The Not-for-Profit Surge
Two decades ago, Carolyn Cooper took a life-changing short-term mission trip to the Dominican Republic. While she was there, her heart went out to a starving eight-month-old baby named Lusitania. The child died soon after Cooper returned to her home in New Hampshire. But Cooper determined to do something to prevent such tragedies. She began sponsoring a child through Compassion International, a Colorado Springs-based ministry that tends to the physical, spiritual, social, and financial needs of children. Today, Cooper, 64, a widow with five grown children, sponsors three girls in the Dominican Republic: Miguelina and Pamela, both 10, and Ronely, 6. Cooper, who lives in the beach community of Rye, spends $96 each month on these commitments.
Last December, the AT&T office where Cooper had worked for 12 years said she would be laid off in February. A week before Christmas, Cooper sat down to figure out how to live on less. But she put her sponsored children before any other financial commitment, even her mortgage. Cooper knew it would be tight receiving only $350 a week in unemployment benefits, but she vowed to keep sponsoring the girls as long as they needed her.
Ten minutes after devising her new budget, Cooper walked to her mailbox and pulled out an envelope with a return address simply marked, "From a Christian friend." Inside she found a greeting card with the message, "Remember that Jesus loves you," along with five $20 bills. Delivered by the pastor of her nondenominational congregation on behalf of a parishioner, the card was without a signature.
"I took it as a sign that I did the right thing putting the girls first," says Cooper. On her refrigerator are photos of her holding the emaciated Lusitania in 1989. "When I look at those pictures, I remember that I don't need a bigger car. I don't need a flat-screen TV. I do need to keep other children from dying of starvation."
While Compassion International doesn't encourage donors to risk default with their creditors, Cooper's loyalty is symbolic of how some nonprofits and donors are weathering the economic storm. So far, many parachurch ministries are not facing the same income declines as other organizations. In fact, some are forging ahead with bold initiatives that seemingly defy the dour economic tone.
When donors have a family-like link to a charity, they are reluctant to stop giving, even in the midst of personal financial meltdowns that may include job loss, home loss, or retirement savings wipeout. Often, they adjust their lifestyle and maintain their giving as best as they can.
In addition, many nonprofits are not dramatically reducing budgets as might be expected. Their supporters are motivated by tangible ministry results: children being nurtured physically and spiritually, churches being planted, Bibles being translated into various languages, and young people accepting Jesus as their Savior.
The college campus ministry InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) is one such example. It has a grassroots loyalty from alumni who attended a triennial Urbana student missions convention or participated in IVCF as undergraduates. "They understand that a one-time gift won't sustain our budget," says InterVarsity president Alec Hill. "We live by the ongoing $50-a-month gift."
The organizations beating the recession are the ones that depend on a monthly payment connected with a personal attachment, such as giving to a poor child or an adult missionary. "Supporters are giving to someone where they have established a relationship," Hill says. "That will be among the last cuts because there is a sense of friendship. There is something absolutely remarkable about a partnership when you have a support team that sends you notes, gives to you, cares for you, and prays for you."