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Review of Rob Martin, When Money Goes On Mission: Fundraising and Giving in the 21st Century

Author: Nathan Bills
Published: Summer-Fall 2021

MD 12.2

Article Type: Book Review

Rob Martin. When Money Goes On Mission: Fundraising and Giving in the 21st Century. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2019. Paperback. 287 pages. $14.99.

In a recent conversation with a distinguished Christian grantmaking organization, Rob Martin’s When Money Goes On Mission was recommended as a handy map for the task of fundraising for Christian mission. Martin’s résumé includes working for a Los Angeles rescue mission, a brief stint as US Director of the Lausanne Committee, and nineteen years as the executive director of First Fruit, Inc., an estimable Christian charitable foundation. He currently coaches ministries and foundations in fundraising, among other organizational issues, as well as serving as a Senior Associate for Global Philanthropy and a seminar leader on Fundraising for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Clearly, Martin is well-versed, well-traveled, and well-positioned to pen a book on the topic. This is affirmed by a slew of enthusiastic endorsements from an impressive list of stalwarts in the fields of Evangelical Christian philanthropy and mission. And though I have no expertise in the intersection of these enterprises, with this review I add my voice to those applauding Martin’s work. When Money Goes On Mission delivers an engaging and insightful guide to the (commonly thorny) terrain of mission fundraising.

Martin traverses the terrain in four parts, each containing several chapters. The chapters navigate various issues and perspectives of both funders and funded, but together they are calibrated to Martin’s thesis that missional fundraising should nurture “a communion of giving and receiving” (63). This is Martin’s true north that orients money on mission. Thus, throughout the book he works to redescribe fundraising as a relational partnership (“communion”) that is transformational rather than merely transactional. At the end of each chapter, he nicely captures that chapter’s particular contribution by completing the sentence “When money goes on mission . . ..” A notable strength of the book is the intermingled real-world narratives that advance Martin’s direction or illustrate his directives. His stories are entertaining and substantive, in no small part because they are frequently autobiographical. His narratives, his conversational writing style, and his relative concision—given the expansive ground he covers—help make this book an ideal compass for missionaries and mission funders.

Part one argues that the shifting landscape of mission to the global South calls for a new paradigm of partnership between local, Majority World “missional entrepreneurs” and moneyed, Western givers (Martin prefers the clumsier “autochthonous leaders” to designate indigenous mission leaders for reasons never adequately justified). This new paradigm contrasts with previous eras/models of mission work in that it values balanced mutuality between giver and receiver. Genuine mutuality is hard if not impossible to come by, Martin avers, where the giver and receiver are not interdependent within their local context—that is, “financially sustained for their own core operations within a local context” (50). Such a forceful statement should give pause. Commitment to this core value means that indigenous leaders should seek local funding strategies and plan for sustainability accordingly without foreign financial dependence. When it is appropriate, cross-cultural giving ought not short-circuit the discipleship, joy, and freedom that arises from local sustainability and accountability. Martin’s prescription will necessarily raise eyebrows; nevertheless, he rightly attempts to come to terms with the unfolding era of locals truly owning their own mission efforts—their governance, finances, results, and growth—and hence, partnering as trusted equals with outsiders who are called to accompany them.

Part two meanders between the themes of faithful trust in God and excellence in practice. In my estimation it lacks the same degree of constructive focus as the other three parts; the chapters could have been consolidated to make for an even tidier read. Martin holds up a commitment to excellence as the essential counterpart to relying on God’s provision when working or investing in mission. If one is practiced without, or at the expense of, the other, then money on mission operates in dangerous territory. Faithfulness cannot be translated willy-nilly into measurable outcomes, but neither ought it be used to excuse inefficiency. How givers and receivers measure efficiency should be rooted in organic effectiveness—which can often only be discerned up close—rather than transactional benchmarks viewed from a spreadsheet. Throughout this section Martin uses the metaphor of catching the wind on a sailboat to express the connection between the human and divine roles in the communion of giving and receiving (though the chapters in this part have much more to say to the receiver than the giver).

Part three examines in sequence the themes of trust, purpose, character, ideas, and track record as marks of excellence of leadership with money. In these chapters Martin comes across as a coach in the locker room of mission leaders who want givers to join their team. He stresses the need for accountability (“if you can’t be fired from your position, you’re not accountable” [139]). He emphasizes that leaders must clearly define mission direction in view of clearly defined needs—and they must be able to articulate how they are making progress. Martin lifts up trustworthiness as an essential character trait for mission leaders. Yet, he perceptively parses trustworthiness in terms of being a person with courage in the face of weakness, change, challenge, or opposition. Opposition is sometimes “disguised as good ideas that are not necessarily God’s ideas” (166). Martin recommends strategic planning for the short term (~18 months) that aligns strategies with missional context and purpose. Givers fund strategy when they ascertain and agree with its destination. Extensive long-term planning, however, usually wastes more resources than it contributes in the dynamic circumstances of mission. Finally, a ministry’s track record discloses not just the ability of the mission but also the future potential of the mission—and the latter helps especially to build investor confidence. Leaders should not neglect honestly relating the “Ebenezers” (1 Sam 7:12) and even the failures in communicating the mission’s way forward.

Part four distills practical recommendations on the nuts and bolts of the fundraising process. Martin gives direction, among other things, on board-executive relationships, the hunt for potential donors, communication with existing donors, and grant proposals. These chapters offer a trove of advice, accumulated by years of experienced fundraising and funding, for mission leaders seeking concrete “how to’s.” In offering his wisdom, Martin continues to underscore that mission fundraising must aim to nurture a communion of trust and accountability that leads to a mutually transformative relationship.

The task of uniting givers and receivers in responsible, faithful partnership is not simple, especially when money crosses cultures on mission. It takes thoughtfulness, transparency, patience, hard work, and humility—in a word, love. Love, Martin emphasizes in the concluding chapter, both maps the way and is the destination of giver and receiver. Martin is to be thanked for plotting the topography for the journey and showing us with wit and wisdom that the journey can be—indeed, should be—a pilgrimage of love.

Nathan Bills

Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Theology

Heritage Christian College

Accra, Ghana

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