Part Two: About Money
This is part two of a five-part series. Skip down to “questions” if you’ve already read the intro.
Missionaries or ministry workers are often required to raise personal support. You may have been approached. It really is quite mystifying to the layman, I think. Most people have not been in the position of being required (in faith) to raise all the finances needed to be able to work and live. In this multi-part post, I’m hoping I can give you some insight into “our world” as someone who has been on both ends. (You can read a more about my experience here: What’s the Deal with “Support Raising”?. )
I’ll be addressing some questions (or objections) with answers that I hope will give some insight into raising support for missions/ministry work (from here, I’m just going to use the term “missionary” to refer to both. I’ll try to answer as clearly and succinctly as I can.
As previously mentioned, I’ve broken down this article, “Missions and Money: Fundraising FAQ,” into parts, dividing the questions into these categories:
Part One: General Questions
Part Two: About Money [this post]
Part Three: Church, Parachurch & Missions [coming soon]
Part Four: How You Can Respond [coming soon]
Part Five: Common Misconceptions [coming soon]
I’m answering from my own experience (and based on what others in my circle have shared with me about this). I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best to offer some clarity and insight.
It seems like this missionary is only reaching out to me because they want money. Is this person being nice to me so that I will donate?
Short answer: absolutely not! At least, that’s not the way anyone should approach raising support.
The heart behind reaching out is not “get more donations,” but rather to connect, share, and invite. Missionaries (including myself) are glad to spend time with you, share their vision for ministry, and invite you to be part of it—and we don’t want to leave anyone out! Additionally, being part of the ministry is more than just money! So even when you already know you won’t be able to invest financially, please meet with us anyways! We would still be glad to connect, share and invite.
The seeming “being nice” is not sucking up. We don’t want to be “takers” or treat those we reach out to as merely a means to an end. We want to genuinely invest in relationship, show care, and show appreciation. An amazing part of support raising—or “ministry partner development,” as it is sometimes called—is the opportunity to build into the lives of supporters, new friends, and those we reach out to.
Why can’t your organization just pay you?
They do—eventually! But missionary organizations don’t generally have a source of income aside from charitable giving. Donations are how everything in the ministry—programs, materials, and salaries (for the people who make all that happen)—is funded.
There are two ways these organizations can get the needed funding: hire an external organization/someone to fundraise full-time OR get every staff to take part in raising the support needed for their role and the ministry. Fiscally, having all staff participate in the process makes more sense than an outside hire.
But more than that, having each missionary supported by a community that is partaking in mission with them is so beautiful. I don’t know where I would be without the prayers and encouragement of my supporters—and I know they love being involved in what God is doing through the ministry, too! It’s also worth mentioning that in times of doubt and discouragement, recalling the way God provided seemingly impossible amounts of funding through the generosity of His people renews my confidence of His call.
Why are you asking others for money? (Shouldn’t you just pray for provision and wait?)
Different organizations have different policies on the way missionaries raise support. Prayer is always a part of it. Faith in God’s provision is always a part of it. But the methods by which the individual (or agency) raise support vary.
In the past, my organization has asked me to contact everyone I know, ask them to meet with me to hear about the ministry, and invite them to join my support team. This included a direct ask for financial support and following up for a decision. I know this can be awkward at times (including for the missionary), but it is what has been required of them.
Why don’t you get another job and fund yourself? Shouldn’t you contribute to your own ministry?
The reason missionaries raise support is so they can work on the field full-time. Getting another job during the support raising process takes time away from raising support (but is sometimes necessary to cover basic cost of living). The more time invested in raising support, the more quickly it will (likely) come in, then the missionary can devote all his/her time and energy to the field work.
Getting a job to provide one’s livelihood (instead of raising support and being paid by an organization) while working as a missionary is not viable long term. Missionaries have devoted their lives to the cause. Working full/part-time in another occupation takes time and energy away from the field work. The worker’s time is ruled by his employer and there are likely to be conflicts between the needs of the ministry and the requirements of another job. We don’t expect pastors to “pay their own way,” why should we expect it of a missionary?
True, many missionaries overseas engage in a secondary occupation, but this is usually for the sake of their legitimacy in the country. Missionaries in closed countries (those countries which do not accept missionaries) must establish themselves by obtaining a visa to work or to study. Quite often, those who run a business (such as an English school or coffee shop) are not much profiting from it and would rather devote their time to ministry work exclusively.
