Not Blurring the Lines

Trusted ministries build and maintain their relationships with givers through truthfulness, transparency, and clarity.


by Dan Busby


Nearly 300 years ago, according to a traditional English story, there lived a great commander of a merchant ship. His name was Captain Fudge. He became notorious for bringing home a good cargo of lies, tall tales, and exaggerations about his improbable adventures on the high seas.

Truth-telling is always
vital—but rarely
more important
than when ministries
raise resources.
Here—givers rely on
truthful representations.

Captain Fudge’s name became so identified with stretching the truth that whenever his crew would hear somebody else tell a tall tale, they would point a finger and say, “Fudge, Fudge.” By the mid-1800s, when kids would try to cheat at marbles, their opponents would yell, “no fudging!”

To this day, the term “fudging” is used when someone is lying, cheating, hedging, or misrepresenting something. You will hear folks say, “Oh, he fudges on his income tax.”

Trust is built on telling the truth—no fudging!

“We can trace this kind of misbehavior all the way back to the opening scenes of the Bible, when Adam fudged by blaming Eve for the way they had violated God’s command. Another example is when Cain killed his brother and then fudged when God asked him about it. Ever since the earliest days of human history, the world has feasted on fudge. Sadly, we still do.”[1]

Trusted ministries should be a “fudge-free” zone. The fudge-free starting point is when ministries adopt and consistently follow the Biblical Principles for Stewardship and Fundraising reflected below.

Paul would never have raised any money for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26) if he had blurred the lines about how the offering would be used. He was crystal clear.

Biblical Principles for Stewardship and Fundraising

Christian leaders, including development staff, who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and choose prayerfully to pursue eternal Kingdom values (Matt. 6:19–21, 33), will seek to identify the sacred Kingdom resources of God’s economy within these parameters:

1 God, the creator (Gen. 1) and sustainer of all things (Col. 1:17) and the One “who works within us to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20), is a God of infinite abundance (Ps. 50:10–11) and grace (2 Cor. 9:8).

2 Acknowledging the primacy of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16) as our chief treasure (Matt. 13:44), Christians are called to lives of stewardship as managers of all that God has entrusted to them (1 Cor. 4:1–2).

3 A Christian’s attitude toward possessions on earth is important to God (Matt. 6:24), and there is a vital link between how believers utilize earthly possessions (as investments in God’s Kingdom) and the eternal rewards that believers receive (Phil. 4:17).

4 God entrusts possessions to Christians and holds them accountable for their use as a tool to grow God’s eternal Kingdom, as a test of the believer’s faithfulness to God, and as a trademark that their lives reflect Christ’s values (Luke 16:1–9).

5 From God’s abounding grace, Christians’ giving reflects their gratitude for what God has provided and involves growing in an intimate faith relationship with Christ as Lord of their lives (Mark 12:41–4).

6 Because giving is a worshipful, obedient act of returning to God from what has been provided (1 Chron. 29:10–14), Christian fundraisers should hold a conviction that, in partnership with the church, they have an important role in the spiritual maturation of believers (Jas. 3:1).

7 The primary role of Christian fundraisers is to advance and facilitate a believer’s faith in and worship of God through a Christ-centered understanding of stewardship that is solidly grounded on Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16).

8 Recognizing it is the work of the Holy Spirit that prompts Christians to give (John 15:4–5), often through fundraising techniques (2 Cor. 9:5–7, Neh. 1:4–11), fundraisers and/or organizations must never manipulate or violate their sacred trust with ministry partners.

9 An eternal, God-centered worldview promotes cooperation rather than competition among organizations and places the giver’s relationship to God above the ministry’s agenda (2 Cor. 4:16–18).

10 In our materialistic, self-centered culture, Christian leaders should acknowledge that there is a great deal of unclear thinking about possessions, even among believers, and that an eternal Kingdom perspective will often seem like foolish nonsense (1 Cor. 2:14) to those who rely on earthly kingdom worldview techniques (1 Cor. 2:1–5).

When these principles are implemented that rely on God changing hearts more than on human methods, the resulting joy-filled generosity of believers will fully fund God’s work here on earth (Ex. 36:6–7, Matt. 6:10).


Whether you are watching TV or a movie, or looking at a photograph on the internet, it is difficult to tell if the images are real or not. Video games today are nearly as realistic as film. There is a blurring of the lines between virtual and real.

The blurring of lines can be a challenge when it comes to truth-telling—sometimes we call it “shading the truth”—changing it enough to suit our desires.

