Thinking Out Loud

October 1, 2015

The Business of Charity

Portions of today’s blog post have been edited to avoid specificity.

Earlier in the week we had a trip into the big city, and Mrs. W. suggested there was a place she needed to go as they are the sole supplier of a particular item she needs for a particular hobby. So after dealing with the necessities that took us there, we ventured into some new territory, only to discover her supplier was across the road from a well known Canadian Christian charity.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity, I dropped in. I’m not sure whether or not this happens frequently or not, but they didn’t seem to have a protocol for this. Nonetheless someone was fetched and she answered a few of my questions, and then I asked her if it was possible to have a quick tour.

Now she could have easily turned us down, but she took the time to show us around the building which was larger than I expected for an agency of this nature. It’s easy to judge from the outside, but I am not aware of all the many facets of their ministry, so I just took it as given that better minds than mine had determined that both the facility and the staffing level were right-sized.

Still, having been around the Christian scene for a long time now, I am sometimes able to sense things. I guess that having worked for Christian organizations that have been forced to operate on a shoestring, I am always surprised at the size and scope of the larger ones, a reminder, as I said when we were walking back to the car, that charity is a business (of a sort) and is part of a larger industry (of a sort) of charities and not-for-profits.

Generally, I was surprised at the number of offices and staff, even though the number is probably conservative by charity standards. I will admit that getting this balance right is probably a science, as indicated by the chart below:

The Business of Charity

I once worked for a Christian organization that paid their staff “based on needs.” As a single, young person fresh out of college and still living at home, I was paid very poorly. (They later faced a lawsuit over this practice, and I was issued a subpoena but was released after I told them I didn’t work concurrent with the woman who launched the suit.)

On the other extreme, a friend of mine once visited the head office of a better-known Christian charity and reported entering the lobby and “sinking in the plush carpeting.” While that person may have been given to exaggeration, I don’t question the report of a grand piano in the “guest reception room.”

I believe that probably fewer people would give the organization I visited money if they saw what I saw, but then again, I’m not sure that some people would continue giving money to their local church if they saw the invoices for floral arrangements sent to funeral homes. Or that the church really needed to lease a third copier/printer which doesn’t do anything that the other two don’t do. One one level, perhaps my tour yielded too much information.

What I do think however, is that the type of “drop in” that I did should be more the norm than the exception. The organization should have a designated person who can deal with spontaneous public relations opportunities that arise, and also be able to offer an apologetic for why the various staff are needed in conjunction with the organization’s mandate or mission statement.

On another level, it never hurts for the people who do the actual giving to be better informed.

 

 

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April 21, 2015

World Vision Paying Bookstore Up To $185 For Each Child Sponsor

Free Press

An article published Sunday in the Detroit Free Press on the receivership/restructuring of Family Christian Stores (FCS) carried information not seen to this point, including the amount of kickbacks the chain received from World Vision for each child sponsor recruited. 

We can attest to the solicitations personally; going through the FCS checkout there is a litany of pitches including bonus buy offers, but also charitable causes including placing Bibles in prisons, and child sponsorship:

The one which was most shocking was the amount of the “bounty” paid the company each time someone signed up to sponsor a child through World Vision:

Family Christian has also benefited from customers who sign up to sponsor a third-party group called World Vision, which provides food, clothing and shelter to impoverished children throughout the world.

The chain solicits sponsorships from its customers and receives a $150 fee from World Vision for each customer who signs up and pays the monthly fee, according to records obtained by the Free Press. Family Christian receives another $35 if the customer signs up for automatic payments.

Again, you’re encouraged to read it all at The Detroit Free Press

Let’s do some math here.  The sponsor is paying World Vision $35 per month per child. That means that for the first 5.28 months, the organization has yet to break even. It’s really into the 6th month that the sponsor’s donation is free and clear, but of course there are also overhead costs in that $35 that we don’t know. 

In our part of the world, we’ve seen special events like Couples Night Out and Ladies Night Out which are used to attract potential donors to hear a pitch for sponsorship. These evenings feature special speakers, giveaway prizes, and printing costs for posters and tickets. The cost per sponsor recruited is possibly equally high or higher. 

