Richard Stearns, President of the enormous charity World Vision U.S.A., wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal calling on American evangelicals to support U.S. foreign aid, Evangelicals and the Case for Foreign Aid. The essay itself is pretty unconvincing. Anyone who thinks that the billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid are being spent wisely or efficiently needs only look at the rest of the government to know that is false. That wasn’t really what piqued my interest though…
What was more interesting to me is what a little digging around uncovered. Is a large Christian organization going to be better suited to works of mercy than a bunch of small ones? Which is better, being nimble or “economies of scale”? My train of thought took me on down the tracks and stopped at the webpage of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (EFCA)
According to the data submitted to the EFCA, World Vision allocates more than 10% of their expenditures to fund raising or slightly more than $100,000,000 for fiscal year 2010. One hundred million dollars to raise funds. Add to that administrative expenses of $46,000,000 and you have a bunch of money that is absorbed by the organization rather than going to help those in need. Those are pretty big numbers.
Quick disclaimer. World Vision does lots of great work from what I can tell in places like Haiti so this isn’t a “bash World Vision” post. I am just trying to get us thinking more about giving, about mercy and justice and most importantly about why we put forth so much money in an effort to raise money.
I get it, I really do. It takes money to raise money. That is especially true when your aid organization is one of the thousands of different groups vying for the tax deductible contributions of a finite pool of religious donors. Therein lies one of the biggest problems in the church and I believe one of the top reasons for so much financial confusion. From the huge groups like the Salvation Army, Samaritans Purse and World Vision down to local food pantries and even individual local churches, the disunified church of Christ spends far too much time, energy and money trying to compete with other “competing” organizations for the finite resources of people and cash available from the Christian population.
I also know that as organizations get bigger and bigger, they often grow more and more inefficient. Take for example C3 Missions, the parent organization of the Global Orphan Project and partner of the Haiti Orphan Project. It is a much smaller organization than World Vision with annual expenditures of about $3,000,000. Of that, all of $75,000 went to fundraising or 2.5% according to their disclosure to the EFCA. Granted the proportion of admin costs went up because they are economies of scale when you get bigger but a lot of that is directed at fund raising efforts apparently in big organizations.
So what is the conclusion? I am really not sure there is one. I like smaller organizations for the most part. I like that with groups like the Haiti Orphan Project and the crisis pregnancy center I volunteer at that I know and can see where the money is going. On the other hand, when something like the earthquake in Haiti happens, organizations like World Vision and Samaritans Purse are able to respond almost immediately. So which one is better? I think both have their place. I just wish that we had some sense of real unity in the church so that we didn’t have to pick and choose from competing charities but given the size and diversity in the church I am not sure how to make that happen practically. I really don’t like problems with apparently no solution. There is so much need for works of mercy in the world and there are so many different groups trying to do the same thing in slightly different ways. How can we ever find a way to cooperate with one another instead of competing with each other?