Funding: a distributed model

Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Dan Harper has been going over one of my more frequent — I can’t say favorite — concerns: the decline in churches in our denomination. Several aspects have come up; let’s think about funding.

It might shock some modern Unitarian Universalists to think that some of our churches were once state-supported, and later supported by pew rent. The current canvass and pledge model is only one model in our history. Why not fee for service? That would certainly cast a light on a programs for which there is little more than a sentimental attachment. Or more earned income — particularly in congregations that have more property than needed? Or sponsoring a grant-supported (even government grant supported) program for the public good. (If we’re worried about, say, LGBT discrimination or theological indoctrination, through government-supported faith-based initiatives, then we really should enter the fray.)

Now that the lede is good and buried, let me describe one mode of funding that will be new to many, but not so radical as to be unapproachable. Some call it crowdfunding. That is, an organized mass appeal, usually of small donors, who fund a particular project. The appeal will usually have a defined time-span and a financial goal that indicates success. If people fund the project fully, it will go ahead. But not if not.

In a church setting, I would probably fund something non-core and non-capitalized this way. Say, a regional conference, a youth trip or to develop a training plan for evangelism. But not the minister’s salary or the light bill. Or a new R.E. wing. And I would make the crowdfunded part only one source of funding, say, with a challenge grant or a large, lead donor.

There are variations on a theme, but Kickstarter is one of the largest. I featured a Kickstarter initiative a few months ago on the sidebar, for a tool to improve internet privacy, and they raised almost $87,000: far more than their goal. But unless it’s a creative project — say, perhaps, to create a new hymnal — Kickstarter won’t accept the project. (And perhaps not even then.)

But there are alternatives and the model itself — with the side effect that those who believe in it will have to promote it — is worth exploring. (IndieGoGo and are others.)

So while I’m at it, why not support a campaign in progress? The Red Theater, co-founded by Aaron Sawyer, is going to stage Red Hamlet this August in the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and it needs funding help. You might know Aaron through his other work: (As the husband of a Fringe writer-producer, I hear the call.)

Be sure to give. Donations start at $5. 13 days and about $2,100 to go.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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