Fundraisers. The very word has brought Kings, Dignitaries and Jr. High Youth Pastors to their knees for eons. Alas, take heart, for there is a new dawn coming. No, I didn’t win the powerball, but I did hit a jack pot! (come on, give me a break, that was a good set up)

I, like many of you, have came to loathe fundraisers. At one point we were selling 225 dozen Christmas cookies to raise money for our winter retreat. But who made those 225 dozen cookies? Parents. Who bought those cookies? Mostly parents. Hours, and hours of work, and we made a profit of $1100. Which saved each kid something like $20 off their retreat. Parents were better off just paying the extra $20 versus getting elbow deep in butter for an entire weekend.

That all changed when I came across a small article in some youth workers magazine. It looked like a throw away article, it was small, and didn’t have any flashy pictures or bar graphs, just plain old words. I don’t know why I read it, but none the less I did, and history was made.

It’s called “Red Envelope.” Here’s how it works. You get a certain amount of greeting card envelopes and lay them out on a table. Preferably all the envelopes are the same color (hence the name “Red Envelope” or shoot, why not Pink Envelope!). Then you number the envelopes 1 through how ever many envelopes you have. Inside the envelopes you put a thank you note and reiterate your vision for said event/ministry/ cause your raising money for.

Then you or your team stand by the table and watch thousands of people walk by and grab an envelope. Whatever number they grab (they choose what #, it’s not a lottery) is what they are agreeing to donate.

Sounds to easy, I know. But here’s the bit. People don’t want more cookies, discount cards they lose in the laundry, or pop corn tins. They just want to partner with you in changing lives. That’s it. I was very skeptical at first as well. But we needed to make a change in our “fundraising” techniques. So 4 years ago we rolled it out. That year we made $5,500. The next year $6,500. Last year $7,000. The only overhead cost was envelopes. Only work we did was number 250 envelopes and connect with folks as they walked by the table.

Here’s some tips I learned along the way, if you’re indeed going to try this.

  • 1. Go big or go home. Get more envelopes then you think you need. The more envelopes we added = larger donations. Every year, there are several people who will grab the highest envelope. This got me thinking, they want to give these kids money, so why not allow them to give more!


  • If the number that they want to give isn’t there ($20 because they have a $20 bill in their pocket), have them grab a smaller # envelope and put that $20 bill in there. Honestly, I had to “give permission” to lots of folks, because they felt like they were breaking some sort of rule or code.


  • Nail your vision down. Since you’re not selling a product, the conversation isn’t tied to what kind of cookie, or how it benefits them if they purchase that product. All the focus and attention is simply on changing students lives. That’s it. This is your time to elevate the conversation to something bigger then just your event, it’s about changing lives.


  • I heart math. How much money would you make if you sold every envelope? Don’t start adding 1+2+3+4….you don’t have enough flanges do keep track. Here’s the equation.

n/2 x(first term + last term)= cash money
n = the total # of terms in the sequence
Example: If I had 100 envelopes. 100/2 x (1+100)=$5,550

I hope that this little note finds you and your sanity well in the wonderful world of creating opportunities where kids lives can be radically transformed.


photo credit

Kris Sauter
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