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How Two Churches Found Grants for Ministry

Church leaders discuss ins and outs of grants.

Two church leaders shared how their churches received outside funding to help with their respective ministry efforts.

Park Avenue United Methodist Church

Park Avenue United Methodist Church in South Minneapolis has received grant funding for decades through a separate nonprofit attached to the church called Park Avenue Youth and Family Services (PAYFS, formerly known as the Park Avenue Foundation). Many churches around the country have developed separate nonprofits in order to attract new funders, partners, and volunteers into their ministries.

Throughout the years, PAYFS has secured foundation, corporate, and government grants for a wide variety of programs, including a computer learning center, a summer program for youth, health and legal clinics, and most recently Tronix, a science enrichment program that works with community partners to reach middle-school students in 22 public schools. Tronix is funded by a number of science and technology companies in the Minneapolis area that are particularly interested in science education as a way to create a strong and capable future workforce.

Grants are valuable to PAYFS because they often provide a larger "chunk" of money all at once, which other types of donors can't provide.

But grants pose challenges, too.

Tessa Trepp, director of PAYFS, says grants also bring administrative burdens.

"It's a strong point of integrity for us to be able to meet all the standards of the funder and do what we said we would do," she says. "We have to be honest and accurate in what we report, but it can be challenging to collect data on the impact of our programs."

Building relationships with secular funders also poses challenges.

"It's very hard to get grant funding for anything that is evangelistic. Many funders want to know specifically how we will serve people of other faiths," Trepp says. "One strategy I have used recently: I asked a funder to pay for our field trip buses and let them know that I had other funding for the spiritual component of our program."

Trepp says people in the Park Avenue congregation often email information regarding grant opportunities to her, making them one of her best sources of information. She also researches local business journals to identify companies that are doing particularly well.

While grants can meet resource needs, Trepp advises congregations to " … make sure you don't get pulled off mission by grant opportunities," she says. "If they say you have to do things on Tuesdays, you might start doing it in order to get funding, even if it doesn't fit your mission and plan."

Grace Fellowship Community Church

Grace Urban Ministries (GUM), a nonprofit connected to Grace Fellowship Community Church in San Francisco, partners with churches to provide services to families and children in the Mission District of the city and surrounding neighborhoods. GUM's programs include an educational mentoring program for youth, a citywide health fair, and skills training for parents and other adults.

Like Park Avenue, GUM also successfully secures grants for programs. But it has turned down funding at times in order to structure programs in a way that meets the organization's values.

For example, a skill-building program for adults called Kaleo is very "relational and organic," rather than "structured and programmatic," according to Craig Wong, GUM's executive director.

The program is flexible, changing from week to week to respond to the needs of participants. Often, more time is spent developing relationships than delivering services, which presents a problem for some funders, since they tend to support programs that deliver concrete, measurable outcomes.

But too much focus on outcomes and results can create tensions that GUM doesn't want, Wong says.

"We don't want the heart of our tutoring program to be driven by results," he says. "We want to focus more on loving children and embracing them as family, not being results-driven." As a result, GUM receives more of its funding from small family foundations in the area that focus less on measurements and outcomes.

Wong says grants have given GUM an opportunity for Christian witness through its relationships with secular foundations.

"We bring a prophetic word and presence to people with resources," he says, "bringing insight about how to respond to impoverished communities and to immigrants."

But like PAYFS, grants also bring drawbacks, including cyclical ups-and-downs.

"You can have a great grant year and then a horrible one," he says. This underscores the need for ministry leaders to maintain balance between individual donor support, church gifts, and grants.

"It's important to speak to funders with absolute candor and to be free with whatever the outcome is," Wong concludes. "We need to practice fundraising in a way that nurtures our dependence on God, trusting that all we need to be His witnesses will be provided. We shouldn't look at foundation funding as what will make or break our witness to the world."

Joy Skjegstad is a speaker and consultant on nonprofit management and ministry development. She is the author of Winning Grants to Strengthen Your Ministry (Alban Institute, 2007).

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  • November 6, 2009

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