Any religious organization, be it a television ministry or a local church, depends on donations to survive. And so they all engage in some kind of fund raising effort to make ends meet. They use all kinds of things to raise money from direct mail to bake sales. It may seem a shame, (I don’t think this requirement of God “is a shame.”) in a way, but money is merely a tool that enables a church or ministry to do their necessary work.
A few years ago, I had reason to research the fund raising methods of a wide range of ministries and what I found was appalling. Only a few ministries took a straightforward, honest approach by telling their readers and listeners what they wanted to do and that they needed their support to do it. The rest engaged in various gimmicks and tricks to meet their budgets. The television ministries were the worst because they have to raise the most money. A few were downright dishonest or unethical.
As a result of my research, I came up with nine things you ought to think about before writing a check or giving to a ministry or a church.
1. Has the ministry made a positive difference in your life? If the ministry has helped you, then you can be sure it has helped others as well. You should make some effort to support that ministry. If the ministry means nothing to you, if it has not encouraged or lifted you, if it has not opened your eyes to God and the Bible, then there is no reason to give. Nor is there any reason for you to continue receiving material from that ministry. Ask them to remove your name from their mailing list. Don’t waste their resources.
2. Retain control of your charitable giving. Don’t give to a ministry on the assumption that they will give to yet another charity. When you do this, every organization in the chain has overhead costs that will reduce the amount that actually gets to the person(s) you’re wanting to help. If you want to give to an orphanage, find one and contribute directly. There is a technique sometimes used in religious fund raising that, while it may be legal, is less than ethical. One large ministry needed to raise 18 million dollars a year to meet its overall budget for television and other services. That meant they needed to raise 1.5 million dollars a month. One month I got a letter from them saying that they had budgeted $100,000 for an orphanage in Haiti. The letter included pictures and heart-rending appeals.
Do you think that if I had sent $100 to that ministry, that all the money would have gone to the orphanage? Not at all. Six dollars and 66 cents would have gone to the orphanage and the rest to the TV ministry. Maybe. You also have to trust the ministry to do what they said they would do. Not long ago, investigations showed that several ministries were using the same orphanage to raise money, but the orphanage was only getting a fraction of what they raised. When you give to a ministry, realize that you are supporting that ministry and little or nothing else. That is okay as long as the ministry is honest with you.
3. The ministry should teach the truth. This should go without saying, but it often doesn’t. Luke tells the story of Paul’s work in Berea and he says of those people, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Don’t just swallow what you are told. Look into the scriptures and see if it is true. Look for simplicity and clarity. Murky answers to your questions should cause you to pause.
Is it a ministry that speaks with clarity to issues secular and religious without jargon and “church talk.” Look for simplicity. If it takes a convoluted 32 page document to explain what could be said in two pages, you are dealing with someone who either doesn’t think clearly or who is dishonest.
4. The ministry should freely disclose how funds are spent. You don’t need to know details about office supplies, but they should disclose broad categories. Pay special attention to the percentage of their income that goes to each category. Notice how much of the budget goes to the stated purpose of the ministry and how much to peripheral issues. If the ministry does not publish a financial statement, feel free to ask for one. If a ministry won’t provide at least a broad outline of expenses, you should feel free to not give to that ministry.
5. The ministry should demonstrate integrity. Honest disclosure of expenditures and policies are a start. Straight answers to your questions are a good follow up.
6. The ministry should be relevant. It should deal in realities. Its teachings from the Bible should offer some life application. Someone said of youth ministry, “Good programming is all about relevance. If we refuse to change with the times, we’re throwing our kids into the cracks of irrelevance. Truth is that kids will arrange their schedules around and even pay for relevant programs. The short test for relevance is, if it doesn’t make a difference in the kids everyday life, it isn’t relevant.”
Does the ministry actually make a difference in your life? Does it lift you? Do you feel better or worse after listening? Do you gain a sense of direction for living, a greater sense of meaning to life? Does the ministry help the lonely feel connected? Does it support the weak? Does the ministry lift you and help you to be what God wants you to be? A ministry that is relevant deserves your support.
7. There should be some reason to believe that God is working through this ministry, and not just from what the ministry tells you about themselves. Nearly any ministry trying to raise money will trumpet all their good works. But the best evidence of what they are doing is what you see with your own eyes.
8. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Are you using the services of the ministry in question? If so, then you should give something back. If you don’t feel you can support the ministry, then cancel any subscriptions or mailings from it. Don’t let yourself be a sponge. Don’t feel your contribution is too small to make. God is able to take the smallest offering and make something of it. Remember the widow’s mite (Mark 12:42 ff). Giving is an important part of living before God, and we should always make an effort to be generous within our means. Speaking of giving, Paul said: “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
9. Give yourself to God first. Then remember that your gifts to a godly ministry are gifts to God.
Paul wrote of the Macedonian Christians: “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
It is far too easy to make a disconnect between giving to an organization and giving to God. Pray before giving and ask for God’s guidance and blessings on your giving – to bless what you give. Always think of your giving in terms of a gift to God for His work that He is doing here on earth.
CEM is a ministry that depends on the generosity of people like you. We will do our best to be good stewards of what God gives us to work with, and we will always try to be worthy of your confidence and support.
With Love, in Christ’s service.
Ronald L. Dart