Still, the idea of the charity paying bookstores such a large incentive to get cashiers to make the appeal is somewhat disturbing, don’t you think?

 

January 27, 2015

Dr. David Jeremiah: King of Mailing List Abuse

David Jeremiah Turning Point“Please, make it stop; make it go away…”

I have no doctrinal issues with David Jeremiah. Although his radio and television programs are not broadcast at times I can listen or watch, as far as I know he is very mainstream Evangelical.

His fundraising mailings however are relentless.

If you are the type of person who really enjoys getting snail mail, this is the mailing list for you. As a family member told me last week, “I got another one from D.J.;” she has now stopped using the name since understanding is implicit, “That’s three this week.” She doesn’t have my knowledge of printing processes, paper stocks, bleeds, color separations, etc., but notes, “They’re all on glitzy paper.” Well, the letters are on standard bond, but yes, the enclosures are all on glossy stock, and color envelopes unique to each mailing.

Lots of trees gave their lives.

The latest pitch is for the Turning Point Bible Strong Partners program. For $25 per month you can choose from a couple of gifts or curiously, this option: “Please apply my entire gift to the needs of the ministry.” Those needs however would include printing and mailing more appeal letters.

This is a beast that requires constant feeding.

We’re not even going to get into the whole ResultsSource thing here. This is one of the big Christian publishing stories of 2014, where authors including Mark Driscoll — and David Jeremiah is also listed in reports — paid the consulting organization to ensure placement of their books on the New York Times Bestseller List.source

Turning Point’s 2012 Form 990 shows it as having nearly $40 million income that year.source There is a principle in business that once something reaches a critical mass it is capable of perpetuating itself on its reputation; other factors have to start working against it in order for it to start to experience decline (market changes, competition, economy, etc.). But with charities you have to keep asking, keep begging. You have to keep your name in front of the public. Each mail appeal produces a bump in donations.

For David Jeremiah, there seems to be no law of diminishing returns. The appeal letters keep coming.

In 2012 the ministry paid nearly $700K to In Service America which operates call centers. $400K to Majestic Productions which provides equipment for large arena-type events. Officers, directors and trustees received just under $900K while general salary and wage expenses were approx. $4.6M.  (Jeremiah is also pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, an SBC church in California founded by Tim LaHaye.)

It’s a big ship, and it takes money to make money.

I wonder what God thinks of all this?

I don’t begrudge these people some fundraising or donor development costs. They believe in what they’re doing. While individually they would acknowledge the existence of similar ministries, corporately they are no doubt passionate about what they do. Just as Christians we believe we’ve got the hottest news on the rack, many organizations feel they’ve got a great distribution system for that news.

What you end up with is a group of creative people being paid to develop fundraising appeals because the ministry needs money in order to pay people to develop more fundraising appeals.

But when people are getting three mailings in a single week… That’s not right is it? It seems driven by an ambition that’s gone into overdrive, and historically, when that happens, often the organization experiences collapse.

The time to rethink all of this is now. It’s time to develop long-term sustainability that doesn’t involve the rape of so many trees, the theft of so much carbon. Otherwise, their ambition could lead them, like so many others, to find it impossible to sustain the minimum income they now require.

And that could be their turning point.


For an alternative view about fundraising costs, check out this 2013 TEDTalk.

January 15, 2015

Missions Models: Paying the Staff

Ministry Salaries Deputation SupportWe continue where we left off on Monday and Tuesday with more of our missions theme. Today we want to look at how the actual mission workers — as well as people working for Christian parachurch organizations — get paid.

Salary – Several lifetimes ago I was hired by the publishing division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). I was the warehouse manager for the Canadian operation, and to the best of my knowledge this was the only time in my life I was ever covered by a dental plan, though being young and carefree I never used it. They were probably the best organization I ever worked for full-time. I was also hired for three years by our local Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and again, it was a fixed dollar amount, though I was basically subcontracted to them which meant not technically on their payroll. I also worked briefly for the Canadian Bible Society and again, the job included a guranteed pay rate, as did all the jobs in their head office.

