In my first week as a professional beggar, I hit a mental block. Theoretically, the first few gifts I raised for the ministry were really just covering my salary which felt like I was asking for my own personal benefit. You might experience the same hesitancy until you think through the logic of stewardship. Paying someone to raise money is no different than hiring staff to run programs. Both are needed for the ministry to fulfill its mission. Scripture teaches, "'You shall not muzzle the ox when it treads out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages'" (1 Timothy 5:18). Fundraisers in Christian ministries are doing the Lord's work and should be fairly compensated. One temptation is to structure development staff salaries on a sales commission model. It sounds like a good idea on the surface, but commissioned-based fundraising creates a conflict of interest.1 A development officer may be tempted to manipulate or put undue pressure on a donor, if he or she is getting a piece of the action.
Giving Into the Dark Side
IF A GIFT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO PULL THE MINISTRY OFF COURSE, IT'S NOT WORTH IT.
Gehazi is a stark example of a servant who allowed the "love of money" to trap him (2 Kings 5:1-27). His downfall started when Naaman, a successful general with leprosy, came looking for Elisha. One of Naaman's captives told him about Elisha and his miracles. So Naaman, desperate for a cure, grabbed a big bag of gold and raced off to Israel. His encounter with Elisha was unusual. The prophet didn't even get up to greet him but merely sent his servant, Gehazi, to the door with the instruction to dip seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman was offended but reluctantly went to the Jordan, dipped himself seven times, and was miraculously healed!
Naaman's new lease on life bubbled up in generosity toward Elisha, which is a great lesson for fundraisers. Those who have been impacted by your ministry are the ones who love you most. Naaman offered Elisha an extravagant gift of ten talents of silver (750 pounds), six thousand shekels of gold (150 pounds) and some pretty nice designer labels. The timing was perfect. In the next chapter, Elisha and the school of prophets launch a building project. What a game-changing lead gift to propel a capital campaign! But instead of making a big cardboard check and writing a press release about the new Naaman Seminary Library, Elisha did something incomprehensible. He refused the gift. Naaman insisted, but Elisha wouldn't accept one thin shekel. So Naaman threw his bags of gold and silver back into his chariot and headed for home.
Gehazi watched the whole thing and couldn't believe Elisha's lack of fundraising acumen. He took matters into his own hands and ran after Naaman. When he caught the caravan, Gehazi shared a plausible cover story about two new student prophets who needed two talents of silver for tuition and two sets of new school clothes. Naaman happily granted his request. Gehazi scurried back to his house to stash his loot, but Elisha met him at the door with a late night parent-teen interrogation, "Where have you been?" "I didn't go anywhere." Unfortunately for Gehazi, Elisha had prophetically seen the whole thing and pronounced that Gehazi and his family would be plagued with Naaman's leprosy forever. That's a steep price to pay for a paltry $12,000 in silver and two Louis Vuitton robes. Sadly, a few Christian leaders have been compromised for a lot less.
Ethical Failures are Usually a Slow Fade
Dr. George Sweeting noted, "Collapse in the Christian life is rarely a blowout — it's usually a slow leak." Casting Crowns (2007) has poetically captured this tragedy:
It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day2
What contributed to Gehazi's slow fade? Elisha and Gehazi had been living in a prophet's chamber provided by a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4). In appreciation for her hospitality, Elisha prophesied that she would have a child. Nine months later, she and her husband were blessed with a son. A few years later the boy fell ill with severe a headache. His mother rushed to Mount Carmel for help. Elisha immediately dispatched Gehazi on an emergency medical miracle. He ran to the woman's house and laid Elisha's staff on the boy's face, but nothing happened. Perplexed, Gehazi ran back to Elisha. The prophet realized that this task was bigger than his servant could handle, so he personally went to the boy and miraculously breathed life back into his lungs.
Consider how Gehazi might have felt. He was the one who first suggested that the Shunnamite woman needed a son, but no one said, "Thanks." When Elisha sent him on the most important mission of his life, he ran with passion, but to no avail. To top it all off, Elisha raised the boy from the dead, something Gehazi was powerless to do. Perhaps Gehazi was feeling a little unappreciated. He probably muttered to himself, "I ran my legs off today, and he waltzes in and gets all the glory."
"Poor me" self-talk is the first step down a rocky road. "They don't pay me enough." "My board doesn't support me." "Nobody realizes all the hours I invest to make this ministry successful." "Everyone takes me for granted." It's easy for your good deeds to go unnoticed. You probably aren't paid what you're worth. People don't know all the things you do behind the scenes. But learn a valuable lesson from Gehazi: it's dangerous to take matters into your own hands.
Sometimes Refusing a Gift is the Right Thing to Do
Let's jump back to the moment when Naaman offers his gift. Elisha doesn't give a reason why he refuses Naaman's generosity, but he was adamant, "As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none" (2 Kings 5:16). Perhaps he wanted to avoid the appearance of healing people for money. Perhaps Elisha knew that Naaman's faith needed to grow before making such a significant gift. Whatever Elisha's reason, it was God inspired. Can you imagine any ministry leader today who would have the courage to refuse a multi-million dollar gift? And yet, if a gift has the potential to pull the ministry off course, it's not worth it.
KEEP YOUR HEART FREE FROM THE LOVE OF MONEY.
Major Cleo Damon faced an ethical dilemma. David L. Rush won $14.3 million playing the Florida Lotto and decided to give $100,000 to the Naples Salvation Army. Some might have agonized over the decision, but returning the check was an easy choice for Major Damon. He had spent countless hours counseling homeless individuals and families whose lives had been turned upside-down by gambling addictions. The cost was simply too great.3 William Booth believed that "tainted money was washed clean in God's service." For instance, the Army has received donations from liquor distributors, even though The Army offers alcohol treatment programs. In the Florida Lotto case, The Salvation Army's stand against gambling was at stake, so accepting the gift would have sent a mixed message to the community.
A Modern Day Gehazi
Bill was a development director who was interested in building his own kingdom. In his work with the ministry's major donors, he developed a close friendship with Mildred. Bill did all the things a major gift officer should do. He visited her regularly and shared how her support was making a difference in the lives of people. He showed kindness to her on many occasions and even drove her to doctor's appointments. From a donor relationship perspective, Bill went above and beyond the call of duty.
When Mildred passed away, she left a significant bequest to Bill — and nothing to the ministry. Was Bill unethical, or was he just demonstrating Christian love? The conflict of interest is clear. Bill never would have known Mildred apart from the ministry that employed him. There is no way to discover whether or not he manipulated her into a decision, but Bill crossed over to the dark side. He might think he got away with something; so did Gehazi, until Elijah judged him. Bill is enjoying a nicer house and a fancier car, but at what cost? Development professionals must especially heed Paul's warning:
"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs" (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
As you wrestle with the fact that you are getting paid to raise money, just remember two important truths: a) , and b) keep your heart free from the love of money.
Ron Haas is vice president of The Timothy Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which advances Christian organizations by implementing fundraising and capacity building strategies through vision, experience, and leadership (TimothyGroup.com). During his career, Haas has gained significant ministry fundraising experience, including serving as vice president for institutional advancement at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. (2012, January 15). "Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship." Retrieved from http://www.ecfa.org/Content/Standards
2. Casting Crowns. (2007, August 27). "Slow Fade." The Altar and the Door. Nashville: Reunion Records.
3. The New York Times. (2003, January 2). "Charity Rejects $100,000." Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/02/us/national-briefing-south-florida-charity-rejects-100000.html?n=Top%2fReference%2fTimes%20Topics%2fSubjects%2fG%2fGambling