A potential supporter told me this: “Your annual support need is as high as the annual income of some of the members on our missions board. That has us really concerned.”
I had met with the missions board previously. I knew from other context that the annual income referred to was that of retirees. That is, they knew what they got annually from their pensions and retirement funds.
So they were wondering why I, a relatively (sort of, compared to them, I guess) young missionary, had an annual budget that matched theirs. They had grown their income and saved for decades, so why was mine so high?
Realize here that it is one thing to debate what the average missionary salary should be. (As a side note, let me tell you, almost everybody thinks the missionary’s salary should be lower than their own.)
Did you notice that they were comparing my total support budget with their income?
They assumed that my whole support budget was my salary.
(This also meant that their salary matched my total support budget, thus making their salary much higher than mine.)
When you share your total support budget with somebody, they will often assume it’s your salary. Or, if it’s not technically your salary, they will think that all money given to partner with you in ministry somehow ends up magically in your pocket.
But that’s not the only issue clouding the water.
People don’t know what is in the missionary’s budget.
Missionaries in different contexts can have wildly different support budgets. Some missionaries may have to raise support to pay for a school to send their children to because there isn’t a local school option where they serve.
“Well, they could home school…” you might be thinking. Ask any homeschooler: it is definitely not free.
But some missionaries may serve where their children can attend local schools for free. That will significantly decrease the support budget.
Another factor to keep in mind is that many missionaries are going to countries where they are not welcome as missionaries. Many of these places don’t want foreigners in general. This means they have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to gain the necessary visas and paperwork to simply be in the country. On top of this, they may have to leave the country several times and return in order to legally be in the country. These travel costs add up quickly if a whole family has to leave and return.
So wildly different missionary support budgets can exist for good reason.
Does the missionary raise support for everything?
Another confusing factor is that some missionaries don’t have to raise all of their financial support. They only have to raise a part of it. This often makes them blind to expenses their missions agency covers that other missionaries have to raise support for.
With all of the confusion about what is included in the missionary’s financial need, how can you explain it clearly and concisely?
First, here’s how you should not explain it.
Do Not Explain your Missionary Budget Like This.
Do not show a budget on a spreadsheet that has two hundred line items on it. Such a tool might help you and your agency make a budget. That tool was not designed to communicate clearly. A complicated spreadsheet will not communicate effectively with somebody who is trying to understand your budget.
Also, do not simply say something like: “The worker is worthy of his wages…” and not give any information about how your necessary support level was calculated. This comes across as defensive, and it seems like you’re hiding something.
How to Explain your Missionary Budget in less than a minute.
There are two main tactics you can use in this scenario.
Break your budget down into about five categories.
People can quickly understand five categories, and it will also show that your salary is only a part of the total you need to raise. Your categories might look something like: salary and housing, ministry expenses (language school tuition, airfare to and from required conferences and trainings, computers), Children’s Education (if there are no schools where you are going), Administration and Overhead (Accounting, Human Resources Professionals necessary to keep us on the field, and Benefits (retirement, medical insurance).
The challenge here is that most people are blind to how much all of these things truly cost. Or, they may argue you shouldn’t receive any retirement our medical insurance.
Try what I’ve heard some missionaries say: “If you run a small business or work in human resources, you understand the real cost of hiring a new employee. Salary is only part of it.” This works great if you have such people on the missions committee you’re speaking with. Chances are, if they have made hiring decisions, they know that it will cost their business far more than the new employee’s salary. To add to it, you then say, “Now imagine you are hiring that new employee to work overseas on their own.”
As an additional explanation, say, “These are the types of financial supports our missions agency has found is needed to keep missionaries on the field longer and healthier. A short term missionary wouldn’t need medical insurance. But some long term missionaries leave the field because of medical problems and then don’t have insurance to help cover it.”
Imaginary Scenario for Potential Supporters.
You can get a little creative with this one.
Walk them through a thought experiment that goes something like this: “Pretend you are hiring a new staff person for your church. What are some of the things you want? A seminary degree? Five years experience? Consider how much you pay your church staff right now. Remember you will need to be able to pay for benefits for your new church staff member, and not just their salary. Now consider taking that church staff member and sending them to a different country. You will still want to see them every few years, go to some trainings, learn the language, and send their kids to school.”
You need to be careful how you use this thought experiment. Some people might be a bit prickly about their pastor’s compensation, or it may put the pastor on the defensive. However, it can help people see some of the “hidden” costs missionaries need to raise support for. It makes people wonder why they would demand a pastor with a realistic budget to serve them at their own church, but at the same they would send a missionary to minister to somebody else who has a less than adequate budget.
Helping people understand the missionary’s budget is one of the hurdles you will face as a missionary raising support.
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