Two Sides of the Same Coin by James R. Coggins

“Welcome to our family!”

I was confused.

This greeting did not come from a prospective father-in-law or any other future in-law. It came (in an email) from a representative of a charitable organization to which I had just made a small donation. I thought I was donating a little money, not committing myself to a lifelong intimate relationship.

This representative had obviously been trained in the intricacies of modern fundraising.

The thing is that I had no intention of making a lifelong open-ended commitment to that organization. Years earlier, when I had been a magazine editor, that “charitable” organization had tried to have me fired for publishing a short article critical of some aspects of that organization’s program. It was a well-deserved criticism. So, why had I now made a donation? Because I know that organization does useful work in the area to which I had directed my donation.

In fact, the reason I had chosen this organization was because of a disappointing interaction with another organization which apparently had also received guidance from fundraising training. I had made a donation to that organization to help very needy people in a disastrous situation. After I sent in a donation, I received a thank you note and a tax-deductible charitable donation receipt. The next month, that organization sent me some brightly colored socks and asked if I would like to make another donation to provide clothes to needy people. The month after that, the organization sent me two reusable plastic shopping bags and asked if I would like to make a donation to provide food for needy people. And so it went. Since I had made one donation, the organization assumed that we were now in a long-term relationship and I would continue to make further donations every month. The organization assumed that it was now my charity and I was its donor. The problem is the organization was using up all of the money I had donated to send me further requests for donations. As an incentive, it was sending me small gifts to make me feel guilty and obligated enough to keep giving. I finally sent one of the monthly letters back with “MOVED” written in large letters next to my crossed out address. This was a desperate measure, but I wanted to leave at least some of my donated money for the needy people I had originally given my donation to help.

The problem with these fundraising efforts is that these charitable organizations often do not treat those of us who donate to them as people with our own opinions, ideas, motives, problems, and abilities. They treat us as donors, blind supporters who will believe everything they tell us, human checkbooks that can be tapped whenever they use the correct wording in an appeal letter. (Sadly, there are church leaders who treat their parishioners the same way, although in that case the donors have often made a commitment to the church by becoming members.)

Years ago, I attended Regent College, a highly regarded theological institution in Vancouver, BC. Every year or so, Carl Armerding, the college president, would gather the students together for a friendly informal chat. On one occasion, he raised the question of whether Regent College was a faith mission. Was it really relying on God to provide the necessary funds to carry out its mission? He said that the school claimed to be a faith mission, but that the experts also told him that if he sent out X number of letters to supporters, a certain percentage (Y) could be expected to respond and contribute Z dollars to support the school. The question he posed to us was whether the school was relying on God or on proven fundraising techniques. He continued to send out such letters, of course, but he did so with an understanding that no technique could work if God was not in it. I greatly appreciated Dr. Armerding’s humility, candor, and spiritual insight. I wish more charitable organizations (and churches) shared it.

About jrcoggins

James R. Coggins is a professional writer and editor based in British Columbia, Canada. He wrote his first novel in high school, but, fortunately for his later reputation as a writer, it was never published. He briefly served as a Christian magazine editor (for just over 20 years). He has written everything from scholarly and encyclopedia articles to jokes in Reader’s Digest (the jokes paid better). His six and a half published books include four John Smyth murder mysteries and one other, stand-alone novel. In his spare time, he operates Mill Lake Books, a small publishing imprint. His website is
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