Fundraising 3: Methods to Raise Funds

ButterflySquareApples2I thought it might be useful to collect some fundraising strategies that have worked for Pagan and small groups. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it can give a small organization a place to start.

I’d be very interested in hearing about other fundraising options that have worked for you and your group in the past–perhaps I’ll feature those ideas in a future blog post.


First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car.


What does food have to do with fundraising? If your group is totally against any money changing hands, you can work to build a solid culture of potluckers. This can take time to build up, and sometimes it takes a few really anemic potlucks to be able to point out to folks, “If you want good food to celebrate the sabbat, you all have to bring it.” I have found that it especially helps to address this to the group directly, without blame, but definitely specifically pointing it out vs. being passive aggressive and fuming about it. Encouraging potlucking models co-creation and energetic sharing, and is a good pre-step to fundraising.

Anecdote: In Chicago for the public events I offer, fewer people bring potluck but more are willing to donate cash, and I believe this is 1. Because people are busy, and 2. Because it’s hard to bring potluck on the bus. In this case, I’ve given myself over to just buying some supplementary food out of the event budget, and things work out ok. It’s worth noting that (in Chicago) some small groups with a longstanding culture of potluck will turn out some amazing spreads. It’s also worth noting that groups that start out by running events and almost “catering” the events by bringing a lot of food to them will, in fact, reduce how much potluck others bring, since attendees will perceive that they are being fed and that they don’t need to bring anything.

***If you’re having any kind of food, catered or potluck, please be earth conscious. Don’t buy styrofoam plates that are toxic to you, that have toxic byproducts, and that aren’t going to decompose. If you have to use plastic plates, please find a way to wash and reuse them. Paper plates contribute to clearcutting and deforestation. I recommend setting up a “Green dish station,” though this certainly takes volunteers. But it’s a good place to put volunteers who can’t afford to financially contribute. Contact me if you want more info on what a Green dish station might entail.

Love Offerings Jar/Basket
I find this a good place to start, especially in a group that has a few strong voices against any Pagan classes/events making money. Making 100% transparent the actual cost of venue, candles, and other supplies can help with this. If you’re looking to start somewhere, this is a fairly nonthreatening place to begin.

Energetically, there are some similarities with donations and potluck. If you’ve been offering events where you (the organizers) cater them, you set up the expectation that your participants/attendees don’t need to bring anything. You’re energetically ensuring your audience is passive, that you will take care of their needs for them, and that can become an ingrained, systemic pattern if you’re not careful.

If you’ve been running events for a while, or if your local Pagan culture does not typically ask for donations, it will take some time to build up a culture of attendees willing to donate. Whatever you do at your events sets a tone, an expectation. If you’re moving from events that have been free and you haven’t mentioned all the money you’re putting into things, this is a good transition move. If you’re just starting up events, but aren’t comfortable passing the basket or charging admission, at least have a donation jar of some kind because otherwise, your participants may never even consider that it costs money to run an event like a ritual or classes.

Note: If you’ve been paying out of pocket for months, and find yourself making snippy comments like, “Well, I’m the one who paid for the last 12 events and somehow no one else is stepping up and helping,” or if you have blown up (or feel like you’ll blow up) at the next participant who complains about your event by screaming something like, “You can complain about this event when you’re the one paying for it,” you may want to have someone else on your team explain to people why you’re asking for money.

I’ve been there, and I get it–but blowing up at people does not build a healthy and sustainable structure of raising funds for future event. You’ll have some folks leave the group, you’ll have a bunch of folks give you guilt money, and within a year, a lot of people in your group will mysteriously have drifted away. If you’re that pissed off, find a safe place to vent, so that you can calmly educate people in a non-explosive, non-condescending way, about why funds are being collected.

Pass the Basket
This is a little more aggressive than the love offerings jar. You’re likely to get more donations, but, this is in part because many people will feel (whether or not it’s true) the social pressure of eyes boring into the back of their heads if they don’t drop some money in. For folks who have $5 or $20 on them and no problems donating, this method works, but for folks who really can’t afford to donate, they might feel really uncomfortable having their inability to pay being put out in front of the whole group.