Raising Support – Several times in my life I’ve been offered an opportunity to work with the too-often repeated phrase, “but you need to raise your own support.”  Sigh! Do they want me, my gifts and abilities, or simply to exploit my network? Some of these Christian organizations actually don’t have a cap on the number of people they will hire; if you have the support raised, you’re welcome to come on board. (The organization takes 10 to 20% off the top for ‘administration.’)

Base Salary + Donations – This one is a combination of the two above, and the place I’ve seen it practiced most often is with students working at Christian summer camps. They are promised a very conservative rate of pay which includes meals and housing, but can then do fundraising over and above that in order to increase their bi-weekly pay. Sometimes the donors remain on the camp’s mailing list long after the kids have left and the last canoe has been stored away, which can be a bit of a windfall for the camp long-term.

Deputation – This is a word used largely in the Evangelical community to describe the relationship missionaries have with the local churches that support them. It usually means that when they are home on “furlough” instead of having a season of sabbath rest, they spend their weekends driving around to visit those churches, hand out prayer cards, set up a table in the lobby with artifacts and possibly even preach the Sunday morning sermon. This guarantees that they will be kept on the missions budget for the following year. 

Bi-Vocational – We usually hear this term used in conjunction with pastoral ministry, as it’s a growing model. But anyone serving part-time in ministry and part-time with a ‘secular’ job qualifies. There are really two meanings to bi-vocational; sometimes it means two part-time jobs, but other times it may mean the ministry job doesn’t really pay at all. Despite this, the ministry job may actually have demands that leave the individual ‘on call’ 24/7. There’s a saying that, “When they have you part-time, they have you full-time.” You’re expected to be available at all hours.

You Pay Us – In many cases, the person working for the organization actually pays for the privilege of doing so. In the case of an organization like YWAM, its entry program, known as Discipleship Training School is really an educational opportunity, not anything resembling actual employment. Participants can do fundraising to cover the costs, or if they’re coming out of the business world, or a students who took a year off to raise funds to take any of YWAM’s schools, they might just show up on day one with their checkbook and pay it that way. However, in other organizations (i.e. not YWAM) the line between education and training and the need for people to actually work on the organization’s behalf is rather blurred. If you’re paying to sweep floors or do dishes, and that is the majority of your responsibility, then you have the worst of both worlds: It’s not a job, and you’re not learning anything.

Are there some I’ve missed? Probably. One faith ministry I worked for frequently gathered the staff together and announced that the payroll would be late that week. I was a single guy, but there were people working for them that were the sole earners in their family, with dependent children. That’s why I’m sure this story is incomplete; there are all manner of variations out there because, after all, “It’s the Lord’s work.”

July 17, 2014

The Moral Quandry of Website Re-Design

Filed under: bible — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:11 am

computerIf you have any technical skills at all, there are boatloads of money to be made in convincing website owners, including a great many Christian organizations, that their website needs to be upgraded.  Sometimes this is true. Most of the time it is simply not the case that the thing needs a fresh coat of paint.

In many cases, websites are under-performing because they are simply not maintained. In other cases, designers have supplied the organization in question with a great template but no little about the mission of the company or ministry to be able to supply content. In yet other cases, consultants are using minor technical glitches to justify a total refit.

Unfortunately, in other cases, the only argument that can be made for change is that people simply want a website that looks current, or want change because every other organization they deal with has upgraded their site this year.

In the case of what is probably one of the most widely used sites among Christians, BibleGateway.com, the changes necessitate relearning a website that was comfortable and familiar.  Things that were at the top are now at the bottom. The “resources” page now consists of a number of links to product that is being sold, not coincidentally, by the site’s new owners, HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

Probably knowing the need to hedge their bets, the site has the option of reverting to the “old” Bible Gateway.

