“Reach out and touch someone,” or say “charge it!” These are two of the newest ways Christian organizations have found to raise funds.

Popular among charities for several years now, joint ventures in which a sponsoring group receives a percentage of some for-profit business, such as long-distance or credit-card charges, promise a continuing source of revenue for the nonprofit groups, “painless giving” for donors, and an increased market for the businesses involved. But as Christian organizations have recently entered into such ventures, many of the promises so far have gone unfulfilled.

Almost across the board, Christian groups are facing a squeeze on donated income, according to Arthur Borden, executive director of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Ministry budgets have continued to expand. And though donations have risen, the cost of obtaining them has gone up as well. So organizations increasingly are looking for other sources of income.

While many new approaches simply represent good management of resources, such as renting out facilities or expanding publishing divisions to generate profits, Borden says, others have created marriages of ministry and commerce that could lead to trouble once the honeymoon is over.

Playing The Percentages

Two years ago, the affinity credit-card business was booming, according to the NonProfit Times. The cards, issued by a bank with the name of an organization stamped on the plastic, typically rewarded the sponsoring group with about ½ of 1 percent of each billed transaction. Visa U.S.A., for example, reported that it had issued more than 15 million affinity cards (of 110 million Visa cards in circulation) through more than 1,200 programs. Returns of several hundred ...

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