Fundraising in less affluent areas

26 July 2022

A guide giving specific help and assistance to churches fundraising in less affluent areas.

Donation jar full of coins


If you asked people to imagine a British Church many people may think of one of our great cathedrals, or a medieval stone building, set in the perfectly kept churchyard of a prosperous village.

In truth, of course, most UK churches have been built within the last 200 years and many of them are located in less affluent areas.

If you are reading this it is likely that you are a member of, or seeking to support, one or more such churches, and that you are acutely aware of the challenges of trying to fund ministry in places where there are high levels of deprivation.

This guide is designed to give specific help and assistance to churches fundraising in less affluent areas.

Both as a matter of ethics and to engage people who might want to give, it is important that the things you are raising money for make a meaningful connection to people. A general appeal for “church funds” is uninspiring, even for those who attend regularly. Both congregation members and your wider community are far more likely to be responsive to appeals that:

  • Show a clear understanding of the needs in your community.
  • Reflect the things that local people say are a problem or issue for them (running online or in-person community surveys is a wonderful way to do this).
  • Pay for specific things, for example the purchase of a new piece of equipment, payment for a sessional youth worker or the costs for a weekly event.
  • Are open to many people (it’s fine to fundraise for projects for a particular group, such as a toddler group or older people, but such groups need to be perceived to be open to all in that group rather than for a small clique).
  • Can be easily described and understood, such as “we want to run a summer holiday club” or “a new kitchen will enable us to serve 100 lunches a week to older people.”

It's important to consider the ethics of asking for donations - of all demographic or socio-economic statuses. Here are a few pointers to think about:

  • Nobody should ever feel pressurised into donating, however much or little money they have. But clearly explaining what the need is, what funds you need to make a difference, and politely asking people if they can help, while making it clear they are in no way obliged to, is actually empowering people, of all levels of wealth, to choose how they use their resources in an informed way.
  • Where donors are less well-off it can push churches to think carefully about how useful and effective their spending is. That is a good thing, because we want to use charitable funds for the best possible purpose no matter who has given them.
  • The biblical truth that it is a greater blessing to give than to receive applies to everybody, not just those who can easily afford what they give.
  • There have been lots of studies about the motivations people have when giving to charity. Across a long time, and many diverse cultures, one of the biggest reasons people give is simply because they were asked. Very often we assume that people in the community (and even some people who quite regularly attend church events and services) are not interested in giving their time or money to the work of the church, when the truth is simply that we haven’t asked them.

Giving to your church does not necessarily have to mean money. There could be amazing opportunities for people to give their time in volunteering, especially if your church can organise itself to make good use of volunteers who, because of zero-hours contracts, shifts, caring or other responsibilities, may not be able to do the same things at the same time every week.

Some projects that could make use of volunteers (such as keeping a churchyard neat or basic preventative maintenance to your building) are also really good ways for people to improve their mental health (particularly outdoor projects) and can develop skills that might well be useful to them in gaining new or better employment.

As with fundraising, lots of people, even those already connected to the church, may not be volunteering because they haven’t been directly asked.

One of the hardest things in fundraising is the feeling that you're on your own. So, the prospect of adding “do more fundraising” to your already impossibly-long list of things to do can seem daunting.

As much as possible, however, do try to involve others. All successful charities recognise that “everyone’s a fundraiser” and, in a church, the vicar, wardens, PCC and congregation members all have a part to play. Get everyone you can involved, even if it’s something simple like asking everyone to share a Facebook post with their friends.

Our guide on building a fundraising team offers top tips on how to build a successful fundraising team.

There are a number of possible sources of funds from outside people in your community, including:

  • Businesses. As well as small local companies you may have big businesses with a major factory or office in your area and will certainly have branches of big retail businesses (e.g., supermarkets). Many larger businesses have trusts and foundations that will make donations but local stores and branches also often offer in-kind support, for example materials from a local construction company or prizes for raffles from smaller shops. A phone call, or, even better, an in-person visit by someone from the church is usually the best starting point.
  • Local trusts and funders. Most areas have some locally based grant making trusts that fund projects in your area. These will often have specific criteria, but many are very keen to fund less affluent areas. Speaking to your local Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) or Community Foundation (there is one covering every location in the UK) is a good place to start finding out about them.
  • National grant making trusts. Funders like the Benefact Trust and the Garfield Weston Foundation fund thousands of church based projects. Like local trusts they are often very keen to fund work in less affluent areas. Parish Resources has a National List of Charitable Grant for Churches which you can access.
  • Lottery Funds. The National Lottery Community Fund and The National Lottery Heritage Fund give many grants to churches for their work in preserving our heritage and caring for our communities. They offer regular local training (often in partnership with CVSs) to help you learn how to apply, have clear, fair application processes, and are used to working with volunteer led organisations.
  • Your diocese or other denominational body can sometimes make grants or, more often, loans, particularly to match funding you have had from elsewhere. They may also be able to advise you about other grant makers you can approach.
Our list of funders might also help give you a starting point.

Unsurprisingly funders always have more applications than they can fund. This means they are looking for those applicants who clearly meet what they are looking for and can show they will achieve what the funder wants to achieve with the money. A great application will do three things:

  1. It will do what the funder asks. Thousands of grant applications are rejected simply because applicants have not followed the grant maker's requests in very simple ways. Ensure you read all their requirements carefully (they are usually clearly stated on the application form or website) and follow them scrupulously. If you are in doubt most funders, particularly larger ones, will publish a contact telephone number, so do get in touch.
  2. It will think about who the funder is and what they want to fund. An application will be rejected if the request does not obviously match the funder's priorities. Be aware of the type of work and groups of people the funder is looking to support. Try to ensure your application is tailored as much as possible to show how the project will benefit the area of interest of the funder.
  3. It will use data to demonstrate the need of your community. Data and statistics can highlight the need for your project and why you are trying to achieve your vision. Your diocese or denominational body can often help provide information on statistics and the Church Urban Fund’s look-up tool provides a breakdown of key data relating to poverty.

Keep going!

Most fundraising applications are not successful, so there will inevitably be some disappointments. However, there are funds out there for projects like yours, so stick to your plan, talk to others to encourage you, and evaluate how it is going and only change what you are doing once you are certain it is not working. Much fundraising, which would otherwise have succeeded, fails because people do not realise how long it takes and give up too soon.

If you’re a smaller or rural church, you may also find our toolkit for rural churches helpful.

Church fundraising