I guess the thing that bothers me most is that designers get paid big bucks to ply their HTML trade, while writers, content-producers and not-so-technically-gifted creatives work for peanuts. This happened to us literally. After not getting much direction from the author and then not hearing anything for several months, a bag of peanuts showed up in the mail. Seriously.

Christian organizations need to save their money and not be obsessed with having the best-looking site in town when website users may not even appreciate the changes. And designers need to stop bleeding organizations of the tithes and offerings they have collected from sincere donors.

Now then. Having said all that, I do have some friends who are website designers, and there are some sites out there that are hopelessly out of date. This wasn’t directed at them, but rather at the industry that revolves around change purely for the sake of change.

And yes. This blog has had the same theme since it started. I’ve looked at alternatives but there have been reasons I’ve stuck with the familiar red border and the thin serif-font lettering, also in red. Oh wait, that’s TIME Magazine. I’ll change when they do.

 

August 23, 2012

Austin Gutwein: Living to Give

The nature of my work permits me to be able to recommend books to parents for their middle-school and high-school kids. When this occurs, which it does regularly, I have three “go-to” authors to recommend. While a number of books are written to teens, it’s great to have authors like these where the books were written by teens for their peers:

  • Zach Hunter — He has three books with Zondervan, starting with Be The Change, and his cause his 21st century slavery. His organization is called Loose Change to Loosen Chains, which he began at age 12.
  • Alex and Brett Harris — A&B are twins and also brothers to author/pastor Joshua Harris. Their books, Do Hard Things, and its companion, Start Here inspires challenge youth to deeper commitment.
  • Austin Gutwein — His first book, Take Your Best Shot tells the story of how he turned a passion into throwing free throws into a fundraising organization, Hoops of Hope, that benefits HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa, a charity he started at age 13 based on an idea he had at age 9.

So when I had a chance to review Austin’s newest book, Live to Give, I jumped at the chance to be able to introduce people to Austin’s writing and his personal story.

But the temptation was to thnk, ‘Hey, this is a youth book, I’ll just read the first half of it and then write the review.’ However, I’ve never reviewed a book I haven’t read to cover to cover, and honestly, I really enjoyed the experience.

Live to Give is based around the story of Jesus feeding five thousand men (plus women and children) and focuses around the lunch that a young boy offered up to Jesus and his disciples that was multiplied many times over. Austin compares this to the lunch box his mom packs for him, and sees that lunch box as symbolic of the ‘gift set’ that each of us possesses. Remarkably, he gets more than a dozen chapters out of that analogy.

The writing style is very conversational. I can’t emphasize that enough. This is a book that even that “not-much-of-a-reader” in your house — which is usually a boy — can get into.

Although the book centers around the gospel narrative of the miracle Jesus performed that day, and the little boy who played a part; there are a number of other stories and related scriptures mentioned. This is a book that will raise the Biblical literacy level of that kid who hasn’t been paying attention at weekend services.

I suspect that Austin tells more of the story of Hoops of Hope in the first book, but there’s enough of it here that you don’t need to have read Take Your Best Shot to appreciate Live to Give.

This is a book that teens, parents and youth workers should be aware of.  Thomas Nelson, paperback, 197 pages. Great book. Amazing author.

A copy of  Live to Give was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin a Canadian agency that works alongside U.S. publishers like Thomas Nelson to promote key titles north of the 49th.


I wanted to step outside the review itself and add a few comments that may seem superficial, but which I feel are important. There’s a saying that you can’t tell a book by its cover, but there are three things with the back cover of Live to Give that I think need to be addressed.

  1. What on earth is Austin wearing in his publicity shot? And is that a tie he has on? Are they cool now? Please don’t tell me ties are coming back. It seemed an odd choice for the primary market they’re going after.
  2. The sticker price of $14.99.  Thomas Nelson has kept its youth fiction at $9.99 for paperbacks; I’d hate to see this price work against more people seeing the book; though I’ll grant you some prices are being set high with the full knowledge that mass merchandisers will be aggressively discounting, rendering the MSRP somewhat meaningless. Still, Pete Wilson and Max Lucado list at $15.99, $14.99  seems high for a youth market title.
  3. The use of the appellation “JUVENILE NON-FICTION” above the bar-code. I realize this is standard at Thomas Nelson; everything that’s not for adults gets this “juvenile” designation; but perhaps it is time to rethink that on teen/youth books. Heck, Austin just started at Anderson College as a poli-sci major; his peers — who would enjoy it — aren’t going to read his book when they see that category label. If that’s ‘policy,’ either change the rules or make exceptions.

