Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My Take on "Cookie-cutter" Sponsorship Programs

"Cookie-cutter" programs bug me. What do I mean by "cookie-cutter" programs? Programs that says something like, "For only $35 a month, you can sponsor a child/pastor/missionary, etc....." regardless if who or where this person lives. Or for $20 a month, you can send so-and-so many books/Bibles/etc. to countries where they are needed, regardless of the country. There are other twists on this sponsorship methodology that I need not go into, but the approach is the same. For a certain amount of money you can do something for someone regardless of where they live.

The problem is, life and ministry anywhere, and perhaps especially in restricted nations, is far too complicated to be reduced to a funding formula where one-size-fits-all. It's simply not possible, without inadvertently leaving supporters with the wrong idea unless one is prepared to do some extra explaining. Having developed and carried out projects all over the world, I know just how varied costs can be from country to country and even within the same country. A "cookie-cutter" approach to fund-raising hardly tells the whole story.

Take, for example, the practice of sponsoring national pastors; something that The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada refuses to do for a number of biblical and missiological reasons. Many organizations have found this to be a lucrative source of income and donor loyalty. The promise of improving the life and ministry of a national pastor or missionary for a set monthly sponsorship appeals to many. Faced with this, the temptation to adopt a "cookie-cutter" approach is understandable, as it simplifies the process for both donors and overworked charity administrators.

The problem is that such an approach to fundraising hardly tells the real story and can even be, inadvertently, misleading. In some countries, $35 a month (just to grab a number out of the air) is a mere pittance and would make very little difference in the life of the individual. For others in other nations, however, such an amount is a kingly sum and would raise the lifestyle of his family to such an extent that he would be viewed with suspicion and envy. Seen as an employee of an outside agency, his loyalty to the country becomes suspect and his motives for serving the church is viewed as being financial in nature. Less scrupulous individuals see this and enter the ministry themselves (often self-appointed) and seek out Western "partners" who will fund their endeavors.

The reason I have been giving some thought to this lately is due to the fact that we are reworking our "Jars of Hope" sponsorship program here in Canada. We have resisted the "cookie-cutter" approach to this point and we will continue to do so, even if it means more work for our staff and a more difficult time explaining the program to the donors. Each country, each project, each sponsorship will be costed appropriately. If, to sponsor a child in one part of India, it costs $25 a month and in another part, $30 a month, and in Nigeria, $40 a month, then we will resist the temptation to find a single fee that will cover all three. Each will be identified and funded appropriately with different sponsorship amounts. No "cookie-cutter" approach. Our donors deserve to know that it really costs to do ministry, even if it makes fund-raising and administration more complicated.

Integrity requires it.

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