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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  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. 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. 

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