To repeat, I enjoyed this book, and I intend to strongly recommend it, but I think the publisher’s choice for a back cover constitutes shooting themselves in the foot.

March 25, 2012

Inspiration Network CEO Pay Tops $2.5M US

In the part of the world where I live, they’ve just published the 2011 edition of the “sunshine list.” Basically, it requires that the compensation package for anyone working in the public sector totaling $100K or more has to be made public. Each year’s announcement is usually followed by the predictable amount of outrage, but each year the list gets longer.

So I was somewhat distressed to see this story in the Charlotte (NC) Observer:

Inspiration Networks, a nonprofit Christian broadcaster based near Charlotte, paid chief executive David Cerullo nearly $2.5 million in total compensation in 2010, newly released IRS returns show.

His pay increase since 2008: 47 percent.

Operating from a 92-acre campus in Indian Land, S.C, the cable television network has become one of the world’s largest Christian broadcasters, bringing religious programming to more than 120 countries.

With a budget of more than $95 million, it has raised much of its money by telling viewers that God brings financial favor to those who donate. Televangelists tell viewers to expect miracles if they send money.

A 2009 Charlotte Observer investigation found that Cerullo was the best paid leader of any religious charity tracked by watchdog groups…

Continue reading here.

One of the challenges that we face living in the Christian bubble involves interacting with a larger world where the concept of “right and wrong” has vanished off the radar. Yet here is a Christian organization with a situation that so clearly flashes “wrong.”  Their defense?

His pay is determined largely by an independent committee that studies executive compensation at “similar organizations” – including cable television networks, media companies and national ministries – and then makes a recommendation to Inspiration’s board of directors, the network said.

But many philanthropy experts say it’s unfair to compare salaries in nonprofit organizations with those in the for-profit world. That’s because nonprofits get substantial tax breaks – a form of public subsidy. In exchange, they’re expected to keep salaries at reasonable levels.

Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, said that he considers it “outrageous” for a nonprofit of Inspiration’s size to provide a $2.5 million compensation package, no matter what the organization’s pay studies say.

“You can manipulate the studies to put a good face on something that defies common sense, which is what we’re talking about here,” said Berger, whose group evaluates nonprofits.

Even religious nonprofits with far bigger budgets pay their leaders less than Cerullo, the Observer found. The Christian Broadcasting Network, founded by Pat Robertson, has a budget that’s nearly three times as large. Its CEO got total compensation of $383,000 in 2010.

This story also feeds those who feel religious charities and churches should pay their share of property taxes. And who can argue that with executive compensation of this degree, INSP is nothing more than a business?  The ministry relocated from Charlotte to Lancaster County. “I’d love to tax them at market value, for the county’s sake,” said Smith, the deputy assessor. “In the long run, it would help every taxpaying citizen in Lancaster County.”

In addition to David Cerullo’s pay package, the article goes on to state that according to 2010 tax returns:

  • Wife Barbara got $191,000
  • Daughter Becky got $195,000
  • Son Ben got $188,000

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

As someone I know once said referring to a similar situation a few years ago, “Do these people get to heaven or are they exempted because they’ve experienced it already?”

And all these salaries are paid through the donations of people naively sending in their monthly donations of $10 or $20, which they can ill-afford; people who will never hear how much the ministry boss takes home.

Again, you’re encouraged to read Ames Alexander’s article at The Observer (click here)

March 5, 2012

The Business of Charity

This weekend I had two widely different experiences which were both connected by the theme of philanthropy in a Christian context.