People are desperate for authenticity—to know the unvarnished truth. Whether in advertising, politics, the news, or ministries, people are skeptical about what they see, hear, and read—there is so much blurring.

Life is not scripted.
Conversations with
our donors should
not be either.
Lauren Semple

Recently, a witness in a murder trial was accused of “falling on the sword” for her accused daughter, a thinly disguised phrase suggesting the witness lied. A politician made a false state­ment in an interview, and his or her staff later “walked back” the comments—more blurring. Someone “papered over” an issue—more blurring.

Is it the real deal, or are we looking at graphically enhanced pictures, hearing slanted news, or reading bloviated stories? Who can we believe?

The ninth commandment (“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”) is part of a broader biblical condemnation of sins through speech—and a correspondingly vigorous promotion of speaking the truth. While false and deceptive witness was clearly and repeatedly condemned, several famous stories indicate the rule was not always strictly observed, even by the heroes of the faith. For example, Jacob was frequently engaged in deceptive witness, Isaac bore false witness about his own wife Rebekah, and Samuel deceived some of Saul’s people when he went to anoint David as Saul’s successor.[2]

Despite this inconsistent performance by biblical characters, the teaching of Scripture is constant. The Book of Proverbs is especially full of counsel about our speech. Two of the “six things that the Lord hates” and that are an abomination to Him are “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who pours out lies” (Prov. 6:16–19).

In contrast to this broad condemnation of false witness is the equally extensive praise of truthful witness. Proverbs commends wise, noble, and true words: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11 ESV).

Truth-telling that generates trust is important in all aspects of ministry—but especially so in raising financial support. Raising resources in the name of our Lord should reflect the truthfulness that is in keeping with His character.

Raising resources in
the name of our Lord
should reflect the
truthfulness that is in
keeping with His

Those who donate to Christ-centered organizations often rely on information provided by the ministry. Therefore, the truthful representation of facts is a foundational element in giver communications.

Whether the appeal is in a letter; on the Internet; or communicated by television, radio, or in any other way, the prospective giver’s perception of the appeal should be as close to the actual facts as possible.

In order to accomplish this, the ministry presenting the appeal must anticipate how prospective givers may interpret them. The ministry should avoid any words, pictures, graphs, or other information that might cause a typical prospective giver to reach an inaccurate conclusion.

The Bible teaches us that God alone is the source and motivation for joyful, obedient Christian giving. Paul stated, “We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:6–8).

Four principles characterize the expectations of ministry resource-raising communications: current, complete, accurate, and free from undue pressure. Each of these should be understood from the reader’s perspective.

Whoever is careless with
the truth in small matters
cannot be trusted with
important matters.
Abraham Lincoln
  1. Current and relevant. An appeal for charitable gifts should only contain information that is specifically relevant to the purpose of the appeal. Using pictures, descriptions, narratives, or other information from prior projects or events—which suggests a misleading relationship with the current appeal—is a violation of this principle. The prospective giver will assume that all of the information presented is related to this specific appeal. It is inappropriate to use old information in a current appeal simply because it might bring a better response from a giver.

When financial information is included in an appeal for charitable gifts, the information should be as current as possible. Information should give the prospective giver a true understanding of the relevant financial information.

It may be appropriate to use information or pictures from past projects or events to help provide context for the current appeal. If information on past projects is included, the appeal should indicate that such information is not current, that it relates to prior events, and that it is only intended to illustrate the anticipated results of the current appeal.

All elements of a
stewardship resoource
appeal—taken in part
or as a whole—must
communicate the appeal
accurately, completely
and truthfully to the
prospective giver.
  1. Complete. An appeal for charitable gifts should include all of the information necessary for the prospective giver to gain a full and total understanding of the facts relating to the appeal.

 It may be important to be selective in the information that is presented in the appeal. When selecting information, the ministry should ask, “If certain information is omitted from the appeal, will givers be deprived of any essential information?”

When deciding whether the information in the appeal is “complete,” the ministry should consider:

  • the purpose for which the funds will be used,
  • the means by which the program goals will be accomplished, and
  • the financial need and the condition of the ministry.
  1. Accurate. All information included in the appeal for charitable gifts should be accurate—that is, factual, correct, exact, and precise. Nothing within the appeal (words, pictures, financial data, or other information) should mislead the prospec­tive giver into believing something other than the facts. Accuracy relates to the purpose of the appeal and to the way the funds will be used.
There are two 'i's'
in fundraising—
they should stand for
inspiration and innovation,
not imitation and irritation.
Ken Burnett

Inaccuracies may appear in a number of forms: photographs not directly related to the issue at hand; exaggerations used for the sake of persuasion; incomplete information that does not provide a full understanding of the facts; implications that could lead the prospective giver to draw an erroneous conclusion; selective information presented in the positive, ignoring relevant negative information; and opinions presented as fact.

