On any given day, nearly every Christian household receives pleas for money. The letters tell us about hungry children, people with AIDS, and the spiritually lost. They include underlining, computer-generated handwriting, postscripts, exclamation points, and yellow highlights. They come from Christian relief agencies whose materials and names blend together in compassion confusion—Compassion International, Christian Aid, Food for the Hungry, Feed the Children, International Aid, Samaritan's Purse, World Concern, World Relief, and World Vision.

These groups have raised billions of dollars over the years, and they have done an immense amount of good in the world. But some people question their fundraising strategies. The appeals, they say, rely on guilt-inducing pleas and high-pressure tactics. They create a false sense of urgency, or make promises that a small gift can really change a child's life. They rely on Madison Avenue techniques instead of honest and direct appeals to Christian brothers and sisters. Some critics say they should never even ask for money but simply operate by faith that God will provide.

Such criticism is not new to the people who write such appeals. Nor is the challenge of getting Americans and Canadians, some of the wealthiest citizens of the world, to give more of their money for others. The fundraisers wrestle with ethical dilemmas every time they write a piece of direct mail. "Our challenge is to present reality as clearly as possible," Steve Woodworth, president of MasterWorks Associates, an agency that produces fundraising material for Food for the Hungry (FFH), told CT. "Every time you make an offer to a donor, you must be honest. You can't deliberately mislead, and you try to avoid stereotypes. ...

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December 3, 2001

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