The first began with an article I read about an organization which annually pools funds from a handful of wealthy donors and foundations and then receives grant applications from ministry organizations from which a few are selected to receive funding for various projects.  I’m guessing that you have to be giving around $100,000 to play in this league, but I wondered if in the process of collecting applications they had uncovered any organizations that might be of interest to people whose charitable donations were closer to $10,000 annually.

My motivation was that I believe that many people of means who are looking beyond their local church for worthy projects tend to go with what I call “the usual suspects.”  These high profile Christian parachurch organizations and relief and development agencies have frankly, in my opinion anyway, grown fat. They’re well known, well-established; they receive money in bequests, and honestly don’t need as do other charities.

On the other hand, there are a number of what I would call “next generation” missions and ministries which are just starting out, haven’t been corrupted by largesse, and are trying to meet new challenges; while at the same time being relatively unknown among the people I would call “the givers.”

However, when I delved into this further, what I found grieved me deeply, and when I use the word grieve, I am not trying to be overly dramatic.

In case you don’t know, charity is an industry.

This industry is greatly focused on self-perpetuating and while some revenue definitely goes to charitable purposes, a surprising amount goes to assuring that there will be even more revenue in the future.

As I examined some of the successful grant applications, a large number of them had gone to improving websites, integrating technology systems, streamlining data processing, hiring IT specialists, increasing web presence, etc.  The phrase, “proposals that demonstrate a thoughtful and innovative approach to increasing an organization’s impact will be more favorably considered” should have been a red flag.

The organizations themselves are doing work worthy of support, but these large donors would never have the satisfaction of seeing their money used for those more noble goals.  Instead there was money for proposals and studies and initiatives to increase further fundraising. Quick, gag me with a response card.

There was money for Christian colleges, but it wasn’t going to bursaries or keeping tuition costs flat for the next three years.  There was money for a Bible distribution organization, but it wasn’t buying Bibles.  There was money for an organization that helps out young mothers in poverty, but it wasn’t going toward infant formula or subsidized housing. There was money for a Christian camp, but it wasn’t providing for summer leadership training for students or giving free weeks of camp to children in poverty. There was money for a medical mission, but it wasn’t going to buy pharmaceuticals or first aid supplies. There was money for a student ministry that wasn’t going to hire another high school or college worker; perhaps one that is qualified but not networked enough for the rigorous deputation required.

There was money to buy an organization new laptops, to help another promote a promotional DVD, for another to hire a consultant, for another to start an arts journal. And more consultants, IT directors and website improvements. And then there was the one for a well known inner city mission to improve the acoustics in a meeting room. “Seriously, I just can’t work with the echo in here.”

Do you see the problem?

I was hungry and you hired a consultant. I was thirsty and you improved your website. I was in prison and you merged with another organization. I was naked and you lobbied your government for increased freedoms to raise more money.  I was homeless and you were worried about room acoustics. I was sick and you bought inventory management software.

This is the very type of liberal spending that grates on so many people when it’s done by government, but we forget that there is much excessive spending in the religious charitable sector as well. I’d really like to know how that arts journal is going to make the world a better place.

By contrast, on Saturday night, we attended a fundraising dinner for a missionary in eastern Europe. He got on a plane and landed in a foreign place with nobody there to meet him at the other end. No idea where he would stay when he got there or where his first meal would come from. No covering from a mission agency or church denomination.

The spaghetti dinner we attended — and church fundraising doesn’t get any more basic than this, except for car washes — was put together ostensibly because the church had no proper means by which to receipt donors. The missionary in question was working with the gypsy population until the government forced most of them out of the city in question, and so he now works with ethnic minorities. Any extra money he has he spends on the people he works with, including needs they face for prescription medicine. He has apparently put off his own medical care several times, preferring to look after the needs of others.

The money collected on Saturday night will be given to his mother here in Canada, who will then credit an account that he can access. This is real grassroots fundraising for a real grassroots missionary. What it should be all about. They raised $840; nothing in that number to attract the interest of the elite donors club.

