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In a recent blog I wrote about harmful assumptions for development professionals ministering to wealthy donors. Just as real are the traps that donors fall into with ministry leaders. I say "with" because oftentimes they fall together. I want to be careful here because not every donor to a ministry and not every leader find themselves in this situation. But enough do to make it a concern that we don't talk about nearly enough.
In Judges 17 a wealthy man named Micah uses his family money to build a private chapel and ordain one of his sons as a priest. However, a young Levite "seeking his fortune" shows up at Micah's house and impresses him. In no time he says to the ambitious Levite, "Stay here with me...and be my priest." The young man fit right in and became one of the family and took over the duties as family chaplain. Micah could not be more pleased. "Now I know that God will make things go well for me - why, I've got a Levite for a priest!" As it turns out, the young Levite soon finds a better position with a tribe whose offer of more influence, job security and compensation is too attractive to turn down.
I have seen something like this happen and, unlike the story, many times it is not intentional. A donor is impressed with a ministry leader and wants to do something special for them. A leader becomes the family chaplain in exchange. However, I have also seen relationships turn into what we see in the story above. The donor has purchased his own lucky charm and the ambitious leader has a profitable relationship with a wealthy family. It corrupts both in the end.
Check your relationships carefully. Are you as a donor or wealthy family buying favor with God by supporting a charming and successful leader? Are you as a young leader encouraging a wealthy family to make your life more comfortable with the use of homes, planes, extra money or perhaps a paying board position that does not require responsibility? It slips up on you. Trust me.Comments
If you work with foundations you have no doubt received calls or notes from people asking if you know foundations that support particular causes. Because of my role with The Gathering I get my share. Typically, I try to explain having a list of foundations to contact isn't all that helpful. For one, the descriptions of what they fund are often not current or not accurate and, second, so many decisions are made based on relationships and many other intangibles. (If you have a foundation you should go online to the Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org ) and see how your interests are described).
Some time ago, I received a note from a young friend who has been active in Young Life and she was taking the initiative to look for foundations that would support their work in Africa. I wondered if there was something I could do other than caution her about working a list of foundation. I contacted a friend on the board of Young Life and he contacted an executive in the national development office. The executive got in touch with my friend and coached her. He did not simply repeat my perspective on foundations and he did not discourage her. I've not always seen that work with development directors. They sometimes block people with initiative because it might upset the overall development plan for the ministry. I appreciate Young Life's approach and hope my young friend learns some things she can pass along to others!Comments
I have worked with a number of entrepreneurs over the years and there are some common themes and characteristics in their lives. One of them is extreme focus and a personal identification with projects. They start things, grow them and then start looking for exit strategies. In non-profit work there are very few exit strategies – especially for founders.
A familiar and common characteristic of entrepreneurs founding ministries is sooner or later they start looking for other partners. First, they lose interest in it but want to see it go on. Second, they wake up and see the project is almost completely dependent on them financially and that makes them uncomfortable. They don’t like to think about their capital being committed for an undefined future. Third, either the project becomes far more expensive than they thought it would be or they take a financial hit and are no longer able to support it by themselves. In each case, they discover the value (often for the first time) of “partnerships”. Entrepreneurs, by nature, do not typically partner well and often only as a last resort.
Too often they find the project is so completely identified with them and their funding that others see it as a privately owned property. Of course, this is probably how the founder sees it as well. It has the founder's face all over it and is so thoroughly merged with that person that others cannot see themselves being a part of it. They cannot imagine it being anything but a private venture looking for “other people’s money.” It looks like someone having a child and raising them for ten years and then looking for someone else to take over or help with the expense. In many cases, they want help with the “child” but don’t expect to make concessions in the vision or operation. They think others should be interested in this project that has been so important to them and it is just a matter of finding the donors and convincing them.
For others, they have waited too long and created an organization so dependent on their funding that the time required gradually to find more funders interested makes a transition to partners difficult. They have been focused for so long on shaping and crafting it that they gave no thought (or very little) to a time when there would be a need for others to come alongside. They never designed it to have other investors/funders.
Then there are those who run out of money to support it and they find themselves in a crisis. It could be from a financial downturn or it could be they had the resources to fund the growth but not an ongoing operation. Typically, they start looking for traditional donors thinking they can now present themselves as another grant opportunity for them. That’s when they discover how unusual they are in the minds of most traditional donors. That’s another topic!
So, what might entrepreneurs starting ministries do from the outset?
1. Think about how much it takes to make a ten year commitment and put the money aside if you want to have total control.
2. From the outset start thinking about how to design the project to easily allow for other funders.
3. Recognize that after about four years the project will be seen as your pet project and it will be very difficult to find others unless you do the hard work of redesigning it.
4. Finally, don’t discount the option of ending it instead of finding partners. Some things just have a life for several years and their purpose is fulfilled.Comments