I have never used this model because I have felt put on the spot by it. Similar to the above, guilt isn’t the most long-term sustainable way to get money, even if it raises more funds in the short term. I’ve had members of my team do something similar to this by passing a box around after a class, but I felt that that really put pressure on people to donate, and the newer folks are often skittish, even if they do have money to pay.

I’d rather invest in a long-term relationship rather than get someone’s $20 for that event, since my goal is spiritual community, education, and other services that will help that person on their journey, not just making the money for that event. If your goal is to serve everyone, regardless of ability to pay, I recommend the sliding scale donation which can be paid in more privacy.

Suggested donation/sliding scale
This is the model I use for almost all the classes, rituals, and events I offer. I find that, with few exceptions, this model works the best as a bridge between capitalism and a more communal/tithing model. I have various language I use, and I’m happy to forward you some of that language via email or Facebook. For a ritual or short class (2-4 hours) it’s typically:

Admission: $5-$25 sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds. Your donation goes toward space rental, etc. etc.

It takes people a while to “get” the sliding scale/no one turned away model. Many people RSVP “No”for events saying, ‘No, I can’t attend, I don’t have the money,” and so I find a lot of education is necessary to communicate that people are welcome at the event, it’s a donation, and if they can’t pay now but they can pay later, that they’re welcome to pay it forward, or stay and help out with cleanup, or volunteer for other work exchange.

This can be a great way to raise funds because people are so much more willing to part with money when they are getting something out of it. It’s a win for the whole community when you do it right–your auction items/services get donated from local artisans and healers, and this gains them exposure and business. It also solidifies your community together in a common cause. Auctions work best when:

  1. You involve the broader community in acquiring donations,
  2. You have a fun event around the auction,
  3. You have a good auctioneer,
  4. You have people willing to spend money on things not just for themselves, but for others,
  5. Well organized auction table with nice bid sheets,
  6. Have some silent auction, and only big ticket items go for voice auction before the group, so that the auction doesn’t drag on forever, which is a big buzzkill
  7. Break up auctioning with some kind of entertainment (engaging local musicians or entertainers works well)

When I haven’t done this, proceeds are lower, or people get bored and drift away. For small auctions I’ve brought in $100-$200, for “big” causes I’ve brought in $1500-$2000, even in places where the local Pagans told me they’d never raised more than $50 at an event before.

Donations for Charities:
Everything I’ve mentioned thus far is ways to raise money for groups, regardless of the purpose of the money. My assumption here is that you’re looking for ways to raise funds for the operating costs of your group, space rental, or saving up for future events and endeavors. However, it’s worth mentioning that these are methods often employed for raising money for charities and other causes.

In fact, most of the time when I see Pagan groups (or organizations like Pagan Pride) using these methods, it’s to raise funds for local charities. That’s never a bad thing, and it’s good to give back to the needy. However, I would offer the caution that some groups get into the trap where they are told (or other local groups or individuals loudly proclaim) that it’s only ok to fundraise for a charity, not for the group itself.

Similar to this, I’ve seen groups offering Pagan Pride-like events that put all the money raised into charity donations for something like a women’s shelter, and then when they start organizing next year’s event, they have no seed money at all to rent a venue.

If you’re fundraising for charity, I recommend keeping some of the money for group activities, and making that transparent. Or, as I like to call it, putting your own oxygen mask on first. If you have a great event planned, but none of your vendors have pre-registered and you can’t secure the space and have to cancel the event, then you don’t get to raise any money for the charity of your choice.

Vendors & Advertisers
A tried and true way many Pagan organizers pay for larger events like a Pagan Pride is by selling vendor slots. Each vendor or reader pays a flat fee, say $25 or $50 or $100 for their 10×10 booth area. Sometimes advertising is offered, if it’s a larger event like a Pagan festival that will be doing a lot of pre-promotion, and a program book. For most medium/large Pagan events, having vendors is one of the only ways you can guarantee you’ll cover your costs.

