Just say no to ambulance-chasing fundraising

Along with compassionate folk worldwide, my heart aches for the people of Nepal in the wake of last week-end’s massive earthquake. News reports and photos of devastation compel us to do something, anything, to help make things better. Generosity takes over in the face of such awfulness.


Which is exactly what the throngs of humanitarian aid, health, and development charities anticipate will happen. Even before the ground had stopped shaking in Nepal, relief organizations were in full fundraising mode, trumpeting what they could do if only you and I would give.

Never mind if most of the organizations doing the asking haven’t had a staffer step foot into Nepal. Place doesn’t much matter to geographically challenged disaster donors.

And so what if it is first responders and not bottled water from half-way around the world that Nepal most needs at this time. North Americans love giving for stuff and charities are happy to oblige.

After all, the Nepal earthquake could be a game changer for organizations that play the disaster right. This could be the one that puts a charity on the map.

That’s the lesson CEOs and board members, including those of faith-based organizations, learned from the 2004 East Asia tsunami and then again with the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Excuse my cynicism, but I’ve heard the boardroom chatter about media mentions and logo placement. In today’s 24-hour news cycle, winning doesn’t mean being first to the disaster. It’s being first on CNN (and other major news outlets).

I want to believe that most of the fundraising for Nepal (and other disasters) flows from good intentions. In fact, I’m certain of it. However, asking for money without so much as a quick and dirty needs assessment smacks of self-serving, ambulance chasing, even ghoulishness, fundraising.


Especially among faith-based organizations, there should be no jostling for disaster dollars. Such behavior diminishes the Christian witness, including that of the supposed “winners” in a specific contest for support.

So here’s my advice to ministry CEOs and board members. Unless you have a historic, legitimate, and/or overwhelmingly compelling reason to be in Nepal, it’s okay to sit this one out. Stick to the Kingdom niche to which God has called your ministry. And don’t worry if gifts that might have come your way tomorrow are going to disaster relief today.

The good news, as Thom Jeavons and I wrote in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry, is that support for one worthy cause need not – indeed ultimately does not – come at the expense of others. God’s abundance is sufficient to enable all God’s people to do all God’s work as it needs to be done now – be that on your street or in Katmandu.

For more on chasing the wrong gifts, see:

Avoid the trap of maybe gifts and mission drift


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