Christian consolidation – sometimes less is more

Donations are drying up in
tough economic times
A heavily edited version of this article appeared in Eternity magazine.  The problem was, the Editor took such a heft sword to it the final piece ended up being something I was massively unimpressed with.

So, here's the original un-edited version for your reading pleasure. 

Big business is full of jargon and so-called management-isms.

Step foot into most corporate boardrooms and you can expect to hear any of a number of jargon terms from the common (market-leading and paradigm) to the silly (aspirational and bespoke) to the made up (leaderful and visionistic).

However, while many CEOs may have a penchant for punctuation, they, often, have a good sense of what works well.

A few years ago, one management term that had embarked on a quest for world domination was ‘blue ocean strategy’.

The premise was, essentially, look way out to sea and you’ll find a place to sail where no one else is sailing.  In other words, get an idea no one else has thought of yet and take it to market.

For many Christian organisations though, their approach has been the exact opposite.  They dust off their copy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and embark on a plan of multiplying competition in the hope of greater prosperity.

Perhaps their conversations go something like this: “I have an idea!  But, despite there already being a multitude of people already doing it, we should go do it too.”

The problem with this approach is that while (intentionally or unintentionally) it’s based on sound economic theory, its application is being abused.

That’s because, in the world of Christian charity, there’s a multitude of organisations doing, basically, exactly the same thing.

For example, Anglicare and UnitingCare both do the same work in largely the same locations.  World Vision and Compassion provide exactly the same services to exactly the same people.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s terrific that so many people want to provide charitable services.  But I think it’s unsustainable.

Christian organisations must wake up and realise that the world has changed.  In the post GFC world, where the streets are no longer paved with gold, credit is scarce, interest rates are falling and cost of living increasing, the charitable dollar has never been more vulnerable.

In times of economic downturn people’s spending habits change.  No longer are luxury items such as fine dining and expensive clothes high on the priority list.  Rather, consumers tend to save instead of spend.

So if the charitable dollar is starting to dwindle, it’s only logical that the number of charities themselves will dwindle too.  I.e. with less supply of revenue, the supply of benefits will decrease concurrently.  

Let’s leave our charitable angle here though and look at Christian advocacy.  This is another sector flooded with organisations doing, essentially, the same thing.

While the Australian Christian Lobby is in the halls of Parliament House seeking to dampen the chances of a same sex marriage bill becoming legislation, the Sydney Anglican church and Catholic Church are both making similar submissions.

Again, I ask, is there any real benefit to a multitude of Christian advocacy groups providing an identical service?  Rather, do they simply fall over one another as the clamour for the same goal?

Perhaps, however, this is an opportunity rather than a challenge.  

Perhaps, like so many other markets such as private equity, property and retail, there’s a chance to consolidate the Christian market (both charitable and advocacy).

Imagine the potential if a bunch of Christian charities pooled their resources and worked together?  Rather than trying to compete against each other in order to achieve the exact same outcome, they could merge/integrate/unite (pick your M&A term here) and deliver an even greater benefit.

While Adam Smith advocated that rational self-interest and competition can lead to economic prosperity, its application in the Christian world is unsustainable.

For example, the recent African drought relief program was a fantastic example of Christians wanting to give generously to help those in need.  The problem was, who do you donate to?

All organisations pledged their donation would go to directly help those affected.  But perhaps, had there been a fewer total organisations but an increased number of larger organisations to provide assistance, the resources and means to assist the drought-affected populace may have increased?

This isn’t a silver bullet, but for too long Christians have clambered over the top of each other and tripped each other up along the journey of trying to achieve the same outcome.

Perhaps it’s time to set aside their pride and set aside their non-essential differences and consolidate?

Christians working together – now that would be a story to tell.