Charity is a business; there’s no getting around it. Its participants end up with confused priorities and misguided visions. The term, “misappropriation of funds” needs not refer to people who are stealing or embezzling from the organization in question, you misappropriate every time fail to meet the genuine needs for which the organization or program was established in the first place.

In all fairness, I should add that all the examples above apply to 2010, and in 2011, the “faith-based funders,” as they call themselves elected to support more realistic projects, and required that each one represent a partnership between two established Christian charities. Still, many of the projects were described in a somewhat nebulous form of charity-speak that belies what the actual invoices for goods and services actually pertained to; and also, as a footnote, the money in both years all stayed in North America; there was no consideration of projects undertaken by U.S. and Canadian organizations overseas.

Sigh.

…If you wish to support the missionary in the story above, contact me off the blog and we’ll try to provide some direction. I guarantee it would be money well spent, even if you don’t get a tax receipt.

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

J. B. Phillips Translation

 

THIS IS TRUE RELIGION

 


January 9, 2012

Our Post-Christmas Credit Card Crisis

Each year we say that instead of giving gifts to each other, we’re going to do something significant to help the third world, and a couple of years ago we got more serious about this and began a Christmas tradition of donating to water projects — the repair and restoration of fresh water wells — through the organization Partners International.

This year Partners sent us a catalog containing a variety of projects to which we could donate, and I decided to let the family have greater input into this than in previous years.  The various needs  in the Canadian organization’s mailing called Hope in Action were divided into different categories such as,

  • Children and Education
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Justice Issues
  • Women’s issues
  • Christian Witness
  • Health and Wellness

while Partners in the U.S. has a greater variety of potential giving themes in their catalog called Harvest of Hope.

The family seemed especially interested in projects which keep young women out of the sex trade overseas, or projects which help them not end up there to begin with.  One of these is listed on my receipt as item 8007C — Mahima Home — A Refuge for Girls Rescued From the Sex Trade — $300.00

We selected three projects that were certainly more expensive than our previous investment in water wells, and then added one more to top it off to an even number, a number that was larger than I expected when we first sat down around the computer.  “Oh well, it’s only money;” I remember saying at the time.

But then, like so many other families that overextend themselves over the holidays, we got a credit card bill which contained both our Partners projects and our regular expenses, not to mention the Christmas gifts that we actually gave.

And it’s all due on Friday.

“I think we need prayer;” I said to my wife when she read me the bill.

I then told her, “I think we should ask the pastor for prayer because I’ve run up our credit card on prostitutes.”

It would be funny if it were funny.

It got me thinking however, what about the person who does find themselves with an impossible credit card bill because they did spend too much on hookers?  You’ve got the sin of fornication combined with the sin of overspending, and they don’t cancel each other out.

I might just leave the prayer request at our church’s prayer email address anyway.  We’ll call it increasing global awareness.

September 5, 2011

A Lesson in Humility

There are times we can be so convinced that God is leading us to do something, that even afterward, when the particular vision or project doesn’t meet expectations, it’s hard to believe that, in terms of its original goals, the project was a bit of a failure.

Many years back, I would wake up in the morning, have breakfast and brush my teeth, and somewhere between the cereal bowl and the restroom sink my brain would flash this:  “$100,000.”  I tried to interpret this in different ways.  Was it a reference to Canada’s daily Christian television show, 100 Huntley Street? No, I decided that what it meant was that I was to raise $100K for Camp Iawah.

Iawah — pronounced the same as Iowa — is an acronym for In All Ways Acknowledge Him. It’s the camp my wife and I met at, and the camp where our two boys served on staff this summer. I guess I was hoping that in the process of raising some money for them, I would be welcomed more warmly when I arrived on the property. The camp — though already a second home — would become my “Cheers” bar, where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad I came. Plus, like most parachurch ministries, they could really use the money for capital projects. Secretly, I hoped my efforts would raise $200K.

My strategy was to advertise in Canada’s national Christian magazine, Faith Today, a publication of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. To draw in interest on a national scale, I would focus on the ‘mission field’ aspect of eastern Ontario, the part of the province designated by the “K” postal code.

