared their stories with their patrons. I know, because we did an event centering on the stories they had to share about peoples’ reactions and interest in our mission.

    Here’s the deal. Fundraisers should have a purpose beyond raising money – and THAT should be the focal point.

    And to stir the pot…I also do not equate fundraising opportunities with pan handling…and I also do not let anyone wash my car who may or may not have gravel in their buckets…or who dress like hoochies.

  17. Andrew Dear April 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    While I share some of the same qualms about asking the public to help support church ministries I do have public fundraisers. I have never heard of anyone in our community upset or disgruntled about us asking for a donation for a service. They love to see teenagers active in productive ways. They love to hear that we are going on a special trip to help serve others. The fact that its through a church is no big deal to them and often is a bonus for them and us.

  18. Phil Bell April 27, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    Andrew, thanks for your comments. I agree! However, what are your thoughts on the importance of the local church supporting our trips, as opposed to going to the community first?

    Great discussion going on here! Thank you everyone!

    Like I said in my post, I have not covered all the angles on this one, and I am thankful for all the great responses that have been made.

    Phil <

  19. Lori Albert May 30, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    I don’t see anything wrong with a community car wash to raise funds for a mission trip. It is voluntary, the price is a donation. If done properly, it gives the community a chance to participate in a wonderful effort. Use it as a way to reach out to others.

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