Clarity and accountability on support tracking

        Sarah and I are glad to share the wonderful news of a big jump in our support raising! This jump is partially because of new ministry partners joining our team, but also because of two changes in our accounting. We want to be fully accountable and above reproach in the way that we steward the Lord’s resources that others have entrusted us with, so this post is to explain what the changes are and why we made them. In short, the two changes are that we aligned the way that we calculate our budgetary numbers with the rest of the Tri-Grace Ministries (TGM) staff, and we accepted the staff’s exhortation to count special, non-recurring gifts towards our support level. I’ll explain these two changes in more detail below. In both cases, we are changing our method to be more unified with the rest of the TGM staff.

1.       Budgetary changes

          When we wrote our initial budget for moving to Utah, we aimed to be not too high and not too low. We recognize that we are stewards of the Lord’s money and should not waste it by any means, especially knowing how many missionaries and Christian organizations could have a greater impact with greater funding. On the other side of the coin, we know that what our ministry partners’ money buys is really our time, and we don’t want to waste that either. We could raise less money and spend that time clipping endless coupons, baking our own bread, and canning food from our garden. These are all fine things to do, but we see our time in Utah as precious and devoted first to building the Lord’s kingdom. We don’t believe we’d receive any special prizes in heaven for saving God money: he is an infinite God, able to provide for all our needs without limit. While we practice frugality and shrewdness in ministry life at least as much as we did when privately employed, we don’t believe it is wise for us to go over the top, flirting with the poverty line to save resources from an infinite God. Those who know me (Ned) will know my frugal streak is wide- I am in fact all about coupons, high-MPG cars, and turning the lights off in empty rooms. Please trust that gifts are used with a mind for the greatest impact from the resources the Lord entrusts us with.

                The change to our budget is actually that we now have two budgets: a working budget and a maximum budget. TGM is a board-controlled non-profit organization, with guidance and approval on significant decisions and long term plans from a board of trusted and wise Christians. This ensures a high level of external accountability for the TGM staff[N1]  and provides steady guidance from an outside perspective. Our budgets had to be approved by the board before we could collect even a dollar of what we’ve raised, because all the funds we raise go through TGM. The budget that the board approves is our maximum budget. This is intended to be a higher amount than what we’ll actually raise or collect right off the bat, to allow for flexibility in the future as needs change. Our working budget is smaller, and is the actual number that we expect to need when we arrive and get settled. It is what we use as our target for support raising, which is one reason why our support level jumped up this month: our working budget amount is lower than our old budget amount. Since the target is lower, our support percentage is higher! The system of a working budget and a maximum budget provides the flexibility and security we’d tried to attain with a ‘middle of the road’ budget, without the need to raise more than our immediate need right off the bat. If we find that things are tight later on for any reason- family growth, rising gas prices, or any other legitimate reason, we are free to ask TGM’s directors to increase our working budget and seek more financial support to provide for that need. This would always be within the maximum budget approved by the board.

2.       Including special gifts in our support level

          Up until this month, our support level has reflected only ongoing commitments from ministry partners- monthly, annually, etc.  We have been greatly blessed to receive many special gifts also which are not intended to recur on a specific schedule- these put a nice buffer in our account for up-front moving expenses, times when things may be tighter, etc. We’ve been encouraged by the TGM staff to include these in our support level. We’d excluded them previously because we didn’t want to rely on gifts like these to keep coming in the future- after all, we are making it our full-time work now to meet with many people to present our need, so it might be expected that we would not see as many special gifts come in in the future. We were surprised, but pleased, to hear all of the other TGM staff report that they see a continual stream of support come in the form of special gifts. Sometimes they are from completely unexpected sources, sometimes from friends of the ministry who choose to give over and above their commitment, or from others whose situation doesn’t lend itself to a rigid recurring commitment- one way or another, it came.

           Analyzing the last five years' records of gifts, it was found that 15-20% of the financial need of ministry families on the TGM staff came from special gifts. The rest of the TGM staff have all learned to expect this and account for it in their support raising strategy by including at least 15% support from special gifts. In light of this, we have been encouraged to do the same, and we are glad to accept this wisdom. When the data confirms the experience that at least 15% always comes in- in recession years and boom years, we would not want to set the finish line unnecessarily further back . The Lord has provided this way for years, and we will adjust our accounting to match the model that he has established. As such, our support level automatically jumps 15% this month, as we are now including the expectation of at least that amount each year. Our experience so far confirms that 15% each year is a realistic number.  Praise God for this encouraging development and sudden push closer to our goal!

Wrapping up

          I hope that this information clears up any confusion or concern about our sudden jump in support level. As always, Sarah and I strive to be faithful stewards of the Lord’s resources and use them in the wisest way that we can. An opaque, vague, approach to reporting our progress and status would not serve that goal. This post isn’t the most exciting one you’ll find on our blog, but we wanted to make sure that any questions from our supporters had ready answers, and to practice clear accountability in our stewardship. As always, we are completely open to questions and feedback. You can reach us via email as usual, or using the Contact Us page.