In “open” countries and for local missionaries, this is not usually necessary. Isn’t it better if they can be fully-funded through their supporters and missions agency so that they are freed up to devote themselves to the work?
In terms of addressing whether missionaries should be “contributing to their own ministry”, I would ask anyone with this question to reconsider what they are really asking. Missionaries are not raising $700 for a 6-day mission trip to Cuba—it is their livelihood. In so many ways, they have already sacrificed for the sake of the mission and will continue to do so. All have poured in numerous unpaid hours without complaint, and many have passed over other, more lucrative job opportunities. They have often denied themselves much but been overwhelmingly generous to others. Most missionaries I know are giving significantly out of their own means to other mission work as well.
Why do you need so much money? (Where does all the money go?)
Generally, anyone raising support would be happy to give you a break down of what funds are needed for. One way to think about it is considering a church staff. When a church takes on a youth pastor, the cost to the budget is not only a salary, but also benefits, training, office space, and funding for programs/materials.
Here’s a quick breakdown. Usually, organizations will require a 10-15% overhead, which is quite low and is used for things like office expenses (rent, utilities), fundraising costs (event overhead, postage), administration, etc. The bulk of the finances raised will go to salary and benefits. The minimum wage in Canada (Ontario) is $14/hour, which means a 40-hour workweek would yield an annual income of $31,200 (before taxes). After income tax, that’s only about $2000/month to live off of. (Too low to pay off loans, live in a big city, support a family, or save for a home.) As for benefits, most companies “pay into” your plan, but missionaries also raise funds for their company to be able to do that. Lastly, many missionaries are required to raise funding to cover materials and program expenses.
Also, be aware that it is usually the organization that sets the budget, not the missionary.
How much are you getting paid? (This is a biggie.)
My first thought? “Whoaaa.” I’m not offended, but I am always surprised when I get asked this. Isn’t it kind of strange? Most people would never dare to ask about someone else’s salary, so why is it okay in this case? I’m often tempted to say, “I’ll tell you if you tell me.”
Please take a moment to consider the question. Why is it necessary to know? Why would someone ask this? Let’s talk about this a little first.
Firstly, you need to realize that the amount that a missionary raises is probably not the amount they are paid. Sometimes their expenses are subsidized by central funding (they make more than they raise), often they are responsible to raise money for additional expenses (they make less than they raise. So the number you see may not be the number they get.
Secondly, ask yourself: what do you think a missionary should be paid? Is your mindset something like, “Missionaries should live off as little as possible”? If so, ask yourself: is that reasonable? Is that true? Do you believe that God wants His workers to be living in poverty, barely scraping by, penny-pinching, and barely able to support their families? Consider these numbers (in Canada): a Big Mac meal is $10.72 and minimum wage is $14/hour (which is how much the guy who makes your Big Mac is paid, maybe more); the average youth pastor’s salary is $40,600/year; the average salary of a Program Coordinator at an NPO is $43,350/year. How highly do you value the work that a missionary is doing? Is that person’s labour worth less than we pay high school students who work at McDonald’s? For many missionaries, this is their full-time job, their only source of income, they work extra hours with no overtime, and they gave up other opportunities (with more pay) to do it. Reconsider the assumptions you have about how much missionaries “deserve” to be paid.
Lastly, the question itself poses this problem: does a (potential) donor have the right to judge whether a worker’s salary is appropriate? While I understand the desire to be informed in order to give wisely, just knowing someone’s salary is not enough information to determine that. Usually donors are concerned because they don’t think missionaries should be “over-paid.” I believe donors generally should not be trying to judge if the missionary’s salary is appropriate but instead leave it to the missionary’s organization. (The truth is most Christian workers are under-compensated if anything. We are not in it for the money, otherwise we would work elsewhere.) The organization will set an appropriate salary for each employee at their own discretion. Isn’t that good?
Now for the answer I usually give most of the time. During the time I’ve been raising support, I have been paid various amounts. At first, I was paid nothing. I worked 40+ hours each week to raise support and was not compensated (both years of internship and first couple months this time). I had to figure out a side hustle to cover my living expenses and/or live off my savings.
