Fundraising in rural parishes

17 January 2022

This guide offers fundraising guidance and tips for small rural churches.

Rural church and grounds


A lone church on top of a hill surrounded by fields is a distinctive feature of the UK countryside. Although there’s great affection for country churches, that doesn’t make it easy to pay for their upkeep and care, or for the ministry that happens in them. We understand the pressure on hard-working volunteers serving on PCCs and in congregations is immense and that fundraising is just one of the many activities that need to be done.

While this guide offers guidance for rural churches with small congregations and few volunteers, our fundraising hub contains more practical tools and tips for churches of all sizes.

Key steps for fundraising in rural parishes

Planning to fundraise can seem daunting. If you were planning to start hiking, you wouldn’t begin with climbing the world’s highest mountain. So think targeted and manageable. Start small: a £1m campaign to totally reorder or refurbish your church will be very challenging and can hamper people’s enthusiasm for fundraising...

Of course you may not be in a position to choose where to start if you have an urgent need to replace the roof. If you can, it is a good idea to start with a small project and a modest fundraising target. This will:

  • give you a chance to refine your fundraising skills
  • show others what can be achieved
  • build your confidence for a larger project in the future.

Before starting a project, it’s important to understand the issues, needs and resources in your church’s local area. This ensures your work is relevant and helpful to local people.

  • Identify the needs in your community. In rural communities, levels of isolation and loneliness may be high and there might be a lack of access to services, transport links and social hubs. Also consider the levels of deprivation in your area. The Church Urban Fund’s look-up tool provides a breakdown of key data relating to poverty which can be helpful to understand your area’s needs.
  • Inviting people from your community to take part in a consultation is a great way of understanding local needs whilst encouraging more people to get involved. This doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated, but make sure you talk to different groups of people to understand the perspectives of those you may not know so well. On our fundraising hub you can find more guidance on undertaking a community consultation and The Arthur Rank Centre has also produced a helpful guide on surveying your community.
  • Understand what other community services or hubs exist. There may be opportunities for your church to work in partnership with others – this ensures efforts are not being duplicated and many grant funders see this as a positive approach. Talk to the village hall, shop, Post Office or any other services in your community.  Local councillors, Police Community Support Officers or the Neighbourhood Watch committee may be useful contacts for your church. There may be other voluntary organisations that operate in your area – if so, reach out to them to see what other issues there are in your community.
The Arthur Rank Centre has published guidance on ‘Equipping for Rural Mission’, which contains more insights into communities.

Fundraising can feel impossible if the project isn’t clear to others. This can happen if the fundraising outcome wasn’t clearly defined at the start, or because what’s known as ‘mission creep’ happens:  this is where a relatively simple and small plan gets new elements so becomes very complicated and expensive.

Start simple. Your first project might not be the most important one (especially if the most important one is very expensive or large), but it should be:

  • easy to describe, such as ‘install pew heaters’ or ‘fund a part-time youth worker’
  • something that most people in the church think is a project you ought to be doing.

If you are making any changes to the church building, make sure you approach your DAC (or appropriate committee) early for consultation. Before you start fundraising, it is essential to have faculty permissions in place (or other planning permissions as required).

Make sure you get accurate costs for the project, and have several quotations as many funders require three quotations for your significant expenditure. If you have a listed building, funders are likely to expect (or request) consultation with a specialist conservation architect.

In fundraising, one of the hardest things to manage is the feeling that you are on your own. This can be difficult to handle as the reality is much of the fundraising activity is done by a very small number of people. So, to address this, do try to assemble a list of all the resources and people who can help you. These might include:

