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Why FREE is Not Always Best
By Dan Vis
October 15, 2016
Comments: 6

Those involved in ministry often want to give away as possible for free. And that's certainly a commendable desire. But it may not always be the best option. There are costs that come with such generosity--and sometimes the costs are higher than we think!

I recently read an article by Stu McLaren on this exact topic, entitled Free is Bad For Business, and the points he made apply to ministry just as much as business.

Here are his three hidden costs/ to not charging for what you offer:

1) Support

If you are offering a free service you can only provide limited support. And poor service has it's own costs, as the word gets around that you are not "user friendly". Rather, give people prompt and effective support, and charge what is necessary to do so.

2) Development

To keep your ministry on the cutting-edge requires constant research and development. New tools. New materials. New training. All that takes time. And money. Without revenue coming in, it is difficult to invest in these, and your ministry can stagnate.

3) Focus

If your ministry is not generating enough income to keep things going, those expenses have to be covered from some other source, whether it is fundraising, a second job, or some other for-profit business. Either way, your focus is divided. Your community may be better off with you 100% engaged in mission.

You can probably think of more hidden costs: Not being able to hire the staff you need. Not being able to promote your ministry (advertising). Second best equipment, facilities, etc. Having to say no to opportunities because funds are not available. Not having reserves for emergencies. Or to support special projects that are important to you.

If you have been trying, but unable to take your ministry to the next level, it may be because you are giving away too much for free. Make sure you have a viable financial model that allows you to provide the best service possible to your people.

That's what ministry is all about, isn't it? Serving your people?

Comments

So what do you think about giving too much away for free? Does it hurt or help a ministry?

Posted by Dan Vis on 01/07/17

That was my thinking for a long while Daniel, but it actually slowed the growth of our ministry, and made our work very difficult. I finally realized the "line" you have to draw is what is best for the people you serve. What allows you to do the greatest amount of good?

For FAST, we seem to do best offering a mixture of free and paid services. Those who want more can get it, the costs of the ministry can then be covered, and even our free services can be strengthened for the benefit of all. Without a team of partners, we would not be in a position to give advanced help to people, and even our free services would suffer.

That's from more than 20 years experience. I've found focusing on what's best for those I serve to be the most helpful guiding principle. Great question! Thank you for the comment.

Posted by Daniel on 01/07/17
I guess there are arguments on both sides & probably can fight/justify for each side. Free allows more people to join. Free is what Jesus gives us. He said freely ye have received freely give. Where do you draw the line?
Posted by Dan Vis on 11/01/16
You are exactly right Dan. We've noticed that as well. Thanks for point that out!
Posted by Dan Pratt on 11/01/16
Another point is that people value more what they invest more into. The bicycle I gave my five-year-old son was not nearly as well taken care of as the one he worked and saved for. As in, "Oh Daddy, I need to go back outside for a minute and put my bicycle under the roof, it might rain tonight." instead of "Son, you need to go out and put your bike under the roof."
Posted by Dan Vis on 10/19/16
Hi Berith! Thanks for stopping in. Since we switched to a partner supported model, we have been able to make major advances in how we can help people. We were slow learning this lesson, but it is an important one.
Posted by Berith Bermejo on 10/18/16
I understand the desire to give for free. This article raises very valid points. Thanks for sharing.

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