The mysterious fundraising logic of church teas

"While it is assumed to be a good fundraiser, the real benefits of the event lay in its ability to strengthen the community."

The annual fall church tea and bazaar has withstood the test of time. While it is assumed to be a good fundraiser, the real benefits of the event lay in its ability to strengthen the community.  In fact, if we consider the cost of the event versus the funds raised, the church tea and bazaar is an inefficient way of raising funds.  A few examples will illustrate my point.

At a recent tea, I received the equivalent of a sandwich and a selection of sweets, plus my beverage for $2.  Certainly, the ingredients alone were worth more than the ticket price.

This is also true for the bazaar, where the cost of the goods donated exceeds the sale price, and completely discounts the value of people’s time and skill level. At the sewing and knitting tables, one can buy expertly handcrafted items for less than the cost of  materials.

The same thing happens at the bake table. I purchased cupcakes for 25 cents each.  This is a great deal; made from scratch, a frosted chocolate cupcake, in a paper baking cup costs 69 cents.  Made from a cake mix, it’s 44 cents.

The mystery table, while extraordinarily fun, may quite possibly be the most illogical fundraiser ever conceived.  For this table, people purchase gifts, wrap them, and label them with the age range and sex for which the gift is most appropriate. Even if someone “re-gifts” an item, its value is greater than the standard mystery table price of a loonie or toonie. A person can easily donate $20 or more in mystery gifts, only to sell them for a whopping $4 or $5.

As a matter of economics, the logical conclusion is that the church tea and bazaar is inefficient as a fundraiser. So, why bother? Wouldn’t it be better if we all just made a cash donation?

My unequivocal answer is, “No.”   There is more at stake here than making money.

While it is true that the event attracts more women than men, it brings members of a church together whose paths may typically cross only on a Sunday. It gives them an opportunity to work cooperatively towards a common goal despite their varied interests and abilities.

In our town, the event is an ecumenical gathering, as well as a popular gathering place for the secular community.  At the church tea and bazaar, people renew acquaintances, catch up on family news, and make arrangements to get together.  There is a hustle and bustle about church teas that has more to do with relationships than with money.

The church tea and bazaar has withstood the test of time because it helps fulfill the basic human need of belonging. It is an inclusive event in which everyone, regardless of age, socio-economic status or belief, can participate.  The profits, though helpful for the church, are secondary to the task of bringing people together. We would be less of a community without it.

Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is Contact her at .

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