  • Other people in the church who could play a role in the fundraising. Even if you can only find one or two other people and they only do fairly small things (like agreeing to be the person whose address and email you use for applications and to keep track of responses), that will help you. It’s great to build a team, not only for practical support but also to ensure that other people are involved in your church’s fundraising efforts.
  • Your Vicar or Rector. Although rural clergy are under immense pressure, they should be supportive and play an active part wherever possible. Take the time to explain the project to them and how much money needs to be raised. It’s important that they are involved, as they may meet people who are able to give gifts to the fundraising campaign. Once you’ve had this conversation, you can discuss and agree their role in the campaign.
  • People who are not regularly part of the church but who would be willing to help with fundraising. One of the strengths of rural communities is that lots of people who are not frequently in church are still passionate about the church being part of community life. For many, the church building will have hosted family baptisms, weddings and funerals; it might be a place of happy memories, or have an association with a special person. Sit down with one or two other people from church and map out a list of who may be willing to help out.
  • Other services or community hubs. If there is a pub, Post Office or shop, they may well be willing to help with publicising what you are doing or keep a donation box on the counter. Your parish council may be able to help, or have contacts who can support your church with fundraising.
  • Resources available to you through the Church of England (or other denomination). Your diocese will be able to signpost many resources which may include potential sources of funding. Other churches in your deanery or archdeaconry may have had success in fundraising – ask around. It’s good to network within your diocese, as other churches may be aware of local funders or those who do not appear in most lists of grant funders.
  • Grant funders. Most grant funders, including Benefact Trust, encourage applicants to get in touch with them early in a project. They will be able to let you know if your project qualifies for funding and any additional steps you need to take. Our fundraising hub contains a list of funders that provide grants to churches and their contact details.

Rural churches can often earn money by providing services to visitors or to local people. Offering a paid-for service can be a great way of generating income, especially over the long term. Successful examples in churches include:

  • Paid guided tours of church buildings, bell towers and churchyards. A couple of knowledgeable volunteers who will show groups around for a small charge (£10 per person is reasonable for a one-hour tour) can raise good amounts, particularly if the church is in a tourist spot.
  • Art installations or exhibitions can be held in your church. A particularly beautiful or unusual church building can be very appealing and attract visitors. Art installations can be funded by a body such as the Arts Council, allowing churches to raise funds through visitor donations. Please check that any entry charges don’t conflict with the terms of any grants that have been made to your church. An alternative approach is to have a donation box in the building with a message encouraging visitors to donate to your church. A good example that might inspire your church is the Art in the Churches sculpture trail on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.
  • A shop, library or Post Office can be hosted in your church, which could be well-placed to host this for the community. Consider if there is space in your building or church hall to offer this service in your community, as many have closed or are under threat. Normally the community service is run by a separate organisation and the church simply receives the rent. For more insight, see the guidance from The Plunkett Foundation and The Religious Buildings Heritage Alliance (specifically for Post Offices in church buildings).
  • TV and film opportunities may be suitable for your church. Plenty of programmes have scenes shot in churches and production companies will pay to use your building. It can attract quite a crowd and raise local awareness of your church. Local councils may well have a film office who get contacted when people are scouting for locations – make sure they know about you. If you are considering this route, it’s important that you discuss this with your denominational body as you will need their permission. The Diocese of Chichester has some useful information if you are considering filming opportunities for your church.
  • Could you consider a pop-up café? If you live in a popular visitor destination, or somewhere with a lot of walkers or cyclists, opening once a week (or even once a month) for tea and cakes can attract lots of customers and involve local amateur bakers in donating their creations. In the summer months, a few borrowed gazebos and some garden chairs might be all you need to get this idea going. Ecclesiastical Insurance has important risk management guidance on holding church events, including food hygiene.
  • Walking and pilgrimage routes often take in rural churches. Beautiful scenery and nature are a unique attribute of rural churches. You could create a pilgrimage or walking route that starts and ends at your church. If your church is on a walking route, you could sell refreshments to walkers or have the church open with a donations point. You could also think about joining up with other open churches in the area to create a church trail. The trail can be advertised on each of the churches’ websites, via leaflets and posters, to attract visitors. More guidance on this idea can be found at The British Pilgrimage Trust, The Churches Visitor and Tourism Association and Inspired North East.
  • Many churches are also considering what they can do to support the efforts to improve the environment and work towards a Net Zero church.
    • Joining the EcoChurch network can help to understand what projects would be appropriate for your church and would have the most positive impact. The EcoChurch network’s awards can help to provide steps and milestones towards becoming a more environmentally friendly church.
    • Your diocese may have an Environmental Officer or similar person who can provide support for these projects.
    • There is also some information from Caring for God's Acre, a charity that specialises in the preservation of wildlife and the heritage of burial grounds, graveyards and cemeteries.

