by Olan Hendrix
On April 7, 1981 eight foreign mission agencies met in Chicago under the auspices of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
On April 7, 1981 eight foreign mission agencies met in Chicago under the auspices of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Their purpose was to discuss the various problems and opportunities that surround the financing of North American missions in the present decade. This article is an account of their discussions and findings.
The complexity of the world in which we seek to proclaim the gospel, both in word and deed, is increasing. This complexity is heightened by the major advances in communication and transportation, as well as increasing sophistication among the peoples whom we seek to serve. Whereas the missionary of 1880 had to be completely self-reliant in his or her endeavors, today the mission force in the field is supported by a vast array of technological and missiological systems. As the challenge of reaching the world has become more complex, so has the mission response. Not the least of these changes has been the change in both the amount of mission funding required and the means for obtaining it.
DIVERSITY IN FUNDING
The agencies gathered in Chicago were representative of the current diversity in approaching funding. This spectrum is defined by the role of the individual missionary in the task of funding. At one extreme is an agency which expects to build the vast majority of its funding programs on the efforts of the individual. The missionary is expected not only to raise funds for his or her individual support, but also to provide the funds necessary to carry out the work, as well as the funds needed to support the infrastructure of the "home office. " At the other end of the spectrum is an agency in which the "home office" takes the complete responsibility for raising the needed funds.
Between these two extremes are agencies that have a variety of expectations about the home office to raise funds. Some expect the home office to raise the support for major capital fundings. Still others expect the home office to raise part of its home office expense within the support country and expect that the missionary will raise the balance. From this one should not infer that the entire agency is not concerned for all that goes on. Rather, certain aspects of funding are associated with the certain groups within the agency.
On another scale can be listed the manner in which the agency goes about seeking funds. At one end of this spectrum is an agency that never publicizes what it believes it needs. Next, would be those who are willing to disclose what is needed but only if asked. These would be followed by those who make their expenses public, but do not actively solicit funds. These would be followed on the scale by those who actively solicit funds, but select only some means or methods for doing this. At the far end of the scale would be those who make their needs known and use all legitimate means to obtain the necessary funds from a wide range of potential donors.
The different methods and viewpoints used by agencies presents a number of problems: When the missionary is primarily responsible for the fund-raising, there is a tendency toward possessiveness of funds. Both the missionary and the local church can feel that these funds can be "best spent on the field."
Although most missionaries would admit that these administrative services of the "home office" are needed and necessary, there is a question as to how much they are really worth. Thus, if the home office requires fifteen percent of the agency’s total income in order to carry out its affairs, this may be viewed as "too much" by the field missionary. This often results in various schemes, by both the missionary and the missionary’s supporter, to circumvent "the administrative cost" of the home office. On the other hand, if all of the funds are under the jurisdiction of the home office there is a normal concern that perhaps the home office is "keeping funds for itself."
These variations in how different evangelical agencies solicit funds can be confusing to the evangelical giving public, as well as to the missionary. Two missionary families from different agencies, both serving in the same country, may present themselves to a church for support. If the one has to raise support not only for its livelihood, but also for the work, the apparent expenses may be twice those of the other couple who are asking only for "personal support."
Another question facing both agencies and their constituencies is what has been called "overhead, " by which is generally meant the cost of fund-raising and managing the total affairs of the agency. Within the Christian community there are few guidelines as to what is acceptable. For example, it has been reported that secular hospitals seeking support in the United States have a fund-raising cost of around thirty percent. In contrast, most evangelical overseas agencies are spending between fifteen and twenty-five percent for both their fund-raising and administration.
It was against this background that these agencies discussed how to honor the Lord in their fund-raising efforts; how they could be more creative in raising funds; and what kind of future lies ahead.
ATTITUDES TOWARD FUND-RAISING
Each generation has to clarify its values and understand its calling. We live in different situations, different times, and different contexts. During the past generation many faith missions have began a shift toward actively soliciting funds. Most agencies are now soliciting funds.
We seem to have a different attitude about soliciting (or recruiting) people for missionary service than we do about seeking funds for missionary service. There is a difference. To control money is to control power, and most agencies have much more control over their money than they do over the people they are involved with. Money is convertible; it can be used in different ways. In "recruiting" people we are dealing with individuals in depth and able to give them the information they need over a long period of time. In "recruiting" money we are forced to disseminate information very broadly. Often we use a medium such as the printed page within which we cannot tell the complete story. Neither are we able to anticipate all of the questions that will be in the back of the people’s minds as they read what we have to say.
There was a general agreement that too often fund-raising is thought of as much less worthy than spending the funds ("ministry" to some). What is needed is a balance between the two and an understanding that as we go about seeking financial support, such a balance must be maintained. To minister to people without inviting them to participate in funding is frustrating. If we concentrate on blessing our constituency without offering them an opportunity to participate in giving to the ministry, we will frustrate both ourselves and them.
On the other hand, when we seek funds without ministering to people, we are manipulating. If we are going to use a part of our ministry as being representative of the whole, then we need to make certain that we are not selective either in dramatizing the need or reporting on our effectiveness.
It is very easy to take photographs of the most desperate part of a particular situation when we are seeking funds and then to take photographs of the improved portion of the situation when reporting on the results.
