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Solutions for the World’s Problems

When it comes to humanitarian work, we don’t often think about a return on our investment. But in today’s Wall Street Journal, Bjorn Lomborg raises an interesting question about how our priorities would change if we applied cost-effective standards to our work. In other words, rather than spending money on what’s trendy, or in the news, should we be looking deeper, and focusing on solutions that would reap a greater cost benefit? It’s hard not to consider his point of view. I’d be curious to know your thoughts. How could this impact the global relief options for churches, ministries, and non-profits?

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11 Comments

  1. Depends on their priorities.  If their mission is to present the gospel through the media, those numbers are very appropriate.  You obviously have a bias against anyone using the media in ministry, so I'm sure you won't find that satisfactory, but the truth is, using media in ministry is a powerful tool in the digital age.  Delivery systems cost money, so if part of your outreach is sharing the message through media, then a legitimate expense is the cost of that media.

  2. Well done Phil. This is a no brainer. If anything, non profits should apply more rigorous cost benefits analysis than for profits.

    One interesting key performance indicator thats applicable to all three sectors of the economy (goverment, for profit, and non profit) is the pricing of human life – the subject of a feature documentary Im developing.

    The basic premise is A. resources are limited, therefore B. they should be allocated to save the maximum number of lives, therefore C. a standard pricing of life should be applied across a whole raft of legistlation covering environmental, transport, national security,humanitarian and foreign aid.

    There is alot of research on this subject concerning the cost of a physical life saved (try googling Professor John D Graham, or a lawyer called Lisa Heinzerling). Unfortunately, there is virtually no research on cost benefit analysis applied to evangelism. In my limited opinion, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association offers the best historical data on this subject, and the most publically accessible.

    Maybe its easier to ask for money than give a proper account of its use?

  3. Phil, I applaud you referencing the WSJ article.  I am not questioning the legitimacy of global televangelism.  Rather, I thought perhaps 30-50 expenses on media seemed low, with room for shenanigans with the other 50-70% of donor funds.  (The Gideons International says as of last year, it received $127 million in income of which $115.2 million went directly for purchase and placement of Scriptures.  That’s an average of almost 91% of donor money going directly to the cause.)  Perhaps the pressure that non-profit status makes on televangelists (i.e. needing a local church, or other justifiable reason for existence such as outreaches of various sorts, even the need some ministries feel to tithe the ministry income itself to other ministries) creates inefficiency in televangelism itself (and room for further shenanigans (i.e. I’ll tithe my ministry receipts to another and vice versa – peddling influence.)   Along these same lines, should redundancy be considered also?  What about downsizing  or creative destruction (i.e. just quitting outdated operations)?  This is a process of maturity business understands, but does televangelism?

  4. Fair enough.  I was thinking in the opposite direction.  To be accurate, I'd have to see the specific ministry and what percentage went where.  So many media ministries today are involved in other outreaches as well, so it's tough to speculate.

  5. I think the limited resources of non-profits leads them to go for the low hanging fruit (or spending on what's right in front of them). As they say, its the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I think the methodology proposed by Lomborg is worth looking into to.

  6. This sounds great and is a popular idea among donors today.  However, keep in mind that the very advantage that non-profits have is that they can do things for which profit is not a motive.  While I do believe that every non-profit should work to maximize donor value, the idea that ROI or cost benefit should drive non-profit programs is not a great one.

    Things that are difficult to measure are often not considered as viable activities by for-profit ventures. So, non-profits are created to address these issues. 

    I have posted on this at my blog (the permalink is http://www.esler.org/2008/04/10/whats-the-roi-on-your-giving/) as it has been a recent topic in philanthropy journals.

  7. Great point Ted.  The issue becomes what do we consider ROI when it comes to non-profit projects?  Hmmm… I smell a future blog coming on…   🙂

  8. Bingo!

    ROI is a measure of efficiency, not effectiveness. 

    Non-Profits are measured by their mission and impact, not necessarily their common ground items with for-profits. 

  9. For me, the best solution is to take money out of the equation all together. The farmer still farms, the delivery truck still comes and I still get food, but seeing as how I would get everything for free, it would enable me to contribute in some other way.

    The biggest problem though is in peoples perceptions. Everyone is in it for themselves because current economic systems demand things to be that way. But without money, greed falls away (along with all of the other problems that spring from greed). At the moment, it says 'Let me grab what I can because I don't know if there will be any left over by tomorrow'. The new perception should say 'I have everything I need already, so let me contribute something. Let me be involved in this community that provides me with food, shelter, warmth and everything else I need.'

    The way I see it, money is a useful economic driver in terms of keeping the masses motivated. BUT, the downfall of money is greed and lust for people, things and power. I believe that with the right mental attitude and knowledge of the bigger picture, people can be motivated to create a better world without the need for financial compensation – assuming they have everything they need already.

    A system void of currency also means that work gets done for the sake of doing it – because the person wants to do it, not because they have to make money to survive. In this way, the work that gets done will be of a much higher quality.

    Imagine how much progress we could make if the barriers that money places on progress simply didn't exist. Not only in science and technology, but also in terms of real, practical problems, such as crime and feeding the 'poor'. Crime would virtually disappear because people would have what they need. There would be no desire for worldly things because these desires would already be filled.

    I guess what I'm saying is this: Imagine a community that says 'We will give you everything you need and more, so long as you contribute to the pot.' Applying this principle to a global community is no easy task, but I believe it is possible and it would solve so many issues we have in the world today.

    Anyways, just some food for thought.

    Have a good one
    😉

  10. This sounds very familiar or similar to what happened in Acts 2 “And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need.” But it will not be possible in terms of what you have suggested because of the sin issue – an issue of the heart and inherent in the human nature. But they will do away with money – that is for sure and bring something else to replace it, which will give immense control over people very soon by those who run this new economic system. That is what I am seeing happen as more unfolding events take place in regards to this credit crunch fuelled by rising oil prices and home foreclosures.

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