I originally wrote this post earlier in the year, and this month a version of it appeared as my faith and culture column in Charisma magazine. I’m already starting to get some criticism of the column, so I thought I’d publish it again, and see what you think. Let the good times begin:
The U.S. government has given non-profit status to organizations created to serve the common good. Humanitarian efforts, religious organizations, educational outreach, medical services – all are common types of non-profit groups. They accept donations, and are exempt of taxation, which allows them enormous financial incentives and latitude. Therefore, in the case of churches and ministries, fundraising has become a vital tool that’s used to raise the necessary money to make ministry happen.
However, in many cases, the tail has started to wag the dog. Today, some ministries have virtually changed their sense of original mission to a focus on raising money.
Fundraising is a massive business. It has spawned financial consultants, direct response companies, fulfillment businesses, and more. Helping ministries raise money has become an industry in itself.
The “personal” ministry letter you receive each month was probably not written by the ministry leader at all, but by a direct mail strategist, and it was designed by an graphic designer for maximum response. Today, color scheme, spacing, layout, and structure are some of the most important features of monthly letters – and the most effective fundraisers can even compare responses based on different colors of the envelope. They mail the letters on just the right day each month so it arrives when people get their paycheck. Statistics prove that if it’s only a few days late, the response will drop considerably. I’ve seen people fired from ministries because they mailed the monthly letter 48-72 hours behind schedule – it’s considered that important.
In fact, I spoke to one “Christian” fundraiser who said that the single most important thing is getting a person to open the envelope – and he would be willing to do anything to make that happen.
Even lie about what’s inside.
I’m not against fundraising. There are some marvelous ministries out there doing great work because of effective relationships with their supporters and partners. But I do think you need to know how the business works – because believe me – it’s a business, and they’re trying to work you.
Here are some suggestions to consider as you pick up the next fundraising letter from your mailbox:
1) They’ve timed the letter to arrive when you have the most money in the bank. Giving will be easier for you, but that shouldn’t control your decision.
2) The cute little underlines, exclamation points, and arrows that look like the writer inserted with a pen after it was written – weren’t marked by a person, but a computer. Each one was strategically planned for placement and effect.
3) The amount of the “suggested gift” on the reply was calculated by a computer based on your past giving history, and often with the goal to nudge you to give a little more.
4) Even the color of the paper was researched based on past responses to that particular shade.
5) The trinket (Jesus junk?) the ministry sends you actually gets results! You’re more likely to give because they ministry sends you something in return.
Am I suggesting that we stop fundraising? Absolutely not. As I said before, great ministries are impacting the world because good people give. Plus, there are many gifted fundraising experts who are ethical and operate with utmost integrity.
But I am suggesting we become informed givers. Don’t be a ministry zombie and give on impulse – for any reason. Give because you’ve researched a ministry, believe in what it’s doing in the world, have confirmed it’s integrity and track record, and then prayed about the gift.
Giving for any other reason, is usually a waste of money.