Oh, those religious fund-raisers

GRETCHEN ASKS:

(Paraphrasing) She attended a fund-raising event for an unnamed organization where a slide show began by saying that “on the eighth day God created” this group and then presented its purposes. She found that “arrogant and self-serving” and it “bothered me beyond belief. Am I being overly sensitive?”

THE GUY ANSWERS:

In The Guy’s eyes, yes, you are.

Still, religious offenses are in the eye of the beholder and fund-raising is well worth some examination. The late Henri Nouwen observed in A Spirituality of Fundraising (Upper Room Books) that work for financial support should be seen as a “ministry” of the kingdom, not “a necessary but unpleasant activity.”

Since this question is posed to “Religion Q and A” we can assume the organization is religious. Though The Guy wasn’t present, sounds like the leaders of this group were simply saying God created the cosmos in six days and rested on the seventh, while from day eight forward to the present divinely aligned activities depend upon our human efforts.

Understood correctly, that’s no heresy, and seems to The Guy he’s heard a sermon or three saying precisely that. This agency presumably believes it is working to carry forward God’s purposes in the world, which almost any church or religious charity might think or say about itself.

The “eighth day” trope, meant to be clever or humorous, is also widely used in secular sloganeering.

A quick Internet scan finds that on the eighth day God created, among other things: the Latina women on a dating site, the United States Marines, pricey automobiles, favorite TV shows, rock ‘n roll, football, hackers, teachers, donuts and — inevitably — beer (does this offend you Muslims and Protestant teetotalers?) and coffee (does this offend you Mormons?).

Perhaps The Guy’s sensitivities have been dulled by all those media references to religion that are sloppy, stupid, snide or downright nasty. But he’s seen far worse than this eighth day pitch.

Some charities ignore Jesus’ teachings about anonymity and lack of pride in giving (Matthew 6:1-4, Mark 12:41-44). Appeals can be irritating, heavy-handed, or even spiritually suspect. That’s especially a problem with some independent and “parachurch” ministries that get no denominational subsidies, survive by continually raising donations, and may be tempted to justify bad means by good ends. Instead of using in-house believers, groups may hire out-house fund-raisers who pile up profits and are clueless about religious niceties such as humility.

Practical tips from The Guy: Don’t go by emotional reactions to promotions, whether pro or con, in deciding which charitable causes beyond your own local congregation or religious denomination should get those hard-earned dollars. Rather, obtain solid information on financial transparency, how much money goes to executives or headquarters overhead, established reputation, and realistic track record.

Donors can obtain data on such things from sites like www.charitynavigator.org (a non-profit monitor that itself deserves donations). This team assesses the facts on scads of organizations and posts revealing Top 10 lists such as “charities overpaying for-profit fundraisers” (that get two-thirds or more of the donations), “highly-paid CEOs at low-rated charities” (earning $214,000 or more), “highly-rated charities with low-paid CEOs” ($52,986 at one Habitat for Humanity chapter), and “best charities everyone’s heard of” (among well-known religious agencies, Young Life is tops with 68.56 out of a perfect 70 score). Also check out: www.ministrywatch.com, www.ecfa.org and www.bbb.org/us/charity

QUESTION FOR THE GUY? Leave it in our comments pages or at his site.

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.

  • Darren Blair

    Active Mormon with an MBA and a minor in marketing.

    The whole “8th day” bit is, as you’ve noted, just another tired cliche used to argue that a particular person, item, place, or activity is somehow superior to the others.
    It’s even been used in song (“God Blessed Texas” by Little Texas – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbH60wCO-Yw ).

    I can see how someone who is particularly sensitive to religious issues might be offended (one of my classes actually went into some detail about the importance of making sure that your message doesn’t inadvertently offend the target audience, and so I’ve seen a few examples), but after about the dozenth time someone has made the boast it kinda loses its impact.


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