The Biggest Part of Receiving a Blessing is Being Ready When it Comes!

Written by Founder Raul Rivera on Jul 16, 2009 in Outreach

An Outreach to Our City

In 1999, my wife and I were traveling home to South Florida from a trip to Tampa.  During our three hour ride home we were brainstorming outreach ideas that would help increase our church's presence in the community.  We were determined to do something much bigger than ourselves.  We wanted to do something that our small town had never seen before!  After an hour of dreaming up big ideas, we decided that we would stage the biggest back to school event in the history of our small town.

Back then (and still today), the little town of Clewiston, Florida had an unemployment rate of over 25% during the Summer months, and many parents struggled to get their children basic school supplies.  We decided to hold an event that would supply every single child in our part of the county with all of the necessary back to school materials.

I immediately began the paperwork for Incorporation and 501(c)(3) status, and my wife started to promote the event. We knew right away that funding was going to be our biggest challenge; and that in order to succeed, we would have to bring the entire community together.  After visiting with principals from the schools, we learned that the total number of students from grades K-12 was just a little over 4,000. 

Supplying that many students with school supplies was turning into a big challenge for a small church of 150 members.  Unfortunately, our initial approach to fund raising was a failure.  It turned out that letter writing and asking for donations was not going to cut it. 

Three Great Ideas

It was not until my wife met with an oil executive in our town that it all came together for us.  She entered his office asking for financial support, and instead she got about an hour's worth of advice...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 advice.  We also learned that when you take a wealthy man's advice, you will also get his money.  He taught us three important things:

  • Share your ideas with elected officials.  They are always looking for community projects with which to associate themselves.
  • Apply for local grants.
  • Do not ask for money.  Instead, ask for sponsorship of certain components of your outreach program.

My wife left the meeting encouraged and with a revitalized mission to make this outreach happen.  Within 21 days she received endorsements from the city council, the county board of commissioners, the county superintendent and the city mayor.  Armed with written letters of endorsement, we applied to the Wal-Mart Foundation and to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission for grant funding.  We also revisited the individuals and businesses that had initially turned us down.

Same Outreach, A New Look!

This time, equipped with written endorsements, our outreach seemed more legitimate and appealing to potential donors.  We adhered to the advice we received from the oil executive.  Instead of asking for money, we asked for advice on how to best operate the outreach, and then we asked for sponsorship of the school supplies.  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 a popular thing 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 paper work and 501(c)(3) status.  Instead of organizing the outreach in the name of our church, we started a new nonprofit organization that required its own 501(c)(3) status.  Though I was the president, it was completely separate from our church.  However, in the eyes of the community there were no distinctions.  These types of nonprofit organizations are also known as Community Development Corporations (CDC's). 

It was not long before we received word that both grants we applied for were approved.  We had pending 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, and that was enough to get the grant money. 

Today, there are many churches and ministries that will not get approved for grants and other funding because they do not have 501(c)(3) status, nor have they started the process to get pending approval.  The biggest part of receiving a blessing is being ready for it when it comes.   

Was the Outreach a Success?

My wife managed to convince the city council to let us use the city auditorium free of charge for three days.  The outreach was conducted the Saturday before the first day of school.  The local Sherriff provided free police presence, and 12 hair stylists donated their time to provide children with free haircuts (over 800 in one day).  Before the event began, there was a line of over 1,000 people outside of the building. 

Hearing and eye specialists from a nearby city provided free eyesight and hearing screenings, while the health department set up shop to give free vaccines.  More than 65 businesses, individuals and government agencies sponsored the event, and all who gave at least $250.00 were allowed to set up a booth to advertise their products and services.  We had over 70 volunteers from our church, other churches and from the local community.  The mayor and most local elected officials made appearances.  We managed to receive every teacher's wish list of supplies their students needed in order to get off to a good start for the school year.  Every student that came received their school supplies without regard to their socio-economic status. 

We managed to raise over $45,000.00 for this one day event, and served over 3,000 people.  We even made the 11 o'clock top news story!  Our church provided prayer and counseling to all who came.  This event put our small church on the map! 

I Would Love to Receive Your Comments!

Your thoughts and ideas are important to me.  Also, if you have any ideas for future discussions, please let me know by clicking the Add Comment link below.

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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