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How One Legal Change Multiplied Our Outreach

By Raul Rivera

I want to share my experience with you as a pastor pursuing a dream to meet a need within our community. For me, the journey between vision and reality was daunting. I have been there and can speak from experience.

Community outreach is such a big part of church life. I imagine there are many needs in your community that your church could meet. But I also know the questions you are asking: “How can we make it happen?” and “How can our church meet those needs?”

Within this post, I will give you four outreach ideas that will help turn your dream into reality.

A little background on our ministry

While pastoring a church, my wife and I had a vision to host the biggest back-to-school bash our community had ever seen— an intimidating task for our small congregation at the time. We wanted to host an event where every single child in our community would receive a backpack full of school supplies.

After visiting with local school principals, we learned that the total amount of students from grades K-12 numbered just a little over 4,000. Supplying that many students with school supplies was a challenge greater than our 150-member church could handle alone. We knew we were going to need help.

I wish I could tell you that our initial fundraising efforts were a success, but that would not be the truth. Unfortunately, our initial fundraising efforts flopped. It was hard realizing we were not ready to receive the blessing we hoped to get.

It turned out that writing letters and asking for donations was not going to be enough. After all, we needed at least $40,000 to meet our budget, and we had 90 days to raise it. 

How did we do it?

The turning point of our efforts happened when my wife met with a well-to-do business owner from our town. She entered his office asking for financial support, and instead, she got about an hour's worth of advice that would turn our entire outreach program on its heels.

That day we learned that when you ask a wealthy man for money, you will get his advice. We also learned that when you take a wealthy man’s advice, you usually also get his money.

He gave us four tips that turned into powerful outreach results, and I believe they will work for you as well.

4 practical tips; powerful outreach results

Tip #1: Start a separate nonprofit and get 501(c)(3) status

This is the foundational lesson we learned during the process.

He said, "I bet most people already give to a church; why should they give to another? But they will give to a good cause. Why not start a separate outreach organization and raise money through it?”

He suggested we start a nonprofit organization that related to potential donors in a manner they could understand. He also made it clear that the nonprofit could apply for grants that our church otherwise would not be able to receive. Boy, was he right! It was the deciding factor that raised many thousands of dollars.

Tip #2: Share your ideas with elected officials

The businessman also expressed that politicians are constantly looking for organizations with good causes to support. He said to seek out those who were running for office. They were particularly willing to join the cause by making it their own. This went a long way for us.

Tip #3: Seek endorsements from government officials

A paradox of life is that people generally say they do not trust politicians or government officials; however, when it comes to community outreach programs, the endorsement of your program by an elected official goes incredibly far in raising funds.

Tip #4: Don’t always ask for money

Wisdom will at times require us to think the opposite of what our minds tell us. He encouraged us to ask people for input on how to make the outreach better. Then, instead of asking for money, ask others if they would become official sponsors of certain parts of the program. 

In our case, we asked sponsors to provide certain commodities for the event (ex: crayons, pencils, and time). As an example, we had stylists donate their time by giving free haircuts so children looked "ready" for their first day of school.

My wife walked out of that man's office encouraged and revitalized to make this outreach mission happen. Within 21 days, she received endorsements from the city council, county board of commissioners, superintendent of schools, and city mayor.

Armed with written letters of endorsement, we applied to the Walmart Foundation and Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) for grant funding. We also revisited the individuals and businesses that had previously turned us down.

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Same outreach, new look

This time it worked! Our outreach seemed more legitimate and appealing to potential donors. We adhered to the four tips listed above, and instead of asking for money, we asked for advice on how to best operate the outreach. Then we were able to ask for sponsorship of the school supplies and services.

Along with many good ideas that were implemented into the program, we also received commitments from businesses to sponsor some of the supplies. It was easy to get funding this time around because our outreach became popular with which to be associated.

Success attracts success

While my wife was out gathering funds, I was busy speaking at local club meetings, doing radio interviews, recruiting volunteers, and finalizing our legal paperwork and 501(c)(3) status.

Instead of spinning our wheels trying to do outreach through our church, our newly established nonprofit organization with provisional 501(c)(3) status was suddenly encountering open doors that had previously been closed. 

It was not long before we received word that both grants for which we had applied were approved. Our provisional 501(c)(3) status with the IRS was enough to raise over $40,000 in 90 days.

Today, many churches will not get approved for grants and other funding simply because they are churches. However, if they simply form a new nonprofit outreach organization and get 501(c)(3) status, they too can experience the same success we did. After all, a significant part of receiving a blessing is being ready for it when it comes. If you are curious to know more about how you can increase your impact on your community, I encourage you to call us today at 877-494-4655. We would be honored to serve you.

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