When I add up the time I spent doing this, it probably totals nine months or so. This time, as my account balance grew, I was able to take some paid hours at minimum wage. I spent about eight months working 40+ hours each week but only paid for 25 hours (or less). Now, I’m paid four days a week (but I usually work six) at minimum wage. Once all my support is in, I’ll begin at a regular full-time wage.
My organization has a standard way to calculate pay scale based on years of experience, education, responsibilities including overseeing other staff, risk management and ministry funding, other qualifications, and cost of living in the city of assignment. All these things are taken into consideration and then a salary is negotiated.
The minimum amount I qualify for is probably already a little higher than minimum wage (in part because I have been assigned to work in an expensive city). I need to be able to pay for rent, transportation, food, basic healthcare, and daily necessities. I should also have enough to support dependents (don’t have any now) and pay off debt (none in my case). I’ve committed to giving a tithe (at least 10% of my paycheck) to my local church and also to supporting some other missionaries. I would like to be able to save for my future (including vacations, a wedding, a home, an RRSP, etc.). So that’s how much I’ll be paid. Probably less than most people, but enough to reasonably live off of.
For more information on charity workers’ salaries and the rationale behind it see: https://www.charitywatch.org/charitywatch-articles/debunking-charity-salary-myths/39
How is giving monthly different from giving in a lump-sum?
Sometimes it’s not any different. For short term missions assignments, it’s almost the same—sometimes lump-sum is better!
However, for long-term missionaries, it makes a huge difference. Usually, they are required to rely on ongoing support (monthly, annual) and single-gifts are not counted toward their budget goal (but are still accepted with thanks and are used for ministry).
Regular, ongoing support is much more sustainable over the long-term for a number of reasons. First, most expenses are monthly (such as salary). Secondly, raising support requires a lot of time and without ongoing commitments, missionaries must leave the field every time they run low on funding (which is exhausting and unnecessarily takes away from the field work). It’s much easier to raise support to cover a 7% drop off or for a needed increase than it is to start from zero every year. Lastly, it’s often a policy made to keep the organization financially responsible and their missionaries financially healthy.
Additionally, monthly giving is often more sustainable for supporters! It’s easier to give regularly out of a budget than randomly, and usually it’s possible to be more generous.
How are you ever going to get all that money?
This is a loaded question. There tends to be something behind it as well. Usually, some of the things someone means by it are:
- That is a lot of money (too much)
- It seems kind of impossible
- I don’t think that you will ever finish
To briefly address these sentiments, I will say: yes. I get it. It is a lot of money to raise (but not an excessive amount—the budget does make sense). It does seem impossible: in fact, it is absolutely daunting. And admittedly, there have been times when I myself despaired of ever finishing. But I have faith that God will provide. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
To address the actual question: first, God has done it before (for me and other missionaries) and he can do it again. I honestly do not know how the average missionary would ever be able to accomplish the financial goals for their ministry. It is really a work of God.
Second, there is a process and a plan. I talk about what the process looks like in Part 1 as well as explaining why it often takes a significant time investment to finish raising support. Generally, a missionary raising support would have a proposed timeline and benchmark financial goals (eg. raise 30% of my support in the first three months). Additionally, there would be some kind of strategy/approach in place to make it happen.
In the end—to be very transparent about it—we honestly don’t know exactly how God will provide or how things will work out. We don’t know who is going to give, or how much, or how long it will take to finish. Those who raise support are putting themselves in a vulnerable position, a position that requires faith in God’s great and mysterious providence. Walk with us in it, trusting God together for the accomplishment of His work.
What if you don’t get it all?
Again, a loaded question. It’s hard to keep ourselves from asking these kinds of “what if” questions, but they are usually not very helpful. The missionary has probably asked himself this at some point. We don’t know how things will turn out, but we trust God to provide. I would encourage you to give in faith, knowing that God will use your gifts to further His kingdom.
However, for those who want to know the practical side of what happens when a missionary’s budget is short, I’ll provide a brief response. Missions organizations do have contingency plans. There have previously been underfunded missionaries and projects. Generally, one or more of the following: the start date will be delayed, the budget will be reassessed, the contract will be changed (shorter term/less paid hours), the missionary will be reassigned (locally), or something of that nature. Worst case scenario, the missionary will resign and donations will be reassigned to other worthy causes in the organization.
