From the Winter 1997/1998 Watchdog Report
Mission Ads May Mislead Public
During the holiday season, our newspapers and mailboxes
are replete with pictures of dreary homeless people digging into
a turkey dinner and stories of how Jack or Tom
was saved by a local mission. It is difficult for a caring and well-fed
individual to be indifferent when confronted with these emotional
Many donors do not realize that the money they give
to these missions may not be going toward food or that the story
they read may be a stereotypical profile of a homeless person that
is used in fundraising campaigns around the country.
In August 1997, according to World, an evangelical
Christian magazine, the Gospel Rescue Ministries (GRM) of Washington
DC sent out an appeal letter in the name of its food service manager,
Nate Jones. In the letter, Mr. Jones says: I'm concerned because
I expect to feed more hungry folks this holiday season than ever
before and I have a large pantry that needs to be filled.
The letter went on to list the items needed for the Thanksgiving
meal: 300 pounds of turkey, 3,000 rolls, 150 gallons of milk and
The letter did not say that most of the food, which
is served on Thanksgiving and the rest of the year, is donated.
Edward J. Eyring, GRM's Executive Director, told World that his
appeal letters raise about $800,000 per year, and that he spends
about $31,000 for food. The other $300,000 worth of food is donated.
This fundraising letter also describes the tragic
life of a man named Steve and quotes GRM's Nate Jones: When
you first meet him, you wonder how someone so kind and gentle could
lead the kind of life Steve has. Yet Mr. Jones, the nominal
signer of the letter, told World that he knows no details
of Steve's life and is not certain he ever talked to Steve.
Mr. Jones told AIP that he does not know Steve but knows many people
like him. Steve shows up again as Alex in a nearly identical (except
for the food list and signature) solicitation letter for a Los Angeles
mission, according to World. It turns out that both of these charities
share the same professional fundraiser, the Russ Reid Company. This
company and other produce standardized solicitation letters that,
with a few adjustments, can be utilized by many of their charity
clients. Standardized letters are less expensive than tailor-made
ones. But this cost saving may not be worth it, if it means sending
out a solicitation that does not truthfully describe the charity's
needs or clients.
The greatest need of charity missions is not money
to buy food for the holidays but money that can be used throughout
the year for the overall work of the organization. It is easier
for a mission to fulfill its more limited food needs that its substantial
cash needs. One reason for this is because there are plenty of supermarkets,
produce wholesalers, restaurants and other food-oriented companies
that will gladly donate their surplus food to charity. Another reason
is that many donors are more inclined to donate money for a hot
meal than for less immediate and more complex concerns.
Charity missions do valuable and often thankless work
for the downtrodden across America. Their struggle to raise money
is an ongoing battle. Much of their budgets for the entire year
are raised during the holiday season. It is unfortunate that some
of these missions feel that they must resort to using questionable
and highly emotional advertisements to motivate people to send them
contributions. Perhaps these ads will disappear, if more Americans
begin to understand that the year-round work of these organizations,
which includes the difficult task of rehabilitating drug addicts,
ex-cons and others in horrible predicaments, is much more important
than a turkey dinner.