Cover Story

But it's for a good cause...

"But it's for a good cause..." Continued...

Issue: "Urban mission fundraising," Sept. 27, 1997

The letter does not note that Nate Jones did not write it. He told WORLD that it was shown to him, and he only skimmed it. A signature appears over his typed name, but Mr. Jones says he did not sign it. The letter certainly suggests that Nate Jones knows Steve well, but Mr. Jones says he knows no details of Steve's life and is not certain he ever talked to Steve.

Readers of the letter might be further surprised to learn Steve is a well-traveled transient. He shows up in an almost identical letter-different only in the grocery list-in an appeal mailed on behalf of a Russ Reid client mission in Miami. The signature over food service manager Michael's name looks suspiciously like Nate's. An identical person named Alex, with word-for-word the same life story as Steve, has aroused the concern of food service manager Steve Engleman (who signs his letter in the same hand as Nate and Michael) at a Los Angeles mission, which is also a client of Russ Reid's.

Peter Arnold of Russ Reid said he did not know how many missions used the campaign, but acknowledged that the letter using the kitchen chief was the August campaign. He declined to release samples of the letter, or the master copy on which the individual campaigns were based. Steve, in fact, was a client of a mission in Albuquerque, N.M., where his story and full name appeared in a 1993 newspaper story.

When Paul Nelson, president of ECFA, examined a copy of the letter that WORLD sent to him, he said, "ECFA distances itself from this letter."

"As I read the letter, and because of what we know about this issue, as much as we have worked on this issue, this is a letter I cannot defend.... You have what is like a smoking gun here. You've got evidence that appears to be very convicting.... We will probably require an accounting of how much money came in from this letter, and how much of this money was actually used for food."

Mr. Nelson said if donations outrun expenses for food, he believes the letter could possibly be in violation of ECFA standards. "We know from our own investigation, when you get into issues that pull at the heartstrings of the public, and therefore bring money in, food certainly is that." He noted that the letter says, "'Send money so that we can fill our pantry.' We believe that for many of the missions in this arena much of the food is donated, and a lesser amount of food is purchased to supplement that which is donated."

The technical term for raising money in these ways is "oversubscription," with money raised above the specific need spent on general ministry expenses.

"There's nothing wrong with spending money on general expenses," Mr. Nelson says, but he is disturbed by "the premise upon which they raised that money. They created a restriction that says this money will be used to buy food for the Thanksgiving season."

A disclaimer printed on the back of the letter, at the bottom of the page, in small type, did inform readers that surplus money would be spent throughout the year to "care for the hungry and homeless."

Mr. Nelson contends, however, "that's not enough. If you go into an issue where you almost know before this letter is sent out that that's what's going to happen, a disclaimer doesn't get it done.

"We are long-suffering and will work with organizations, but truth is truth, man," he added. "If we can't uphold that without cleverly worded things ... then we're not doing our jobs. The standards committee, I'm sure, will look at this very seriously"-including the question of Nate Jones's signature.

Stever Burger, president of the International Union of Gospel Missions, is a member of the committee that approves the Russ Reid letters that go out for participating IUGM ministries. "I think that that could be said better than the way it's said. Let me tell you that I am sure that it will be. Somethimes I think that we need somebody on the other side of the fence to say, 'Look, is this clear?' We have worked real hard to be clear and to use words that give the sense that this person was helped by a mission, but not necessarily that one. This obviously is in the gray area. I'm committed to making sure that this gets fixed."

In an effort to gauge the popularity of fundraising as practiced by Russ Reid and the Gospel Rescue Ministry, WORLD contacted more than half of the missions who are members of ECFA. Among the 25 who responded to the survey, fundraising philosophies varied greatly, although all said appeals should be honest and not manipulative. The survey found that six of the missions use a fundraising company exclusively to prepare letters. Eight create their own letters. Four use a combination of both. Six missions, including three who employ Russ Reid, say they create composite characters for their fundraising letters. Twelve say they do not.

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