Our presentations need to be done in a spirit of truth guided by the Spirit of truth. If fund-raising consultants or advertising agencies are used, what they say needs to be carefully reviewed. Don’t withhold damaging information that might inhibit giving. Tell it like it is. Don’t get trapped into trying to get quick results from a fund-raising presentation that may distort the truth.
In looking at a project for possible participation an agency should not ask what can be done (how much money it can raise), but what ought to be done. It honors the Lord when we do fund-raising projects that are within the scope of our stated ministry, rather than to look for projects that will capture people’s attention.
FUNDING THE HOME OFFICE
By "home office" we mean that part of the organization that resides in the country from which the funding is received and which is responsible for the oversight of the mission. A number of different ways of funding the home office were described:
(1) Home office people raise their support in the same way that the field missionary does. (2) Some "staff"’ raise their support while other I I employees" receive a salary raised by the office. (3) A percentage of income received is assessed to the project or the field missionary support quota. The percentage taken, from personal support and the percentage taken from project funds often varies. (4) Undesignated money that comes to the home office is used.
(5) Income is received from interest or investments. (6) Specific efforts are made to raise funds for the home office general fund, such as putting on banquets. (7) Deferred giving or wills and trusts are established. (8) The home office staff "contribute" by their acceptance of salaries that are not adequate to sustain them. This often forces such staff members to moonlight, or forces the spouse to work full time.
There is a division of opinion as to whether everyone in the agency should be involved in the fund-raising. If we picture our agency as a religious order, then perhaps each member should bring his or her own resources to that order.
On the other hand, one can view the management and administrative costs as part of the costs of the field ministry. If each project and/or field staff team is assessed a percentage of the total "overhead," then we have a true picture of the actual true cost.
It was noted that some years ago an effort was made to publish the various components of missionary expenses for salaries, schooling, furlough, administration, fund-raising, etc., and that it is probably time to do this again in the near future.
IDEAS FOR FUND-RAISING
There are a number of new ways that the mission agencies presently are finding to raise funds. Some agencies are creating profit companies that enter into joint ventures with businessmen who are supporters of the organization. A number of agencies operate certain of their departments to earn outside income as well as serving themselves. Some agencies report that they are able to raise adequate funds for their programs directly within the fields in which they are working.
Television is being used to raise funds by ways of documentaries, spot advertising, telethons, dramatic series. (It was noted that Christian television stations could probably be used more than they are to communicate unique ministries to a distinctive Christian audience.)
There are cooperative fund-raising ventures in which the agency provides a way of fund-raising for the local church and suggests that the local church use, say sixty percent, of the funds raised for its home ministries or those of its denomination.
Confidence of and appreciation for an agency is enhanced by using the donor receipt as a way of giving encouragement and information. For example, giving year-to-date giving statistics is done by some agencies; others use the donor receipt to tell the donor more about what they are doing.
Lay auxiliary groups have been formed specifically for fund-raising. Use of premiums or other incentives has been used to encourage giving. The training of new missionaries and how to raise their own support is practiced by a number of agencies.
Third party letters, written by someone other than the missionary, are sent to the missionary supporters, or prospective supporters. This primarily reduces the potential "embarrassment" to the missionary who does not feel comfortable in "asking for money for myself. "
Missionaries who are particularly good at fund-raising are doing that, not only for themselves but for others. Some agencies have emphasized that the missionary should ask for the project of which they are a part, rather than ask for funds for themselves.
TRENDS FOR THE 1980s
The meeting noted a number of trends that may impact on general. or specific giving to individual agencies in the coming years. The number of career missionaries is up the first time since 1967. The number of short term missionaries is up dramatically from 5,764 in 1975 to 17,633 in 1979. From the period between 1975 and 1979, 47 new agencies started and approximately 35 were discontinued.
There is evidence that young people from North America are going back to the basics. The rise in the large number of short-termers is exemplified by Youth With A Mission, which has 887 career personnel and approximately 5,000 short termers.
Total giving to North American missions increased from 6 5 5.7 million in 1975 to 1.2 billion in 1979. This is a net increase of 55 percent when corrected for inflation. However, a few agencies dominate both the total amount of income and total amount of staff. Twenty-five agencies account for over half of the total giving of North American missions. Fifteen agencies account for over half of the number of missionaries.
Tax deductions for contributions may be eliminated within the next ten years. Government regulations may prohibit tax deductions for contributions that are sent out of the U.S. However, there are a number of Western countries where Christian donors are given no tax benefits.
Do we believe that the amount of funds available for evangelical causes, particularly overseas missions, is limited? Are we extravagant enough in our spirit and optimistic enough in our attitude as we seek to find the funds to do what we believe the Lord wants us to do?
Does the rapid rise in new organizations indicate that existing agencies are not responding to the needs of their constituencies for both service and giving? Is this the time that God is going to move again as he did in the forties and fifties, when many new ministries were started?
Is raising money for humanitarian purposes in emergencies or disasters easier than raising money for evangelism and church planting? If it is, is that because of the emotional appeal, or because of a shift in the thinking of the evangelical public as to what constitutes biblical mission?
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