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The truth doesn't have to hurt

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

Proponents of those syndicated fundraising letters that use stereotypical profiles and make emotional appeals for money to buy food say the approach is necessary. They argue that directors of smaller missions can have a high-quality letter for a fraction of the money it would cost to produce one on their own, that donors will send money for food but are less likely to send money for literacy programs or other ministries of the mission, and that the letters must be anonymous to protect the privacy of clients.

Many mission directors, however, take a different approach. Robert Gehman, director of the Helping Up Mission in Baltimore, believes that the single-issue emotional appeals for lunch money may produce one-time or two-time donations but not long-term donors. "People don't learn the personality of a mission," he says. "We will have appealed to the emotions, but we won't have engaged them for the long term."

In a one-page letter he wrote to major donors last year, director Gary Millspaugh of the Allentown (Pa.) Rescue Mission emphasized the facts: "Twenty-one men gave up drug and alcohol use. Thirty-five made a Christian commitment at the Mission. Three high-school drop-outs earned a GED at the Mission."

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He thanked the donors for past support and then asked for more. "Your gift will brighten and enrich the lives of many homeless men, and it will help provide the life-saving services the Mission offers for the next 12 months, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day."

Barry Durman, president of the Atlantic City (N.J.) Rescue Mission, says he rarely has trouble finding men and women willing to tell their story and allow use of their full names for appeal letters and the mission's newsletter, RescueLight. The March 1997 newsletter tells the story of Mike Webster-complete with photograph-a former drug dealer who is the first chaplain at the mission to have completed its discipleship program. It also tells the story of 23-year-old Medina Sewell, the mother of four, who came to the mission for help and became a health aide. The story includes the names and ages of the children.

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