When fundraisers do the darndest things

The last thing CEOs or board members of faith-based nonprofits want to see is their organization in a consumer advocate’s hot seat. But that’s exactly where World Vision Canada found itself recently. Donors, angry over being told their monthly gifts would be increased by $4 unless they said no, ratted World Vision out to The Busted Edition, an undercover news program on CBC.

As a blogger over at agents of good remarked, “This is a common and hated practice that banks, electricity and phone company’s take part in… but World Vision? One of Canada’s (and America’s) top charities?” (To watch the squirm-in-your-seat expose, go here and click to the third segment.)

Granted, $4 a month isn’t much money, and it’s likely most donors to World Vision won’t miss the few extra dollars a month. But the amount in this case of the dunned donors isn’t the issue. What got people’s dander up was feeling they’d been taken advantage of by a charity where they had put their trust.

You can be sure that World Vision’s way isn’t what the Apostle Paul had in mind in telling the Philippians he was “looking for what may be credited to your account.” An opt in/opt out strategy is efficient – as the fundraising team at World Vision claim as their defense. But it’s not much of a strategy for encouraging donors’ toward greater generosity.

None of us takes kindly to being presumed upon, and especially by organizations that fly the flag of faith. Nor should fundraisers be surprised when donors hold religious charities to a higher standard. For fundraisers working in faith-based settings, there’s a profoundly spiritual dimension to decisions about which fundraising strategies to use and which to ignore.


Writing in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry, Thom Jeavons and I remind leaders of ministry organizations that

by allowing conventional economic and marketing assumptions to creep into their fundraising programs, they are missing a special opportunity to lift up the power and beauty of faith.  The encroaching commercialization of charitable work makes it vitally important that everyone involved step back and think theologically as well as economically. To be true to Jesus’ teachings in the work of resource development requires that Christian fundraisers help donors see choices they may make about giving in spiritual, as well as practical terms.

In fairness to the folks at World Vision Canada,  you’d be hard pressed to find a fundraiser who hasn’t had an “oops” moment of his or her own. There’s so much about this work that tempts even the most level-headed of development officers to do the darndest things. However, when the fundraising program centers on donors’ hearts, there should be more ministry than missteps.


  1. I’m a World Vision volunteer and sponsor and the CBC news story left out a lot of facts. First, I was notified 3 different ways- letter, email and on their website of the change. So the implication that it was sprung on people or presumed upon us is ridiculous. The show itself said “People don’t read their mail nowadays”. Pardon? We can’t say World Vision didn’t contact us if we are too lazy to open an envelope. And every bit of info I read, gave me the information I needed to call and opt our of the increase if I wished.

    I respect that World Vision is trying to maintain their bottom line. Handling the change this way means more money gets to the children. It is FAR more financially diligent to have people opt out of the increase than opt in. There was nothing shady or hidden here and their level of integrity- both here in Canada and in the field – is second to none. I’m proud to be associated with them.

    • Christy, Thank you for taking time to respond to my post about World Vision Canada. It’s good to hear from a donor who wasn’t bothered by the opt out/opt in strategy that many other donors found troubling. I apologize if it seemed I was accusing World Vision of a shady practice. That was not my intention. My point is that regardless how efficient or how much money a method saves for a charity, if the method results in an angry response from a significant number of supporters (as seems to be the case with this situation based on the statement from the WV reception to the CBC reporter), then it probably isn’t a good fit with a faith-based organization. It’s also not helpful to put the blame on donors for not reading carefully all the mail they receive from the causes they support. As one who over the years has generated mail, emails, and even phone calls to supporters — including folks who care deeply about the causes I represented — getting the attention of busy people who are giving to many causes is not easy. I accept that as my challenge and act accordingly. It’s never safe to assume that people read every word of everything they receive in the mail or by email. Even fewer check the websites of all the charities they support. For most donors, it would be troubling to be told they need to watch and read carefully — to not be lazy — lest a charity automatically increase the amount of their monthly gift.

      As I write frequently here at Generous Matters,fundraising when done in God’s name is about more than meeting the bottom-line needs of organizations, as important as that is. It’s also about growing donors’ hearts. Fundraising is as much the ministry of faith-based organizations as any other of their programs. I grant that it may be more financially diligent to have people opt out of the increase than to opt in, but I question the impact of the approach on many donor’s hearts. It’s good to hear from at least one donor for whom this was not a problem. And it is good to know that giving to and volunteering with World Vision is encouraging to your faith.

  2. Hi there – thanks for your reply. Not one of the people in the CBC segment was introduced as any form of WV supporter -just people off the street. That’s why I was very frustrated at their approach. I have heard a handful of people complain and an overwhelming number support the way it was handled. So I don’t believe the show accurately reflects the majority. It reflects the opinion of people on the street who were given half the story.

    No one is blaming donors, but I mentioned that rather, to point out that not reading your mail doesn’t constitute WV not contacting their donors. My cable company and power company don’t accept a lack of payment if I choose not to open my bill. So it is with the other places we give our money. World Vision notified people, and if they choose to ignore it, then it can’t be called a shady business practice. It’s my onus as a person who wants to spend God’s money wisely to be as diligent as I can.

    If you read my blog, I have been to Zambia and Malawi with World Vision in the last 2 year, so I have seen their work first hand. Not only have they grown my heart, but those of a myriad of people they serve overseas.

    I think scrutiny of Christian charities is an important part of being a good steward of what God has given me. And no other sponsorship program was as forthright as World Vision, which is why I put my time and money behind them, here and abroad. And that is why they recently won an award in Ontario for their financial reporting.


    Thanks for this discussion!

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