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Equipment or expertise?

Your church spent a year raising money to send a young MD in the congregation to volunteer abroad. But her destination hospital now asks to use the funds to buy equipment. The doctor argues the trip would be both spiritually rewarding and an opportunity to share her expertise. How will you spend the funds?

By Ken Gallinger and Ruth McQuirter Scott

When we entered into this year-long fundraising endeavour, we made two clear commitments. First, we committed to the doctor that we would support her in the project she was planning. Second, we made a commitment to donors that we would use funds received to send Dr. X to Location Y. People gave money and the doctor planned her life based on those two commitments.

So we’re not going to renege on those commitments now. 

Not only would it be unethical to do so; it would, arguably, be illegal. You can’t take money given for one purpose and use it for another. At the very least, we would have to go back to each individual donor and ask permission to redirect donations. Given that the doctor herself is not in favour of that approach, it’s unlikely many donors would consent.

Perhaps this project wasn’t sorted out as carefully as it should have been before the campaign began. In a perfect world, the congregation would have communicated directly with the hospital to discern more accurately what the facility perceived its greatest needs to be. Maybe that didn’t happen, or maybe the hospital changed its mind late in the game. Either way, that’s not something I can change now.

What I can do, hopefully with the doctor’s enthusiastic support, is launch another fundraising appeal for equipment. That might not be too hard a sell; experience tells me that in every church there are those who will give to people, and those who will give to bricks, mortar and other hardware. Having grabbed the first group with my previous appeal, I’ll focus this thrust on Group 2; they love results that are tangible and measurable, so they’ll likely shell out.

Author's photo
Ruth McQuirter Scott is an educator and member of Port Nelson United in Burlington, Ont.

Our primary commitment has always been to the young doctor in our congregation. She approached us with her desire to volunteer her knowledge and skills abroad, in a hospital that seemed eager to have her services. Our church recognized this as an opportunity to help a young person grow spiritually while benefiting others in a developing country. All our fundraising has been based on this assumption. To change the focus without the consent of our donors would be irresponsible. It would also be unfair to the doctor. She has undoubtedly planned the coming year with this placement in mind. She entered into the agreement with the foreign hospital in good faith. We do not want to discourage her from what could be a lifelong commitment to social justice and international service. The fact that the destination hospital has changed its mind is not the point. If the hospital does not need her assistance, then we will suggest she find an alternate location in which to serve. We might also advise her to connect with the original hospital and assess their concerns. If equipment is truly needed, she could determine this during her stay and perhaps help us launch a new campaign to raise the necessary funds. As a church, we will need to review our procedures for supporting such requests. Should we have been more diligent in checking with the receiving hospital? Is there a reputable international organization through which we can work? We can begin by consulting the Mission and Service Fund of The United Church of Canada and its list of global partners. In this way, we stand a better chance of matching skills and needs.
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