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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September 19, 2011

When You Spend a Lifetime at “No Fixed Address”

While most American adults can identify the fifty states, many are clueless about entire nations elsewhere, including the countries which make up the "horn of Africa". Can you name the country south of Kenya?

In North America we view homelessness as a crisis, but for nomads in Kenya, living at “no fixed address” is actually a lifestyle; a lifestyle that works, on some level, when conditions are ideal.

But not now. Not when there is drought and famine.

A CNN/Religion article today drives home this point.

According to [World Relief’s Don] Golden, refugees fleeing the al-Shabab-dominated famine areas of Somalia are exacerbating the situation in Turkana, a region already poor in resources. “The old saying is that droughts are natural disasters and famine is man-made,” he said.

But it’s important that relief efforts not make this situation worse:

Stopping people from starving to death is different than enabling them to fend for themselves. “There’s a way of helping that can hurt,” said [Nairobi pastor Simon]Ndegwa, who collaborates closely with World Relief.

This is more complicated with nomadic people whose lifestyle keeps them “on the road” ignoring even national borders.  Eventually, the lifestyle itself may need to change:

[UNICEF’s Peter] Smerdon and Golden agree that to create sustainability for an isolated people in today’s interconnected world, there has to be a bridge. The answer then, lies in education.

Initially, in an emergency situation, “everyone is saying we want water and food,” Smerdon said, “but at the end they are saying we want school fees.”

…”Educating schoolchildren is a way to change lifestyles” for isolated children growing into a globalized world and “therefore they can get a job and provide a lifeline (to their families) when there is a drought,” Smerdon said.

You can read the full article at CNN here.

Consider making a donation to World Relief (USA) or World Relief (Canada) or in the UK through Medair.

Related items on this blog:

How Not to Exploit a Famine
Partnering With Partners — Links to Giving Through Partners International

February 27, 2011

Compensation for Charity CEOs: How Much is Too Much?

In a very recent article that unfortunately wasn’t picked up for inclusion in the online newspaper, The Toronto Star’s ethics columnist Ken Gallinger raised the issue of the top compensation paid to CEOs of humanitarian charities and relief an development agencies.

Perhaps it’s just as well that the article isn’t available, because the Canadian examples he cited probably pale in comparison to the figures paid to those holding similar posts in the United States.

And he was quick to remind us that many heads of non-profits do, in fact, give back. The salaries quoted would, in that case, only tell us half the story.

In my world, the largest financial donors in some small churches are the ministers themselves, many of whom work 60 hour weeks.

But, to answer the question, the figure he kept tossing around was $200,000.

On the one hand, these are donor dollars, and it must be hard to take home this kind of paycheck when your ads are full of starving children; at $30 a month, that one check would sponsor 550 kids. Ethically, that’s got to cause angst.

But let’s be fair, Nobody is well served by bad, lazy or visionless leadership. These charities are huge. In 2009, World Vision spent over $37 Million (CDN) on employee compensation alone. Heading up such an oranization, whether it manufactures widgets or builds wells in Africa, requires wit, wisdom and experience. And you tend to get what you pay for.

He also pointed out that in Canada’s for-profit sector, the top 100 execs’ average just under $7 Million (CDN) each, noting that the average minimum wage earner gets 0.3 per cent of their boss’s income.

So again, I ask, “How much is too much?”

January 28, 2011

Friday Debrief

No this is isn’t a start of a supplement to the Wednesday Link List, it’s just a few things that deserved a larger space committment without creating several individual posts:

  • Darryl Dash highlighted a small section of the CT interview with Billy Graham on Tuesday; the section where Mr. Graham is asked if he would do anything different, and he replies that he would have spent more time family.  But tucked away inside that response is this revelation:
     

    I also would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

  • I’ve been checking blogs to see what anticipation there is for the new Rob Bell book, Love Wins, which I mentioned briefly here last Friday; and in the process read (and left a comment at) this post at the UK (Ireland?) blog Supersimbo.  The blog writer views people under 40 as
     

    “Jumping from one book to another, switching from being a fan of Bell to Driscoll and back again as often as the wind changes, treating our faith and beliefs like an app for our iPhone or iPad…..liking his ‘theology’ because of how its packaged and advertised!”

    The conclusion is that readers will miss the importance of the message of Christian universalism that it contains. To clarify this a little further, he responded to me in the comments section with a link to a Margaret Feinberg interview with Scot McKnight, where McKnight describes Christian universalism as “the biggest challenge facing American Evangelicals.”  He goes on to define it:

    Christian universalism if the belief that everyone will eventually be saved because of what Christ has done. Christian universalism differs from raw pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that no religion offers superiority in the process of redemption. With pluralism, all religions lead us to the same god and the same ends. The distinction for Christian universalists is that what God did for humans in Christ will redeem all humans, whether they are Hindus, Muslims, or atheists, all will eventually be saved.

  • Another Bible translation?  Yep!  Steve Webb is single-handedly working on a project called the Lifespring Family One Year Bible which he is releasing in sections online and in a podcast. Who is Steve Webb? That’s a long story.   Here’s a sample from Genesis 9:
     

    9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Reproduce abundantly, and be fruitful and increase in number on the earth.
    9:2 All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the air, all that move on the earth, and all the fish in the sea will fear you. I have placed them in you hand.
    9:3 Every living thing that moves will be your food. As I gave you green plants, now I give you everything.

  • Finally, a court has upheld the right of World Vision to enforce its policy of hiring Christian employees.This story is from EWTN, a Catholic news agency.
     

    In a 2-1 ruling, a panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition to re-hear a case which charges that a religious charity illegally fired employees because they no longer agreed with its statement of faith……The organization said it terminated the three employees in 2007 because they “no longer agreed with World Vision U.S.’s statement of faith.” The organization discovered that the employees denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

    One employee worked in technology and facility maintenance, one was an administrative assistant, and the third coordinated shipping and facilities needs.

    They later sued, claiming their termination was an act of illegal discrimination. A federal district judge had previously ruled against the plaintiffs, prompting the appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

    World Vision praised the decision to reject the appeal and pledged vigorous defense of its right to hire employees who share its faith. “Our Christian faith has been the foundation of our work since the organization was established in 1950, and our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ,” the organization said…

    Similar organizations in Canada have faced this issue before, such as, most recently, Christian Horizons.

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