Catholic Fundraising Print
Written by Michael Fones   
Saturday, 18 August 2007 08:45
Back when I was in seminary in the mid- to late- eighties, the Dominican house of studies in Oakland, CA, began a wine tasting and wine auction to help our budget. Since we were only an hour or so away from the Napa and Sonoma valleys, it was a fairly simple matter of getting donations from local wineries. Over eight years it grew to become a very elegant event held on our priory grounds. Lay people were involved in preparing phenomenal hors d'oeuvres, and the friars in their habits and the wineries pouring tastings on the perimeter of our backyard with our tudor-style priory on one side and a small forest grove on the other made for a very classy event.

WIth the money made from the day-long event we were able to purchase the first computers for the use of our seminarians.

At the end of the seventh or eighth year the community voted to end the event, primarily because some students were uncomfortable with fundraising, saying, "I didn't become a Dominican to do fundraising events!" (uh, we ARE a mendicant Order...). Others felt it was morally indefensible to raise money using alcohol, when so many people suffering from alcoholism.

You can probably tell I was in favor of continuing the fundraiser, and, in fact, had been in charge of it for several years in a row.

Fast forward to the present. A local parish is having its annual fundraiser, and part of the festivities include a beer tent and a casino night. It would be illegal to allow people to gamble for money, but those with the most chips (which are given with the cost of a dinner with additional chips for sale throughout the night) at the end of the night can turn them in for prizes.

The parish festival is also used to attract non-Catholics to the parish.

Now a member of the parish is raising the question, "Should we promote gambling and drinking as part of our fundraiser, when so many people suffer from addictions to these activities?" The parishioner is suggesting that there may be other ways of raising funds that wouldn't include drinking and gambling. He points out that there will be children and teens at the festival (though not at the casino night, and beer is restricted to the confines of a tent), and what are we saying to them about the Christian life by promoting these activities?

Others argue that these are harmless activities if done in moderation, and to exclude them from the festival activities will decrease attendance and unfairly punish those who can enjoy them without going to extremes.

As a former pastor who has been involved with parish-wide garage sales, dinner auctions and other time-consuming fundraisers and development activities, I can assure you I wish we could rely upon the stewardship of the entire parish community to meet our budgetary needs. Perhaps when a majority of parishioners are intentional disciples finances will no longer be an issue. And it's kind of a catch-22. Whatever time and energy we're spending raising funds, we aren't spending on proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion or catechesis.

But until that financial and spiritual golden age dawns, what do you think about the use of alcohol or bingo, raffles, "casino nights" and other forms of gambling, to raise funds for other parish activities? Does your parish have any succesful fundraising events that don't involve what could be "vicious" behaviors for some people? Is the parishioner being a Puritan, or is he putting his finger on something that needs to change?