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Should Christian nonprofit organizations compete or collaborate?

The American economy with some nuance is based upon capitalism. It’s a free enterprise system wherein people may own businesses offering products or services. Consumers compare these products and services in the competitive marketplace, choosing to purchase, or not, based upon perceived need, demand and supply, quality, and price. Businesses survive or thrive in direct competition, and generally speaking, there’s no safety net.

Given this environment one might think businesspersons would bring a competitive mindset to Christian philanthropy. But usually they don’t. Nor interestingly, do many foundation executives.

Businesspersons and foundation executives considering supporting a ministry financially sometimes want to know whether the ministry is collaborating with other ministries doing similar work. Sometimes they make a gift contingent upon such collaboration.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach. It is, after all, their money. They can choose to donate resources however they wish.

Generally their motivation is stewardship, i.e. a desire to encourage more collaboration in order to gain, hopefully, more bang for their buck. Encouraging collaboration is also motivated by a perception that collaborating ministries achieve a higher level of effectiveness or productivity fulfilling their missions.

By the same token, competition may be perceived ipso facto as a waste of resources. The premise, stated or implied, is that kingdom work, God’s work, shouldn’t be subject to head to head contests for donors, reputation, service, or impact.

But competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Competition can yield the same push-to-improvement among nonprofits as it produces among for-profits. Quality matters, including and especially in the Lord’s work, and competition is one means of encouraging it. Sure, it may mean that some ministry overlap occurs serving a given population or addressing a particular need. It may even mean from time to time that donors support two or more ministries doing similar work. But God can bless each ministry’s work, and he can bless the donors.

Whether Christian ministries compete or collaborate may depend upon a variety of circumstances: denominational or doctrinal differences, ministry philosophy, personalities, organizational capacity, potential for impact, or more. Either way, both approaches can be used to honor the Lord.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

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