Especially in rural communities, church buildings are much more than just bricks and mortar. They can offer vital spaces for quiet time, reflection and connection.

Keeping your church building open enables people to find a quiet place to pray, it offers somewhere to sit and think, and it enables visitors to the area to enjoy any historical treasures or features in your church. If people have been to your church, they may be more likely to get involved in church events, volunteering or fundraising. You could have a donation box or contactless donation device (if possible in your church) inside the building too. The Church of England has more information on contactless donation devices. Make clear signage available to encourage people who visit your church to give. QR codes are also a good way to do this for free.

Keeping your church building open can help to combat loneliness in your local area. Loneliness can be exacerbated in rural areas due to physical isolation and more difficulty in accessing services.

Keeping the church open doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. Simple things like having a welcome board outside and a kettle inside the door can attract people to your building. Some churches leave hospitality trays in the entrance porch or inside the church for walkers.

For more support:

There are many possible sources of donations for most church projects. Have a look at the list and think about which sources could work best for your church:

  • Existing church funds such as reserves, fabric repairs or project funds: Funders want to see commitment to the project from your church, so are unlikely to give to your project if there are funds that have not been made available to the project.
  • Church congregation: It’s good to get members of your church (however small in number) to demonstrate their support for your appeal (with donations), as this helps when asking other funders and donors to give to your cause.
  • Wider local community: As mentioned in section 2 (Understand your community), think about the needs of your community and how your project could help local people.
  • Major individual donations: Consider approaching local or regional people for donations or interest-free loans. This can be a good way of fundraising for slightly bigger projects. Make sure you get any pledge agreements in writing before you start the project or spend any funds.
  • Legacy giving: As well as having a fundraising appeal, you can remind people that they can also leave a legacy. The Church of England has helpful information about leaving a legacy to a church.
  • Local businesses: Approach local businesses for their help. Sometimes businesses will make financial donations but may prefer to offer non-financial support ‘in-kind’ (such as construction companies or builders offering materials or smaller shops providing raffle prizes).
  • Local trusts and funders: Most regions and areas have a locally based grant-making trust or foundation that will fund charitable projects in your local area. Please be aware that they often have specific criteria that need to be met to receive funding. A good place to look for these local funders is your local Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) or Community Foundation – there are 47 around the UK.
  • National trusts and funders: As well as looking local, look national. Major funders such as the Garfield Weston Foundation and Benefact Trust have funded many thousands of church-based projects
  • Your diocese or other denominational body: These can sometimes make grants or, more often, loans. They may also be able to signpost you to other grant-makers.

When thinking about funding, it can help to consider the amounts needed from each type of funding. Taking the total cost of your project, break it down into realistic amounts to seek from each possible funding type. It’s also important to remember that with more types of fundraising, it may feel much more complicated, but also makes it more likely that your church will meet its fundraising target.

Funding typeAmount
Gifts from the congregation£1,000
Other local individual gifts£1,000
Grants from trusts and foundations£6,000
Income from summer pop-up churchyard café£2,000
Total project cost£10,000

You can also benefit from Gift Aid on donations from individuals, as long as they are taxpayers.

See the Researching donors and funders guidance and template on the fundraising hub.

After you have gathered your resources and decided your fundraising activities, it’s important to work out a timescale for the project. As well as the time needed to deliver the project, it should also include the planned time for fundraising for the project. It’s important to be realistic, not to rush it but also not to have such a long timescale that your fundraisers or community lose interest.

It’s important to not lose heart. Stay focused, despite any disappointments which are inevitable due to demands for funding. Remember that there are funds available for church projects and there will be people who will help you to succeed.

It is really important to follow your plan, and meet your team regularly to evaluate how the church’s campaign is progressing. Only change your plan once you are certain that something is not working.

Keep going – all successful fundraising takes time.

Resources from Ecclesiastical Insurance

Other resources

There are many other organisations providing support to small rural parishes. The following links have been selected as they provide information that is particularly useful for rural churches:

Funders

As mentioned in Find your donors above,  there are various funders who provide grants to rural (and other) churches including:

Church fundraising