For nearly sixty years, Wheat Ridge Ministries has provided grants to Lutheran organizations to fund projects all over the world. Last fall, as a way to grow their proverbial church collection plate, Wheat Ridge created WeRaise, a Christian crowdfunding site. While the organizations and projects accepted for WeRaise still align with basic tenets of Christian faith, Wheat Ridge is able to for the first time to grow beyond the Lutheran faith community.
Abigail Miller, Wheat Ridge’s Manager of Crowdfunding and Social Media, explained that this expansion really widens the scope of what projects Wheat Ridge can support—that the specific theology behind why a Christian group might be called to open a soup kitchen matters less than what monetary and logistical support is needed to set up the soup kitchen. “Basically, as long as you believe in Jesus and want to help people, we’re interested in helping you,” said Miller.
Traditionally, Wheat Ridge has accepted applications from Lutheran organizations and given out grants to support various projects. Crowdfunding, Miller explained, was another, often more immediate way to “empower more people to take a leap of faith in filling the needs they see in their community or the wider world.” WeRaise’s new video is available here.
Wheat Ridge has not turned into an entirely crowdfunded operation—grants are still available for Lutheran organizations to apply for. However, those same grants are also available for projects that have demonstrated success through their WeRaise campaign. With this sort of continued support, oversight, and continuing grant potential, WeRaise is unique among leading Christian crowdfunding platforms.
Additionally, while donors are supporting whichever specific project they choose, their donation goes to Wheat Ridge, which then presents the project or organization with a grant for the amount raised. This allows WeRaise and Wheat Ridge to provide further support, oversight, and shepherding to the often very nascent projects and organizations, so of like keeping training wheels on as both the projects and WeRaise grow into the crowdfunding sphere.
Miller commented that opening Wheat Ridge’s existing donor base up to crowdfunding has been an overall positive experience. “Our donors have been so excited about WeRaise! In creating a tool to empower leaders, we’re also connecting with donors in new ways.” In order to test the waters with WeRaise, most of the first projects accepted came from within the known, familiar Lutheran community. This allowed existing donors the ability to connect with the new technology in familiar territory, and, as the projects now expand into the wider world of Christian crowdfunding, there is an existing support network for the project leaders. Several generous and enthusiastic donors have become specifically interested in supporting any projects that they personally connect with, going so far as to promise to donate a set amount to any WeRaise project that supports youth ministries or sabbaticals, for example.
Miller said that perhaps the biggest challenge she has faced with crowdfunding is educating community members that crowdfunding is not a new revenue source. WeRaise is a means to raise funds for various projects, not a way to increase Wheat Ridge’s own income. That disconnect, along with the inherent dynamism of being at the forefront of a relatively nascent addition to fundraising, were the primary pieces of advice she had for anyone interested in jumping into crowdfunding.
And, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Miller spoke of meeting with teenagers at a community event who immediately grasped the potential of crowdfunding. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to connect with younger demographics and this is it! It’s really exciting to be part of this and Wheat Ridge loves having created this tool for growth.”