But here are a few things to consider. If you’re looking to keep the focus of your work on spirituality and education, lots of tables with mass produced bling may not be what you want. While I’m all for supporting our local Pagan/New Age bookstores, I also can’t ethically tell participants at my event that yes, they really need that Tarot deck and wand to be a real Pagan. As an event organizer, that puts me into a moral conflict, because the contract I’m entering into with my vendors is essentially, “You have agreed to give me $50 and I am putting my name behind the stuff you are selling, and encouraging people to buy from you,” because the way vendors and advertisers make money is when people buy from them.

When I’m in a position of needing to support an event with vendors, I try hard to ensure that most of the vendors are local artisans and readers who are also a part of the community, that they have unique offerings that I can truly say, “Yes, this is a good product, these are good people to support with your money.” If a vendor is just there to make a buck, I’m likely to turn down their application rather than compromise my ethics. I wouldn’t turn away a vendor just for selling something mass produced–like books or jewelry–but I’d want to check out the vendor first and see what they’re doing in the community.

I invite Occult Bookstore in Chicago to vend at Ringing Anvil events because they do a tremendous amount of education to the folks who walk into their store, they are upstanding folks, and they make their classroom available for diverse classes and education.

These are some of the more successful fundraising efforts I’ve seen in the Pagan community, though I should point out that they seem to be the most effective for artistic endeavors like Pagan musicians, though the Wild Hunt has funded their own costs in this way. In fact, I’m trying this method out myself at the moment.

The word tithe actually comes from “tenth,” with the idea that each person would put 10% of their income and assets back to the Church (or other body that required it). Given that it’s unlikely many folks are likely to put in 10%, the word “tithe” might be a little misleading, though I’ve heard a more modern connotation of tithe used to mean, donating back based on income, without specifying a percentage.

In past Pagan groups, I’ve seen resistance to an annual membership unless people are “getting” something. The group that I was a co-organizer for, Earth Spiritualists of Chicago, had a failed attempt at a membership fee. People didn’t feel the need to spend $25 on an annual membership because, they were already on our Meetup site, and they already attended events, why pay more? We tried luring people with package deals–free tarot readings, and we talked about t-shirts for members, but it never took off.

On the other hand, groups like the (now gone) Diana’s Grove or the group that formed out of the ashes, The Grove, that are offering a specific educational program have had a bit more success with an annual membership to register with their Mystery School. However, with that we’re talking about people buying a service, and not necessarily gaining buy-in into the organization as co-creators. Some are–staffers might pay the annual registration fee the same as the other students do. But it isn’t exactly the model that’s transferable for many local community groups. I think that this area is a growing edge for many groups. 

Events, Items, Services
In a workshop at Pagan Spirit Gathering led by Florence, editor of Circle Magazine and a woman with considerable experience in the field of not for profit fundraising, I learned that there’s basically two types of fundraising for a not for profit. One is money that is a gift, and the other is money that is earned through the activities of the not for profit. Some people form not for profits imagining that all of this grant money will suddenly flow their way, or that people–lured by the tax deduction–will suddenly begin just donating to their organization.

The truth is that most money is raised through events, services, or products related to the not for profit. An event like a masquerade ball where the money–after event expenses–goes toward the operation of the not for profit. Another example is Pagan Spirit Gathering itself, where–after event expenses–the profits go to support Circle’s operational costs for the next year.

Other examples of this might be selling particular items or services that are in line with the organization’s mission, like t-shirts, bake sales, tarot readings.

It’s worth pointing out that this is a very successful fundraising model likely because, like an auction/raffle, it’s pretty darn close to the capitalism that people are used to. People are buying an item or service that they value. They feel good about the purchase because it supports a group.

What should be obvious to anyone organizing a fundraiser like this is if it costs you $15 for a T-shirt you’re making $5 off of, or $2,000 to run an event, and you make $3,000 and put in months of time organizing the event just to get $1000, wouldn’t it be more efficient for people to just donate the $1,000? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. People want something for their money that’s tangible, or the experience of an event.

I’d also offer that fundraising events tend to work better when they are entertainment focused, like a concert or ball. What I’ve noticed  in my recent experience of running Pagan concerts is that plenty of people are willing to pay $20-$25 for a concert ticket, and then another $20 on CDs. Many of these are folks that have no interest in attending a ritual or a class.

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