By Drew Larson

How Tracy Chapman Paid for Her Second Ferrari: Fundraising Tips for Urbana

At InterVarsity, our ministry is guided by four key principles. I can’t remember what they are right now, but I know that we have them lying around the office somewhere. Originally there were five, but one—Precise Grammar, as I recall—was misplaced when we switched buildings, and we’ve carried on with just the four ever since. I think I saw one back by Alec Hill’s office the other day.**

We’re guided by some other very important values as well, one of which is the conviction that we should generally pay for things. We are very pro–exchange of legal tender for services rendered, unlike other organizations that refuse to weigh in on the issue. Pardon us for taking a stand.

One of the things we think is worth paying for is the Urbana 12 Student Missions Conference. Urbana is, without layering on the hype too thickly, an extraordinary experience, and we want as many people to attend as possible. 

We know that many of you want to attend Urbana. We also know that some of you may not have access to endless streams of cash that you can give to God’s work in the world, as much as you might want to (although if you’re reading this and you do, please remember to add two to three zeros to your next donation). So we want to offer some helpful tips on how to fundraise for your Urbana experience (which, by the way, will cost you more if you register after November 12).

1. Ask People

The easiest and most time-tested way to fundraise is to ask people. One of life’s little games is that money which secretly belongs to you somehow ends up in the bank accounts of your friends and family. You and I both know that these people will likely spend that money—your money!—on wasteful, craven things such as food and rent. Only after you ask, reminding them that your request is for something spiritual, can you rightfully claim that money for yourself.  

Silliness aside, we know that asking people for money can be hard. There are whole books and seminars by fundraising professionals on how to do this. For people who live near you, set up lunch or coffee meetings, explain what Urbana is, grit your teeth, and just ask. For all the others, write a letter explaining how important Urbana is and why you’d like to attend, and ask for a gift. Don’t be afraid; the worst they can do is not respond. Think of it like asking 50 people out on a date simultaneously. On second thought, don’t do that.

What we’ve found is that people are often excited to have the opportunity to practice the spiritual discipline of giving. Even more, your friends and family are probably pretty passionate about you and your growth and God’s mission and will therefore be glad to partner with God in his work in you and the world.

2. Or Don’t Ask

The other strategy is not asking anyone. This is a bold strategy famously employed by German evangelist George Müller, who financed many orphanages across Europe by simply praying and asking God to provide the necessary funds. He refused to ask people for donations directly so as to stay dependent on God’s providence. You can take your cue from him and start praying right now for God to provide the funds you need (more on prayer later).

3. Throw a Party

Urbana is a missions conference, and part of missions is inviting everyone to the biggest party ever, so might we recommend having a soiree? Invite everyone you know to someone else’s house (not your house—it’s everyone you know!), have some food and some games, maybe throw on a little music—whatever you want. Dinner party, costume party, a slumber party—it can be anything. Just make sure there’s a cover charge and everyone knows that it’s for something as great as Urbana.

4. Sell Something

If you are a skilled craftsperson at anything—woodworking, knitting, making diving boards, etc.—you can sell the products of your labor for cash. Cash that can go straight into the Urbana fund. And if you’re not a skilled craftsperson, you can still sell something. Think outside the box here (sell that, for example. Why are you in a box?)—you can “sell”: 

  • tutoring services
  • yardwork skills
  • babysitting hours
  • snow-shoveling muscle power
  • personalized iTunes playlists
  • 20-minute blocks of wingman/wingwoman-ing time
  • patches of your Urbana beard

Creativity is your friend here. Grab it in a bear hug and don’t let go until it coughs up a winning idea.

5. Street Music

Going along with the “sell something” idea, if you’re an accomplished musician and have a thriving metropolis nearby, you can play your instrument for spare change wherever there’s a crowd. This is how Tracy Chapman paid for her second Ferrari. And if you think that this is an open invitation to record yourself changing the words to “Fast Car” so that it’s a song about Urbana and then post that video to our Facebook page, you’re right.

6. U.S. Savings Bonds

This one is a long shot, but if you were born in a certain era, your grandparents bought U.S. savings bonds for you on the day you were born, knowing that, with an appreciation rate of .0008% per year, a $50 investment in the early nineties would be worth $53.61 twenty years later. Your entire family then forgot about them for this exact same reason. It’s worth a shot to say, “Hey, Mom or Dad, do I have any U.S. bonds lying around?” Trust me: this is not the most random question you’ve ever asked them.    

7. Pray Some More

In all seriousness, George Müller had the right idea. There is nothing wrong with actively fundraising, of course. A conversation in which you ask people if they would like to support you is a genuinely spiritual one, and it blesses both donor and asker when done well. But fundraising must be supported by prayer. Like missions, fundraising is only done well when God is a partner in the work. 

In this way, praying regularly and faithfully for God to provide funds for Urbana is like putting some training wheels on our prayer life for a season. By asking God into our fundraising, we are practicing the greater skill of allowing God to participate in our lives as a whole.   

So there you have it! Several foolproof ways to fundraise for the Urbana 12 Student Missions Conference (I’ll let you decide which ones to use). We want to know your ideas too! How have you raised money for Urbana?

I look forward to seeing you all there!  I’ll let you pay for my hotel room with all your extra money.


**Seriously, our purpose statement is very useful and important, and uses incredible grammar.

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