Acton Institute Powerblog

Donors vs. Owners in ‘Business as Mission’ (and Beyond)

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

givingmoney“Do economic incentives help or hinder ‘business as mission’ (BAM) practitioners?” In a forthcoming study, Dr. Steven Rundle of Biola University explores the question through empirical research.

Unsatisfied with the evidence thus far, consisting mostly of case studies and anecdotes, Rundle conducted an anonymous survey of 119 “business as mission” practitioners, focusing on a variety of factors, including (1) “the source of their salary (does it come from the revenues of the business or from donors?),” and (2) “the outcomes of the business in terms of the four ‘bottom lines’ of economic, social, environmental and spiritual impact.”

The reason for focusing on such areas? “Many people in the ministry/missions world believe that donor support helps ensure that practitioners stay focused on the ministry goals.”

Rundle summarizes his findings as follows:

This study essentially found the exact opposite. It found that practitioners who are fully supported by the business tend to out-perform – sometimes significantly – donor-supported BAM practitioners, and are no less fruitful in terms of spiritual impact. This finding holds up even after controlling for things like geography, firm size, and firm type.

…. The moral of the story is that economic incentives matter. Contrary to the mission community’s concern that self-support will take one’s attention away from the ministry goals, the truth is that only by creating a successful business can a practitioner hope to have a meaningful and holistic impact on a community.

randle-donors-ownersOf course, “business as mission” means plenty of different things to plenty of different people, as Rundle duly affirms. Here, however, it may be helpful to pause and consider the reach of such findings. As for Rundle, he bundles BAM as “the idea that businesses can be financially successful while also addressing social problems” and “spiritual needs,” which seems as good and as broad a definition as any.

But though there’s something to be said about being more intentional and thoughtful about bottom-line complexity, particularly from a distinctly Christian perspective, we should be careful that our definitions of such things (“social entrepreneurship,” “business as mission,” etc.) aren’t overly constrained. Plenty of businesses pursue such ends quite organically, as in, without seeking this or that label, or without subscribing to this or that bullet-point manifesto. If our work is fundamentally servant to God and service to the other, the space for addressing “social problems” and “spiritual needs” is strikingly deep and wide and varied.

Staying in step with such a sentiment, and with Rundle’s final conclusion, the implications of his findings reach even farther. That increased ownership over the cultivation and creation of wealth and resources might correspond with increasingly fruitful endeavors is not a revelation we should limit to the realm of business, “missional” or otherwise. What might it imply for the world of fundraising, for example? What might it teach us about furthering the work of missions more broadly, from the soup kitchen to the schoolhouse to the tent meeting revival? There is much here to learn from a “business as mission” perspective, but churches aiming to aid, empower, and send their members would do well to consider this more broadly as well.

I look forward to reading more from Dr. Rundle and am grateful for his interest in exploring these questions with the attention they deserve. The study, “Does Donor Support Help or Hinder BAM Practitioners: An Empirical Assessment,” will be published by International Bulletin of Missionary Research in January 2014.

In the meantime, you can watch the following 24-minute lecture and review the accompanying slides here.

Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace

Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace

Scott B. Rae and Kenman L. Wong seek to explore critical business issues from a uniquely Christian perspective, offering up a vision for work and service that is theologically grounded and practically oriented.

Joseph Sunde Joseph Sunde is a writer and project coordinator for the Acton Institute, serving as editor of the Letters to the Exiles blog and content manager of the Oikonomia channel at He is the founder of Remnant Culture and was a longtime contributor to AEI's Values & Capitalism project. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Charisma News, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Mission:Work, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.


  • Fox

    It would be interesting to read Dr. Steven Rundle’s entire paper. One argument about BAM is that their is a “natural generational drift” away from the original intent of a firm. For instance, the Dole Company (Dole Pineapple ) was created to support international missions, unfortunately today they are completely secular, and from what I understand no longer support international missions. Likewise, Harvard University started as training center for pastor’s and missionary’s, but today they are completely liberal in their thinking and have lost their spiritual authority. Many in the missions community are concern with several things. 1) Supporting a firm that financially benefits from free labor and donations – I’m referring to for-profit firms, not non-profit firms. 2) Generational drift and long-term implications 3) Leadership or Accountability – many people who are BAM tend not to have the same accountability structure as other missionaries. This can complicate the situation very quickly. Their are many other serious concerns as well. Just to be clear, this is not a new idea, it has been around a long time. Even with all these ideas and concerns I’m considering also participating in BAM. Their is much that can be learned from the things that have worked and not worked in the past and be cognizant of how they can be applied to the future. In Awe of Him, Fox

  • This is Very useful information shared here. I am
    really thankful for this.