It’s important to note that this area stands in contrast to the relative ‘Bible belt’ of western Ontario. “K” at the time didn’t have more than 100 churches where there would be more than 100 adults present on a Sunday morning. Most of these were in major cities like Ottawa, Kingston, Peterborough, Belleville, etc. and “K” wasn’t the home of any major Christian organizations or Bible colleges.

“Name a mission field that starts with the letter ‘K'” was the tagline for the advertisements.

Yes, several ads. One for Camp Iawah. One for Northumberland Christian School, a ‘diamond in the rough’ where I had taught part-time for a year, which really needed a financial kick-start; and one for CHRI radio in Ottawa, Canada’s first-licensed commercial Christian radio station. The series of three advertisements would be a win-win-win. The magazine would be an immediate winner with some advertising revenue. My three (at the time) bookstores, also all located within the “K” code, would get fine-print mention at the bottom of the page, also ensuring a business write-off. And of course the organizations in question would be placed on the hearts of readers across the country who would respond with donations.

The first advertisement hit a bulls eye of sorts. The magazine was already running a cover story on Christian camping, and within a week, I was emailed that a family had signed up their kids for that summer. But after a couple of months, I was told, “If any donations we’ve received are a direct result of the advertisement, we aren’t aware of it.”

That was disappointing, but by then the next advertisement was already running. These were 1/3rd page display ads, and I was reminded that, “The effectiveness of any advertising campaign increases after several repetitions.” And due to a technical error, that second one got run twice. But six months in, money was neither pouring into the camp nor the school, and my attempt at raising awareness of ministry need in “K”-land was clearly flawed. I ran the third one anyway for CHRI Radio in Ottawa. After the eight month campaign, I wondered if just giving the money directly to the organizations in questions might not have been a better use of funds.

These were good advertisements, persuasive, informative and well written. So what went wrong? Here are some thoughts, you might have more to add:

  1. The first one, for the camp, was done with mixed motivation. I wanted greater acceptance there, so I sought to earn it somehow.
  2. I acted as a lone ranger, “gifting” my promotional and writing abilities to the organizations, but not working with those people to optimize the opportunity.
  3. I overestimated those same abilities, forgetting that I was, after all, a person who once held a yard sale to which absolutely no one came. A bit of a record, wouldn’t you say?
  4. I possibly needed a lesson in humility.
  5. I got confused by thought patterns like the “$100,000” thing that got stuck in my head, forgetting there are people who, every time they drive by a certain tree or stop sign on the way to work have a song that triggers in their brain for no apparently connected reason.

Since then, I’ve also learned the line, “The voices in your head may be due to the pizza you ate last night.”  But there are also some things that came out of this I need to remind myself:

  1. I did provide some needed revenue to the magazine.
  2. There was the family that signed up for camp, and apparently one that learned of the school.
  3. I will never know if some donations were sent as a direct result of the campaign but just not connected by the donors or the recipients. Or perhaps the ads served as a reminder to people who were already on the mailing list of those organizations.
  4. Despite a lack of tangible results, I did raise awareness of the needs in the “K” postal code, an area that continues to struggle.
  5. I was obedient to the vision I thought I had received with no negative complications or side-effects for pursuing that vision.

Fall is a time in ministry to dream dreams. You need to know with clarity that those dreams are God-sent, but that won’t always present itself with 100% assurance; some of it has to be a step of faith. You need to be willing to risk failure. You need to be willing to do the necessary analysis afterward to see if there’s anything you can learn. I believe that doing something is better than doing nothing.

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Camp Iawah is growing and meeting spiritual needs in the lives of hundreds each year. If someone were wanting to invest in the lives of the next generation, this ministry organization would be at the top of my recommended list.  CHRI Radio has moved from being a commercial music station to the financially-safer format of selling blocks of air-time to radio ministries, but still requires donations to meet its budget. I believe that the Christian school still faces some long-term challenges, though its larger family of schools is worthy of support. 

And yes: The magazine Faith Today continues to be published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, our equivalent of — but not connected with — the National Association of Evangelicals in the U.S.

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