On Fraudulent "Christian" Fundraising

I read an article a few days ago about the bleaker side of "Christian" fundraising--fake handwriting, ghostwriting, and all sorts of other manipulation (HT: SI). If I were on the outside of Christian ministry, I would be skeptical of it all, so I wanted to just make a few simple promises about DG's fundraising.

Here are some quotes from the article and how we would respond here at DG.

The fact is, the “personal” ministry letter you receive each month was probably not written by the ministry leader at all, but by a direct mail strategist, and designed by a graphic designer for maximum response.

There is no ghostwriting at Desiring God. If a person's name is on a document that means that they spent their own time, in front of their own keyboard, thinking their own thoughts, and writing the words you see on the page.

Our graphic design is meant to be easy to read, consistent, and attractive, but not manipulative.

I spoke to one “Christian” fundraiser who said that the single most important thing is getting a person to open the envelope--and he would be willing to do anything to make that happen.

Even lie about what’s inside.

We promise never to do this. The text you see on the outside of our newsletters is supposed to inform you of what’s inside and hopefully interest you—more like the copy on a dust jacket than a gimmicky teaser. We never want you to feel used or manipulated after reading any of our communication.

It’s important to note that I’m not against fundraising with integrity. There are some marvelous ministries out there doing great work because of effective relationships with their supporters and partners. But I do think you need to know how the business works – because believe me – it’s a business, and they’re trying to work you.

Isn’t it sad that this “Christian” business has to be talked about like it’s a con? We don’t want to “work you.” The article is right that you should require outright integrity from any ministry you give your money to.

Also, we do not use the language of urgency unless something is truly urgent.

Towards the end, the article offers suggestions for avoiding getting taken by "Christian" fundraising. Here’s one of the observations:

The cute little underlines, exclamation points, and arrows that look like the writer inserted with a pen after it was written--weren’t marked by a person, but a computer. Each one was strategically planned for placement and effect.

Fake handwriting is among the more irksome of marketing lies, in my opinion. The first time I encountered it, I fell for it. It was one of those hallmark-sized envelopes with my name “handwritten” on the outside and a real stick-on stamp. I thought, "Who's sending me a card at the office?" When I opened it, I read--"We got you to open it, didn't we?" The idea being: "We scammed you to show how we can help you scam your donors." Really, though, it just made me feel like an idiot for getting duped. So besides being dishonest, fake handwriting also gives us as a Christian ministry an opportunity to make our supporters feel stupid. Wonderful strategy.

We will never fake or lie in order to motivate you to give to us.

Here's another warning from the article:

The trinkets (Jesus junk?) the ministry sends you actually gets results! You’re more likely to give because they ministry sends you something in return.

There is a fine line between a genuine thank-you gift and craftiness that is meant to elicit bigger gifts. I suppose sometimes the difference is only in the heart. But to be as certain as we can that we are not manipulating you, we will never require that you give a gift in order to get our monthly resource offer. If you ask for it, you can have it. In fact, each month far more people request the offer without including a financial gift than those who do give. We do not see this as a problem. We see it as another opportunity to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things.

We would rather you not give, if you feel like we are trying to manipulate you into giving.

The article continues:

Sadly, we wouldn’t even need fundraising if Christians gave as the Bible teaches.

This I disagree with. James says, "You do not have, because you do not ask" (4:2). He doesn't say, "You do not have, because people aren't giving like they should." Asking is a beautiful thing. It keeps us humble before God and others. The attitude that can say the sentence, "Please help me," is the attitude the Lord loves to see in his children.

The article concludes with good advice:

I am suggesting we become informed givers. Don’t be a ministry zombie and give on impulse--for any reason. Give because you’ve researched a ministry, believe in what it’s doing in the world, have confirmed its integrity and track record, and then prayed about the gift.

We are more than happy to wait while our potential donors research, confirm our integrity and track record, and pray. You may review our profile at ECFA, download our 2005 and 2006 annual reports (PDFs), view our audited financial statements, request references, and ask us any questions you may have.

A donor that is confident he is doing the Lord's will cannot help but be a cheerful giver. And this is the only kind we hope to have.