In MCC’s centennial year, relief sales keep evolving

As some traditions endure, other fundraising practices change

Jan 20, 2020 by and

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As one relief sale sets a lofty goal to celebrate Mennonite Central Committee’s centennial in 2020, others continue a trend of reinvention to be smaller and less reliant on scores of volunteers.

The Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale board began publicizing in December its goal to raise $1 million for MCC this spring — above and beyond what the sale will raise April 17-18 in Hutchinson, Kan. Thus far, no other sales have indicated a goal that high.

Kansas sale board chair Jim Robb said the process of asking individuals and families to donate will continue through April 17. As of Jan. 7, more than $81,100 had been donated.

“It’s based on the premise that if we can get a thousand people to give $1,000, we’ll have $1 million for MCC,” he said. “I think the million dollars is a workable goal.”

Between 7,000 and 12,000 people attend the Kansas sale every April. Last year’s event contrib­uted $545,000 to MCC.

One featured item at this year’s auctions will be a commemorative centennial pitcher created by potter Mark Goertzen of Goshen, Ind. Goertzen has made 40 of the pitchers, one for each sale to decide how to sell.

Mark Goertzen of Goshen, Ind., created 40 commemorative centennial pitchers for Mennonite Central Committee relief sales and fundraisers in 2020. — Mennonite Central Committee

Mark Goertzen of Goshen, Ind., created 40 commemorative centennial pitchers for Mennonite Central Committee relief sales and fundraisers in 2020. — Mennonite Central Committee

“The way we’re trying to use the pitcher is to get it in a variety of congregations so they can look at it,” Robb said. “It really tells the story of MCC going back to Matthew 25, ‘I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.’ So it’s representative of MCC.”

Just sending a check

It’s unclear how the pitcher headed for Winnipeg, Man., will be used. MCC Spring Fest, which replaced the area’s relief sale a few years after it ended in 2010, combines a quilt show and sale, walkathon and plant sale at MCC Manitoba’s offices.

Brad Reimer, MCC Manitoba director of donor advisement and special projects, said those elements continued because they had dedicated supporting volunteers. The broader sale required roughly 350 volunteers, eight months of preparation and increasing food costs and licenses. Combining the events at MCC’s offices pooled interest and eliminated the need to spend money on rented space.

Winnipeg is believed to be home to more Anabaptists than any other city in the world, with 20,000 Mennonites estimated to live there a decade ago. About 600 people attend Spring Fest’s Friday/Saturday event each April.

Although Manitoba used to have three relief sales, only the one in Brandon remains.

“We have more and more people saying to us, ‘I’d rather just give you a check than come to a sale,’ ” Reimer said. “That’s a message we were getting from emerging generations that didn’t see these relief sales as relevant to them.”

Not coming to events

MCC North American relief sales coordinator Les Gustafson-Zook said some other relief sales are also evaluating the traditional auction-and-food strategy.

“Clearly this model isn’t sustainable, so we’ve been exploring models for groups that don’t have large constituent groups and volunteers available to support the sales,” he said. “Twin Cities [in Minnesota] is one example, where they have an eve­ning event with hors d’oeuvres, auction several interesting items and have an MCC presentation — inviting direct donations with envelopes on the tables.

“The Atlanta churches are exploring another event something like this next year to raise funds for MCC.”

When Reimer started with MCC 17 years ago in Manitoba, the organization hosted a variety of events, in addition to relief sales and banquets. But organizations evolve as times change.

“Now we have no banquets because nobody was coming to them,” he said. “But our income has basically met the budget every year. Our income grew, but it wasn’t based on funds from events.

“But the question we’re all asking constantly is: How do you engage with your constituency or supporters when they don’t come to events?”

Part of Gustavson-Zook’s job is to travel among the relief sales and share the ideas that bubble up at each one. It’s a steady reminder that even though one sale might have half a century of tradition doing things one way, another may be just as committed to doing things differently.

“The reality is each sale has its own culture and is owned by its own board,” Gustavson-Zook said. “. . . The sales are not all the same. Each sale has its own flavor. That’s part of the fun of visiting them.”


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