Probably most of our readers experience the same problem that I do every day. Each day's mail—both at home and at the office—brings a goodly number of urgently worded solicitations for donations. These are generally about equally divided between political causes, religious causes, and charitable causes.
The telephone also brings several solicitations each week.
No doubt most of these causes are legitimate and worthy of support, but their very numbers tend to weary the recipients to the point that many of them finally quit reading any of them, routing each fund appeal letter directly from mailbox to wastebasket.
This has been my experience, at least. As far as telephone appeals are concerned, my natural inclination to be politely concerned about the cause eventually becomes an inclination to terminate the conversation as graciously (but as firmly) as possible.
I used to try to evaluate all such appeals carefully and have contributed to many of them, but contributing seems quickly to proliferate in further appeals, not only from the organizations that have received contributions, but also from others who somehow obtain access to their mailing lists.
Which leads to the subject of mailing lists. Each group has its own mailing list, but many of them frequently also lend or sell their mailing lists to other groups. At least some evangelical leaders have used the term "grazing" to describe the practice of sending frequent mailings to those on many mailing lists. The idea is that the wider the grazing area and the more often one grazes, the more one takes in. Apparently this approach works for many organizations, but it does also tend to "turn off" many who are truly concerned about the needs.
Incidentally, this type of fund raising is not confined to conservative political causes and fundamentalist Christian organizations. Liberals do the same thing. I happen to read various liberal—even anti-Christian—publications in order to keep informed about what they are saying (especially about creationists) and so have inadvertently managed to get included on a number of their mailing lists as well.
For example, the American Civil Liberties Union recently invited me to join the ACLU, addressing me as "Dear Friend of Freedom," and pointing out that "for 78 years, the ACLU, supported exclusively by caring, concerned people like you, has been the nation's staunch defender of the Bill of Rights and freedom" (emphasis is theirs).
Honest—that's really what the letter said! The ACLU seems to be in vital need of more financial support to carry on their agenda of "defending freedom" by defending abortions, homosexuality, flag burning, and by keeping prayer, Bible, and creation out of our schools. They requested not only my membership, but also a generous contribution (both of which I respectfully declined) to "challenge the forces of backlash and reaction," as they put it.
I also receive frequent donation requests from the American Humanist Association and various other anti-creationist and liberal organizations. I was rather surprised, however, to receive recently a fund appeal letter from that most prestigious of all scientific organizations, the National Academy of Sciences. This organization, "operating in partnership with the National Academy of Engineering through the National Research Council, is the premier source of advice on science and technology and their relation to national policy." At least that is what their letter claims, and it is probably right. It is a very prestigious organization and gets a great deal of its financial support from the government.
Nevertheless, they need more. "These issues can't wait," the letter says, "but the only way we can study them is to turn to the American people, people like you, for support." Among the important issues that can't wait is that of permeating the schools with evolutionism. "We are leading the fight to ensure that the teaching of evolution stays in our classrooms, and `creation science' stays out."
To implement that fight, the Academy has recently issued a guidebook entitled, Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science. This book, one of whose authors is Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the strongly anti-creationist organization called the National Center for Science Education, "is intended to provide educators and policy-makers with tools to help integrate lessons about the scientific theory [of evolution] with basic biology for children in kindergarten through grade 12" (Skeptical Inquirer, July/August 1998, p. 5).
The Scripps Howard News Service article, reporting on this new guidebook, said that the purpose of the guidebook was "to help educators keep the theory of natural selection from becoming extinct" (Lee Bowman, in San Diego Union Tribune, April 10, 1998, p. A-12). We creationists had not yet noticed that evolution teaching was about to become extinct, but this wolf-cry of alarm no doubt has some fund-raising appeal.
So the evolutionists send out fund appeal letters just like the politicians and fundamentalists do. Whatever the organization's particular cause may be, the letters are often written by professional fund-raising organizations that get a generous percentage of the grazing results. These frequently include a survey or questionnaire to focus interest in the goals of the organization and commonly take up about three or four pages, with frequent underlinings and exclamation points, and maybe a touching story or two for emotional appeal.
This approach seems to work for many organizations, and perhaps the end justifies the means when the mission of the group is a worthy cause. But we have never felt that we here at ICR should do it this way.
Obviously, we also need a significant amount of financial support, and most of this must necessarily come in the form of donations from concerned Christian creationists on our mailing list.
However, our approach has certain distinctives which we believe are soundly Biblical. We do not buy, rent, or borrow mailing lists from other organizations, nor do we allow others to buy, rent, or borrow ours. So far as we know, everyone on our ICR list has requested to be on it and is therefore directly interested in the ICR creation ministry, both for their own needs and for reaching others.
Furthermore, we do not send out fund appeal letters as such at all, nor do we ever use telephone solicitors. We send out two free publications—the monthly Acts & Facts newsletter (about 150,000 each month) and the Days of Praise devotional booklet (about 250,000 each quarter). Both publications contain material of direct help to the reader, and we receive many wonderful testimonies after each issue from people who have been helped or blessed in some way by reading them.
The newsletter also contains news items about current ministry activities (graduate school classes, seminars, radio programs, museum displays, research projects, youth meetings, debates, new books and videos, workshops for parents and students, international outreach, field tours, etc.) so that readers can know what their gifts are doing. There is a one-page cover letter, written by President John Morris, along with a one-page Bible study on Christian stewardship written by our Director of Stewardship and Trust Services, Tom Manning, on the inside back cover of Acts & Facts. In the cover letter, there are one or two sentences in reference to our financial needs and appreciation of those who help.
And that's it. In spite of our "soft" approach to fund-raising, God has blessed the ICR ministry for 28 years now, enabling us to finish every year in the black, and gradually to increase the outreach to a worldwide constituency and ministry (especially through our books) reaching millions. We have no government support (and would not accept it if offered), no denominational support, and only minor income from foundations or other special sources. Most of it comes from the Acts & Facts mailing list (as above described); some from book sales and royalties, tuitions, tour fees, seminar registrations, etc. All those who contribute are thus also being ministered to themselves, in some direct way. We "give" as well as "receive," and it is "more blessed" that way.
One other factor has a bearing. Our policy is not to go into debt. Consequently, we never have to make urgent "shipwreck" appeals. We believe God has blessed these financial policies and, even though many Christian organizations are much larger than ICR, we are thankful to God and to our faithful supporters for what has been accomplished.
There are many more creationist organizations now holding seminars, writing and selling books, etc., then there were when we started 28 years ago. All of these need monetary support, but we regard them as colleagues rather than competitors in this vital latter-day ministry of calling the church and the world back to true faith in God as Creator and Savior, through the Lord Jesus Christ.
We see no need to "graze" anyone's mailing list for support. As long as we faithfully seek to honor His word, we are confident He will supply the need through His people to accomplish the work He wants us to do. Our confidence is in God's promises (e.g., Revelation 3:8) and in the faithful prayers of so many of our readers.
* Dr. Morris is Founder and President Emeritus of ICR.