  1. Free from undue pressure. While some churches teach and even require members to tithe, in the nonprofit ministry context givers have a right to decide whether or not to make a gift without having undue pressure applied to them. This starts by not basing compensation of outside resource consultants or its own staff directly or indirectly on a percentage of charitable contributions raised.

Paying staff or outside resource consultants based on a percentage of gift income can be tempting to an organization with limited resources. The percentage payment concept may encourage those raising funds to raise as much as possible. And it offers the ministry a guarantee that its resource-raising costs will not exceed certain predetermined limits. However, percentage-based payments are not in the best interest of donors, nor are they consistent with the trust that givers place in a charity.

When ministries truly
trust God for their
resources, there is no
room for even a hint
of deceptive resource-
raising practices.

 If a staff member or consultant is paid a percentage of the amount raised, that person’s or the fundraising firm’s motivation may increase in anticipation of obtaining greater compensation. This can set the stage for inappropriate pressure on the giver. The giver’s awareness that a percentage commission will be paid to a staff member or consultant from his or her gift can compromise the trust on which the charity relies and unalterably damage giver attitudes. This is why the compensation or fees should be primarily based on time, expertise, and availability.

Givers have a right to know if the staff member or consultant has a significant conflicting motivation. While obtaining gifts may indirectly provide a financial advantage to those raising resources, a percentage compensation arrangement could be a significant conflicting motivation. An individual raising resources should be motivated by the purpose of the organization’s ministry and the desire to do a good job, not by the compensation that will come from raising additional funds.

Certain pay-for-performance or competency-related plans are ethical. These are plans consisting of identifying goals and embedding them as criteria in the performance and assessment of the staff member or outside consultant. A system where some portion of an individual’s pay (e.g., at-risk pay, variable pay, or opportunity pay) or an outside consultant’s fee is based on mutually agreeable goals, generally financial and nonfinancial, tends to encourage focusing on performance. However, the use of pay-for-performance arrangements are unethical if they are percentage of gift income payment plans in disguise.

When Bill Robinson served as the interim president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, he spoke at a dinner hosted by the Calvin College Center. When he was finished, the director of the Center presented him with a T-shirt that said, Calvin College—undefeated in football since 1876. It was a true statement, but it implies Calvin College had and has a football team, which they didn’t and don’t.[3] While a humorous story, it also serves as a reminder that we must avoid falling into the trap of saying what is nearly true.

One of the key elements in good relationships between a ministry and its givers is truth-telling. Once trust is gone, a relationship is difficult to restore. Failure to tell the truth can be done so subtly that it goes unnoticed. When we begin blurring the truth about “small things” that “don’t matter,” a pattern develops. Soon valuable credibility is lost.[4] The relationship between a giver and a ministry is one built on trust. That trust is developed and maintained through truthful, honest, reliable, and trustworthy communications.

Oh, that our resource-raising communications would equal the clarity of 1 Corinthians 16:1–4:

Regarding the relief offering for poor Christians that is being collected, you get the same instructions I gave the churches in Galatia. Every Sunday each of you make an offering and put it in safekeeping. Be as generous as you can. When I get there, you’ll have it ready, and I won’t have to make a special appeal. Then after I arrive, I’ll write letters authorizing whomever you delegate, and send them off to Jerusalem to deliver your gift. If you think it best that I go along, I’ll be glad to travel with them.

Telling the truth is a fundamental concept as we strive to be a reflection of God in resource-raising. May it always be our witness!


  Questions   for reflection
  1. Are all resource-raising communications between the ministry and givers crystal clear?
  2. How could these communications be improved?

[1] Bill Hybels and John Ortberg, Life Lessons from Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2014), 47.

[2] David W. Gill, Doing Right: Practicing Ethical Principles (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 283–284.

[3] Bill Robinson, “From the President,” CCCU Advance (Spring 2014), 2.

[4] Jerry White, Honesty, Morality & Conscience, revised ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1996), 51.


From TRUST: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, ECFAPress, 2015,

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.