No Money, No Ministry
By Bernadette A. Moyer
It doesn’t matter how good your ministry is, if you are out of money, you are out of business.
For more than 12 years I have worked for and with nonprofits. I started as a special events manager then moved onto development director and chief operating officer. During these years I also served as a board member. My gifts and talents came from a business background that easily transitioned into fundraising. I had numerous business contacts that just happened to be really generous too.
Business people don’t make excuses for making money, they know how hard they work for it and in my experience most if not all are very giving. Most not-for-profits are run by someone in the social services vocation from social workers that go on to achieve their doctorate to those in ministry. Many of these professions do not lend themselves to the workings of running a business. But the reality for any director tasked with running an organization is that virtually you are running a business. Like it or not, money will determine what you can and can’t accomplish in your social and ministry driven services.
During my work, I have been approached numerous times by colleagues looking to 1) obtain not for profit status for their cause 2) assist with special event creating, planning, running and fund raising success and 3) grant writing.
Where I have not been part of a team that secured a new not for profit status, most often this goes into the hands of an attorney, I do have some knowledge in what it takes to create a mission statement, a strategic plan and run the day to day operations. The larger part of my experience however, has been in successful fund raising such as; special events and grant writing.
Through the years I have stumbled on more than one organization that experienced “theft” from those in positions of trust. Some were prosecuted and others, well let’s just say the new administration knew the price of this kind of public relations, so little or nothing was done to these folks. The next generation, the new administration worked hard to dig the organization out of what could have been a complete collapse.
Many in ministry have disdain for money; it is as if it is dirty or wrong to be financially successful. Some of these people truly believe that all they have to do is pray and the cash will just arrive. I am not knocking the power of prayer, but, I have never witnessed loaves of bread that just fell from out of the sky. The people on the receiving end; may not have a full understanding of what it takes to secure funding for their projects, but the reality is that no money translates into no project.
For most we vote with our dollars. If an organization is doing good works we want to support them. However, if they provide services we personally may not approve of, like abortion, we don’t support them. Most everyone has a favorite charity. One that does the kind of work that makes them feel good about donating. Whether it is cancer, research, education, kids, feeding the poor, most American’s want to help and to donate and to try and make a positive impact in our society and for the lives of others who may be less fortunate.
We trust that the “stewards” who are charged with making sure our donation is well spent, and funding what we requested it to fund, is doing just that.
But what happens when an organization accepts a donation and doesn’t do with those funds what they said they would do?
Recently I met with a foundation that funds grant requests and specifically for capital improvement projects. They shared with me that on occasion they had to ask for their money back. They funded a specific project and it never happened, the trustees all agreed that the money given was solely targeted for this specific project. In the absence of performing the specific project, they demanded the money to be refunded to them and it was.
A colleague shared with me that several years ago; he donated several thousands of dollars for a capital improvement project. Now four years later that project not only isn’t completed but hasn’t even begun. On the advice of his attorney, he has sent a demand for refund letter and filed a complaint with the attorney general. This guy feels duped and disrespected by an organization that he once believed very strongly in and he wanted to support their mission. This kind of thing happens, and it happens often.
We are headed toward Christmas and into the biggest giving season of the year. As a donor, I have learned to be specific about where and what I want my donations to fund. I do the research on what percentage goes to program and what percentage goes to operations. And as a fund raising professional, I know the value in perception, public relations and the necessity of following through with my donors. I know first-hand the importance of “restricted” funds versus “unrestricted” funds.
Having spent many years with my development colleagues, I can honestly say that the majority are excellent stewards of the donations they receive. But I have also come across more than a few that have disrespected the donors and the donations.
There are numerous great causes doing really great works, but as a donor you need to exercise due diligence. Be sure to 1) Do your homework and investigate 2) be certain that you know exactly what and who you are funding 3) make sure your donations are applied to where you intended them to go. 4) investigate that the causes that you support are doing the kind of work that is in keeping with your own belief system.
Sadly there is fraud and misuse of funds, it happens. If you believe that a not for profit organization is improperly accepting donations and not applying them to the proper accounts you can notify the IRS, the Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau. File a complaint but before you do give the Executive Director or the Chief Executive Officer an opportunity to answer your complaint.
Giving is always a good thing. There are many wonderful causes to support, and the ones that aren’t worthy, well let’s just say that without money, they are out of business. No money, no ministry, and your dollars, are equal to your vote!