Building Sustainable Funding in Eurasia

by G. K. D.

Coming up with models for funding parachurch organizations that work in Eurasian cultures will take creativity, hard work, and failed attempts.

A model of fundraising common in parachurch organizations in America looks like this: you develop a description of your ministry and a summary of your budget, then you make a list of potential donors and begin contacting them one by one—usually by phone—to present the description and summary. You then close with a request for monthly or quarterly financial support.

Middle to upper-class Caucasians have found this model incredibly successful, and have been exporting it around the world in an effort to help international ministries develop “sustainable funding.” Unfortunately, this model has limited success with ethnic minorities in America. When taken overseas, it is most successful when used by nationals to raise money from American donors; however, it falters when used among other nationals.

I encountered this while working in Eurasia with a college ministry we will call the ABC Movement. When I began working in Ukraine, the movement was growing rapidly and the national-to-foreign staff ratio was increasing dramatically. Within two years, the entire organizational structure of the movement was in the hands of nationals.

Up until that point, the nationals had received their salaries from a common fund. This was no longer efficient, and a new approach was needed. The national director had close connections with another college ministry we will call XYZ, and brought staff from that ministry to train our national staff. The model the XYZ staff presented was the one described above.

The Ukrainians were appalled, and responded as they did to most new ideas presented from foreign sources: “This won’t work in our culture.” However, with persistent encouragement, the ABC staff grudgingly began using this model to raise funds. They were quickly disheartened. In some cases, churches and individuals refused to support them; in others, the staff were ashamed to even ask for money. The salaries ABC paid, while barely enough to live on, were still higher than those received by many believers in the country. This made it awkward for the staff and insulting for the donors. While there were other factors involved, within five years the movement’s funding had declined so greatly that the national staff were reduced from thirty people to only five people. I believe this method of fundraising contributed to the drastic decline.

In Central Asia, I saw a similar scenario begin to unfold in a country where the average monthly income was only twenty percent of the average income in Ukraine. At a training conference where the American model was presented to the nationals, my colleagues and I compiled some alternatives in the hope of finding more indigenous models for funding the ministry. I am happy to report that the leadership in Central Asia was open to other models, and have successfully used some alternative methods.

One alternative is to allow national staff to work part-time. While this makes scheduling incredibly difficult, flexible jobs can be found, particularly ones that involve selling from home. One of my colleagues wanted to reduce her expenses by selling a line of cosmetics. Another colleague with artistic abilities developed a line of greeting cards which have been purchased by nationals and foreigners. Not only does this income provide some of the necessary funding, but the community has greater respect for those ministering, as they are seen to be productive members of society rather than well-to-do beggars.

Another idea that worked well both in Ukraine and in Central Asia was to accept non-cash donations. The economy in Eurasia has long had other bases than cash; the nationals have survived by sharing produce from farms and village gardens with their extended families. Some staff have received donations of everything from a sack of potatoes to an entire sheep. One sheep will feed many people; it can also be sold to cover a month’s expenses. One successful “fund-raiser” already in use by pastors is raising cows. The first cow is donated, and the milk and calves sold to support the pastor. For staff living in a large city, this can be complicated, as they must find someone trustworthy in the village to care for their cows. There may be other ways of using cattle, poultry, and other agricultural products to sustain a movement, such as a having a communal garden.

If we desire to get truly sustainable funding of ministries, we need two things: a willingness to try other models of funding and direct involvement of national staff and leaders in developing indigenous models. We must remember that we are dealing with largely collective cultures. The common American model is very individualistic in nature: one individual asks another individual to give him or her money. One British colleague who worked among Uzbeks suggested a more collective approach: a sponsorship party. Friends and relatives are invited to a feast (held by another close friend or family member of the guest of honor), such as is held for a wedding or circumcision, and come with gifts for the person being honored. While I have not heard of this being implemented in Central Asia, I have seen it in action in an immigrant Filipino community.

Coming up with models for funding parachurch organizations that work in Eurasian cultures will take creativity, hard work, and failed attempts. In the end, however, the effort is well worth it, as these movements will be better able to honor what is good in their cultures and see the Holy Spirit transform the rest.


G. K. D. (pseudonym) ministered for eight years in the former Soviet Union. She and her husband hope to return to Central Asia in the near future.

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