The Faith-Based Nonprofit Quandary

Last month, Marianne penned a beautiful narrative about our experience hosting the First Lady of Honduras, a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The reason for hosting her was because we were publicly signing an agreement to provide crisis care services to children in an official capacity, and with that agreement comes grant money. Marianne also mentioned in that article that we didn’t just start providing those services that day, but had been doing so in an unofficial capacity for almost 2 years. In many ways, the crisis care center has grown into our flagship program, having now cared for over 200 children over that time. But back when we started, we had no idea of the impact or even where all of the funds would come from. And herein lies the quandary that every leader of a faith-based nonprofit, especially those based abroad, faces.

Everyday, you probably ask yourself a specific question within your household or place of business, “Do we have the money, or resources, time, etc to do that?”

As an entrepreneur and marketer, I ask myself this when evaluating new products and services to offer in my for-profit ventures. I can project returns on investment, based on previous experience and market indicators, and pretty easily determine whether a particular business decision makes sense. Even if I determine that I don’t have liquid assets or freely available resources, I look for ways to shuffle funds or reallocate some time, because I have the information to calculate a predictable favorable outcome. I can use a very tangible definition of “return on investment”, a formula that has money, resources and time as inputs, and some greater amount of money coming back to me as output.

As faith-based nonprofit, when we ask ourselves this same question, “Do we have the money, or resources, time, etc to do that?”, more often than not, the answer is “not really”.  But here’s where logic starts to break down; we still ask ourselves the follow-up question, “Should we still do it anyway?”… and almost always, the response is “if this is from God, and not derived from selfish ambition, then of course”.  And we say that, knowing that we can’t ramp up production on more widgets to sell, or hire a bunch of new sales associates like we would in a traditional business setting. Now I do still believe it’s important that we use the wisdom gleaned from those life and professional experiences, and so we do incorporate that when making decisions.

But when we are born again in Christ, we have a powerful new tool at our disposal, which is to put complete faith in Him for the outcome. And so now I have adopted a tweaked definition of “return on investment”, a formula that has money, resources, time and PRAYER as inputs, with LIVES CHANGED FOR CHRIST as the output.

So let’s take that new definition and apply it differently. Sometimes when we ask ourselves the first question, we respond with “yes, but we were saving that to make sure we can keep running our current programs next year”. The reason we have that mentality as non-profits is because we rely on monthly supporters who will most likely make their charitable contributions the first cut when things get tight, or we make big pushes with end of the year fundraisers that have no guarantees for success. While we have started venturing into social enterprise and other creative means of generating revenue, that will never be our primary our focus. I’ll save a discussion on sustainability for another day, but I will tell you this… when we have been obedient to anything God has called us to do, He has been faithful every time.

We have yet to miss a rent payment, fail to make payroll or even forgo medical and other expensive emergencies. And what makes it even better is that it takes all the pressure off of us… we really have to give all the glory to Him, because looking backwards in time, the math didn’t make sense, yet He always made it work. Now, I’m not advocating that a liquidation of savings is always the answer, but sometimes the cost of inaction and the evidence God’s unwavering faithfulness to provide outweighs the logical decision.

It would be irresponsible of me to not back up this conversation of investment and faith with scripture. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus tells us about who master who was leaving on a trip and entrusted his belongings to his 3 servants while he was gone. Upon his return, the master assessed how each servant stewarded that to which he was entrusted. One servant played it safe and buried his treasure so that nothing would happen to it, and he was admonished. The other 2 servants invested their treasures to generate some sort of return, and their master rewarded them. Now some people may take this parable literally and view investment in a purely financial sense; we should put our money in stocks and bonds and make it grow. But I see this very differently, as God’s definition of “return on investment” is much more like my newly tweaked one. If we don’t put into action the money, resources and time that He has given us to steward, then we are squandering them.

Let me take this full circle and back up the spiritual principle with some practical wisdom. One thing that I’ve learned over the past 5 years is that it’s easier to raise funds for something that is real than it is for an idea. People have ideas all of the time, but no follow through. However, when you can prove that you have the courage and God-given ability to execute an idea, then others are drawn to that success. So now that we’ve pulled back the curtains a bit behind the decision making processes that happen here, I would ask you to keep in mind that when you read our Facebook posts and newsletters about all of the amazing things about God is doing here through us, realize that we are operating in total surrender to Him. If you feel God tugging at you to participate in this crazy adventure in some way, or something else that seems to defy logic, please reach out and we can talk.