Friday, March 27, 2009

Non Profit--For Profit

One of the most common objections or "concerns" that people raise when it comes to BAM is that doing business will lead to greed or distract you from ministry in the pursuit of money. At first I was surprised when people brought this up. I thought to myself, "If you know me you HAVE to know that is NOT what I'm about." But some of these people didn't know me. And when thinking about others doing BAM, I might have the very same concern if I didn't know them that well. I might have that suspicion, "Is this just a fancy way for them to use God to get rich?"

Here in The Location stinginess is more of a cultural sin than greed. It's like, You shouldn't withhold your money from me--that's wrong! But it's not so wrong (in people's minds) to want more money all the time. But greed is a real thing and it certainly can and does affect us. We should not take it for granted that greed isn't going to raise its head and tempt us. Our defense should never just be, "Oh, I would never do that."

So if a Christian missionary starts a business with the goal/plan of doing BAM, what is going to keep them on the right track? If the business is successful then they would not need to be financially supported by anyone. Therefore, if they would start teaching heresy or if they dropped all ministry just to do business and make money, there would be no recourse of "pulling their funds" to stop it.

I think I have a way to help address this concern, and it is how we have set things up with our work here in The Location. That is to have non-profit ownership of for-profit enterprises.

That means that the missionary (or the minister, if done at home) is not the one who owns the business but is the one who runs it. He or she wouldn't be keeping all the money, nor would it be at their discretion to use as they please. Neither would there be shareholders who control the profits or who are expecting/desiring to get a return on their investment. Instead, all the profits would stay within the company and organization that owns the business.

In the US it is not against the law for non-profits (even tax-exempt organizations) to do profitable business. While some activities would still be taxed, the important thing is how profits are handled. For this set up, profits would not go in anyone's pockets but would be used for the stated purpose of the non-profit organization. So, it is possible for something like a church (a non-profit organization) to own a business like a coffee shop. The income, in addition to covering expenses, can be given to the missions budget or help feed the homeless or any other kind of ministry.

Along with non-profit ownership of for-profit enterprises comes oversight and accountability. I believe that in BAM we should have as thorough a ministry plan as we do a business plan, and vice versa. The board of directors can then hold the missionary(ies)/minister(s) accountable to not only run the business well, but to put excellence into the ministry as well.

So, imagine some possibilities:

A non-profit organization is created in the US and opens several different businesses. One is something like a YMCA center where people come to work out, play sports, take classes on all kinds of different things... and the staff are the ministers who not only interact with the customers but also offer special short courses on the Bible, do discipleship, and run children's programs. Another team of ministers start a coffee shop to reach out to the college and artsy crowd while also having a worship night once a week; hosting group meetings to overcome substance or pornography addictions; and partnering with a homeless mission to help provide food and volunteers on a regular basis. Another group of ministers start an organic farm in a more rural area and host area youth during the summer to help do the work of the farm while also discipling them. The income from the produce covers all expenses.

And I'm sure there are a lot more creative and more impacting ideas out there that others can/will think of. Perhaps this will help you to start brainstorming.

I have actually created a non-profit organization in the US to be the owner of our business here in The Location, and also future businesses we may start in the States that are associated with what we're doing over here. But it takes teams of people with a common vision to do all of this. I'm excited about the possibilities.

So, let's hear your ideas...


  1. What you are talking about is a non-profit using a for-profit business model. It is a hot topic at the moment not just in Christian circles with BAM, but also with secular non-profits as they try to make up for their lower levels of support due to the economic crisis. What you mention above, is one side of the coin. The other is the for-profit business with non-profit motives or goals, and I think there are various shades of color in between these two. I have a post planned on this that I am researching. I think that eventually, as the Social Entrepreneurship concept develops more we are going to see the line blur between secular and faith based enterprises, and that will cause its own set of problems. Check out the two secular sites I include at the bottom.
    Regarding your points on setting your company structure to prevent temptation, I believe there is always temptation out there, you can set up systems to prevent it, but there will always be someone who will think they can get away with it even in "Christian" circles (i.e.- Jim Baker, etc...). In 1Corinthians 10:13 the bible says: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." We have to understand that temptation will always be there (especially for Christian leaders because the enemy wants to undermine Christ's message) but if we are following Christ, he will provide a way for us to overcome it. Structure, laws, or man-made things will not prevent it, only truth & light will; Jesus is the truth and light (see 1John 2:8 I'll stop there, maybe this should be a post and not a comment. LOL :-D
    Anyway, you know you have a good post when you get long comments like this one. Consider it a compliment.

    SE Alliance-
    B Corporation-

  2. CruxG--well said! Thank you for commenting on this post. Good stuff. And you are right about temptation. We should do what we can in all due dilligence in designing our systems to leave out obvious holes in accountability. That said, no "system" can save us from temptation. Thank you.