How One Ministry Increased their Fund Raising by 10x

April 6, 2012 — 5 Comments

“9 years ago we had our first fund raising dinner and raised $24,000.

Last year we raised $230,000”

Like it or not, as a leader one of your chief jobs is to raise money to fund your mission (for more on this read my post Money to Fund the Mission).


And I know of no better way for a para-church ministry to raise money than putting on an annual fund raising dinner.


This upcoming Friday will be our 11th annual Fellowship Dinner.


Most years we have 150 guests and raise $50,000 at the dinner. It’s the only fund raising we do all year. (I don’t share that amount to brag. I share it because by doing so I hope to encourage many  more Cur movements to do Fellowship Dinners).


A few days ago Ryan Sather, the co-director of Here’s Life Inner City (a ministry of Cru) in Minneapolis, tweeted this:

109 tables & counting for the @hlictwincities Fellowship Dinner on April 28th! Join us and bring some friends!

(which makes me wonder – I’ve benefited tremendously from other leaders’ tweets about ministry success (knowing who I can learn from). But I never share numbers/success story for fear of bragging/pride. So I’m merely a consumer. How can people learn from what you’re good at if you don’t share where God is blessing you? Haven’t figured it out yet.)

I DM’d him and asked if I could get his phone number and pick his brain for a few minutes.

I’m confident our 14 minute phone call will result in a huge increase in funding for our ministry (isn’t Twitter great?).


Here’s what I learned:

  • 9 years ago HLIC Minneapolis had their first dinner with 100 attendees. They raised $24,000
  • Last year they raised $230,000
  • This year they anticipate 1300 attendees when they hold their Dinner at the end of April
  • Ryan estimates that every 100 attendees will produce $25-30,000 given


Ryan listed four things as keys to their growth:

1) Growing the number of table hosts by challenging every staff and key donors/volunteers to each get 10 table hosts

  • Table hosts agree to fill a table by inviting all their friends to the dinner

2) Connecting the Dinner to Staff’s personal MPD (Cru lingo for “support”)

  • “At the dinner we communicate that each of our staff raises their own financial support and we’d love for you to give to them in addition to what you give to us as a city ministry”
  • “After the dinner, we give our staff the contact info of everyone that came from one of their 10 table hosts (usually around 20-30 contacts).”
  • “Our staff see an average of $200-300 in new monthly support”
  • “It’s help our staff understand: Your donors are giving to 6 other ministries. If you can get them to a dinner, it won’t decrease their support of you, it will actually increase their vision.”

3) Having a Matching Gift

  • 2 years ago they received 28 gifts of $1000 or more
  • Last year they offered a $35,000 matching gift – with a stipulation that they would match any gift of $1000 or more
  • The result? They had 58 gifts of $1000 or more given!
  • This year they hope to get $60k or $70k as a matching gift
  • Ryan said that even $10,000 is a good start (get 4 people to commit to giving $2,500 each)
  • “Anytime there is a match, people are extra motivated to give” (especially when it asks them to increase their gift amount – saying that last year, many who traditionally give $500 upped their gift to $1000)

4) Hosting volunteer events throughout the year where people can join with them in serving those in the inner city

  • At those events they cast vision for their ministry and ask people to join them (they gained 12 new table hosts from the last event in March)


  • Ryan called me today and mentioned that a fifth crucial element that has been key to their growth is: they do all of their thank you calls and letters the very next day after the dinner.
  • “It has been HUGE. It’s a long weekend and a long day but it has been unbelievably key in showing gratitude – for donors to get a thank you on Monday right after the dinner”
  • Calling all their table hosts the very next day and everyone who gave a substantial gift
  • And writing everyone a thank you

Ryan is a huge believer in having an annual Fellowship Dinner – both for the money it raises and the relationship it builds with the community (which I heartily echo!).

“One of the things that’s missing in fund development is the relational piece. The Dinner is very relational – breaking bread together. The money spent on the dinner is worth it on it’s own. It is great PR for the ministry.”


I asked Ryan if I could share this and he agreed and added a few things:

  • The last thing we want is people to think we’re bragging but I’d love to help others raise more money
  • Ryan works nationally with 17 HLIC ministries to put on Fellowship Dinners and he was quick to point out that they definitely are not all huge successes (some have even lost money!)
  • Jim Dempsey (former national director of Fund Development for Cru) played a crucial role in helping them grow


Would love to hear from you – what do you do to raise money for your ministry?

If you have a fund raising dinner, what has helped you grow your dinner?


 photo courtesy of Tracy Hunter


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  • super helpful

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Brian

  • Pingback: Fellowship Dinner Stuff You Can Use | Leading in Ministry()

  • Thanks for the insight and the research! I love the challenge for each staff to find 10 table hosts… that’s a faith stretching audacious goal. We just had two Fellowship Dinners back to back in the same week (we live in a tri-city area). It was a lot of work and while it yielded a decent financial return (on the order of Ryan’s first dinner), I think this year the greatest benefit was the relationships that were developed. We had about 10 pastors from different churches attend and it was great to see their enthusiasm/backing for our campus ministry… they also brought several key members from their congregations.

    Although we had a decent turn-out (about 120 between the two dinners), we know there’s so much more potential to be realized. This year we were very intentional about cultivating the key table hosts by meeting with them 1:1 and seeing how our vision for the ministry relates to their passion. Listening to their feedback/suggestions was vital, too, as most of our table hosts also attend the 5 or 6 other ministry dinners (Young Life, Pregnancy Care Center, etc) and we are looking for ways to make ours to stand out (in a winsome way). Anyone else have that issue?? This year we held the dinners in the Spring so they wouldn’t conflict with the majority of the other fund raising dinners done in the fall.

    This was the first year that we used for handling all the events RSVPs. It was a great tool, and saved substantial time and effort with the whole RSVP process, assigning tables and printing out the name tags. The online help is great and the customer service is even better. As with all online tools, however, the inherent danger is the temptation to rely on it (the emails) as the primary mode of invitation. I’m a firm believer that whatever invitation method (email, web or snail-mail), a follow-up phone call with a personal invite is vital for a positive reply.

    • Anonymous

      Great thoughts Pete.

      I agree – I think the goodwill a Dinner generates in the community is worth almost as much as the financial payoff. I think Ryan would say this as well- even if we broke even on the dinner it would still be worth doing.

      Re: the 10 table hosts- for us I think that’s too much of a stretch. BUT the insight from Ryan has helped us see that THE bottleneck on campus support is Table Hosts. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And that’s essentially what we’ve been doing with our Dinners over the past few years. If we want to raise twice as much money, we need twice as many people at the dinner (and stop hoping for a lottery winning ticket- a huge donor). And to get twice as many people at the dinner we need to get twice as many table hosts. That has been a huge breakthrough insight for us this year. We’ll see if we can accomplish that next year!

      We run into the multiple charities thing too. We’re going to do ours earlier in the spring to try to avoid that next year. And we’ve added a Silent Auction to make ours more fun (which I know is not super unique, but it helps).

      We did MinistrySync one year but didn’t find the benefit worth the cost. But it is a good tool from what I remember.

      A couple other things we did this year to really work to expand our dinner: we worked really hard to expand our alumni invite list. Mostly through going back over the last 10 years’ Cru Leadership rosters and pursuing them on Facebook- asking them for a current address so we could send them an invite.
      And we’ve found that Parents are HUGE givers so we ask all our leadership students to invite their folks.