Do you only ask Christians to donate?
This depends on the convictions of the person raising support. I would say there is biblical support for asking non-Christians as well as Christians.
Here’s some thoughts from a missionary who encourages this:
[Billy Sunday, the crusade evangelist from the 1920’s] said: “I’ll take the devil’s money and I’ll wash it in the blood, and then spend it on the Kingdom!”
If you say you [as a missionary raising support] won’t ask for or receive gifts from non-Christians, I have a question. How do you know who is and isn’t a Christian? Personally, I refuse to play Holy Spirit and be the decider as to who is or isn’t saved. I encourage missionaries to ask every person they know to join their team and (who knows?) some of those appointments might transition into a gospel presentation! Besides there are Biblical examples of spiritual leaders asking for and/or receiving support from supposed “non-believers”.
1.) Nehemiah: Many scholars would say Artaxerxes was the most powerful man on the planet–but not a believer. Nonetheless, Nehemiah prayed and risked his life by asking the King to support his physical and spiritual rebuilding project back in Jerusalem (2:1-9). Nehemiah must have found favor with the King. Artaxerxes gave him everything he asked for—and more.
2.) Jesus: According to Luke 8:1-3, God in the flesh was supporting Himself and ministry through ongoing support from individuals. Whether or not He asked for support, the text doesn’t say. It does list some supporters: “Mary (called Magdalene); Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others.” Most focus on Mary’s questionable past and how she may have acquired her money, but instead, ask yourself where did Joanna get the funds to give to Jesus? Probably from her husband’s salary, which was paid by…Herod! Was Jesus actually receiving support that came from this ungodly dictator who He knew would have a hand in killing Him? Apparently so!
In my experience, I have found there are great advantages to inviting non-Christian friends and family to join my support team. I try to use discernment in whom I approach and how I present the ministry, but many of them are quite positive about the cause (but maybe not so confident about the support raising piece). While Christians are willing to invest generously in gospel work, many non-Christians see it as just another charity fundraiser and tend to give little, if at all. But the great value of sharing and inviting is the opportunity to share the gospel with them—both in the appointment and many times over as they receive ministry update newsletters.
Why not host a fundraising event?
Many people have suggested this to me. While it seems like the quick and easy way to get a heap of donations in, it is generally not the best investment of time. Rather than hosting an event with 20+ attendees, the time and expense required would be better spent having meetings with these individuals/couples.
It takes hours to organize, plan, invite, and host a fundraising event—and the missionary is generally doing it on their own. Imagine: booking a space, recruiting volunteers, preparing food, set up/take down, presentation, materials, promoting/inviting, and more. After the event, there is clean up, thanking the volunteers and the event location, following up with all the attendees, and meeting with many of them in person.
I have previously hosted an event like this. Despite many hours and all my best efforts, few people attended (most of them being current supporters or volunteers). My time would have been better spent to meet with each of them personally (which I hoped to do after the event in any case). Statistically, financial asks to large groups are not nearly as effective as a personal invitation—which is better for building relationships, too.
How do you get paid?
Just like with any other job, the employer (mission organization) pays the worker’s salary. True, the way the organization receives funding is unique, but the way missionaries are hired and paid is relatively the same. (Except that missionaries may often continue to work despite receiving short-cheques.)
Some donors mistakenly believe they are directly paying the missionaries wages. This is inaccurate, uncomfortable, and damaging. Supporters who believe they are “paying” the missionary tend to cross boundaries such as evaluating or making demands of the missionary.
Supporters invest financially in the mission work by giving donations to the organization. The organization stewards the finances and the workers. As the missionary’s employer, they oversee, direct, and evaluate the missionary’s work.
Here are some questions to be covered in the following post “Church, Parachurch & Missions”:
- Why don’t you just work for a church instead?
- What about your home church? Don’t they fund you?
- I already give tithes to my local church and the church gives to missions work.
- I already give to other missions/ministry organizations.
- Why work for a parachurch organization? Shouldn’t the focus be on the local church?
I hope this post provided satisfactory answers to some of the questions that you have about missions and “support raising.” If your question wasn’t addressed in this post, check the other parts (listed above) or leave a comment!