Emails Like This Make Ministry Frustrating

Last week I sent out an email to ask for donations to Training Minds Ministry. It’s a great ministry to support — a ministry that “trains minds for action” — and I sometimes wonder why more people don’t support it. It may be because I hardly ever ask for donations. (Please read my appeal here.)

When you understand how I have this all set up, you understand that this is a great ministry to support.

My family — kneeling in front — is pictured here with the rest of California’s Training Minds Debate Camp.

Together with other coaches, I’m plugging away at lots of exciting things. I have a major event coming up this weekend, I have two camps set up for next summer, and I’m anxious to see where Nationals will be in both leagues in order to set up how to help competitors there. Our alumni do awesome in competition — just like they do every year — and what they do beyond in life is even more exciting.

So last week I asked people to support this good work. Financially. Like I said, I don’t ask often, typically only at the end of the year. Here’s a response from someone on my mailing list:

Maybe you should consider lowering your ridiculous sourcebook prices. The sourcebook quality is equal to or lower than the free NCFCA sourcebook, and more expensive than any other sourcebook I know of. You know who [typo from original] economics work: Quality demanded goes up when price goes down. If you say “on sale” and put the price to a more reasonable one, many more people will buy.

Your sourcebook is not the only overpriced item, it’s just the only one I pay attention to. Training Minds has a reputation for being a wannabe monopoly: Charging prices as if they’ve cornered the NCFCA market, when there are many alternatives to it.

Rather than asking for donations, consider making a product good enough that people actually want to buy it, at a price that people will buy it for. Donations are for organizations that don’t sell products. You do. Use that.

My kids think I should let this roll off my back. I’m sorry, I take it personally. In all sincerity, I want to help the person — be he a coach, student, parent, or teacher — who’s lashing out at me, so this is sort of like biting the hand that feeds you. It’s a strange phenomena to helping others. I see this in the work of other leaders and ministers, too.

But this email bothers me for another reason: the perception is totally wrong. I wonder how many other people consider the ministry and the business as one of the same. Like any pastor or musician or missionary, I have a very legitimate and functional system that makes it possible for me to pour my life into the ministry of which I have tremendous passion and vision for.

I need to set the record straight. The ministry I operate is 100% legit, and if you take the time to see how I have it set up and the awesome work we are able to do because of it, I believe you may want to become a part of it with your contributions.

How Training Minds Ministry Is Set Up

Training Minds Ministry, a 501c3 tax-exempt organization, does not sell products. My publishing company, Monument Publishing, is a for-profit, taxed entity that does.

Here’s a funny fact: The IRS itself suggested I set up both the ministry and my business this way. Back in 2004 when I walked through the legal hassle of setting up my three-year-old Training Minds as a 501c3 nonprofit, I stripped the product sales out of the business model and set up a for-profit, the taxable company called Monument Publishing. For the last 10 years, I have continued the ministry as solely nonprofit work.

Today, Training Minds does camps, Monument Publishing does curriculum.

A lot of ministries are set up this way. None of the coaches nor I — even as its president — take any salary from Training Minds. It’s a genuine, honest, open and transparent labor of love. We are financially accountable to the IRS to keep our ministry work ministry work. You may be surprised to hear that, though we are tax-deductible, we rarely have much of anything to be taxed anyway. I like to say we are a “break-even ministry,” meaning we pay the bills and serve the kids. It’s a good and effective system with a decade history.

How do we find the time to earn a living while pouring our coaching into the kids? Through the taxable income from Monument Publishing. Many of my coaches — and oftentimes our camp alumni — are contracted to write for the “overpriced” sourcebooks. We have other resources, too, that keep a modest income rolling in.

Very modest. This isn’t saying much. It is more difficult when leagues try to compete with me, as the emailer mentioned. I like to think we’re doing a fantastic job when my curricula continues to sell even when there is a free alternative. (That’s pretty awesome when you think about it.) We continue to give as much as I’m able to give to debaters, and we enjoy gathering great coaches and former-competitors to produce the resources and events that keep the next generation of debaters succeeding.

See how this gig works? It’s a totally legitimate, effective, and honest way to “train minds for action.” We hope to be able to continue doing what we do far into the future. Thing is, this “gig” is financially difficult and not at all lucrative, and support for the good work we do takes a genuine appeal to your generosity.

Our Work Is Worth Supporting

I need you to know three things:

  1. The ministry I run is really, really worth supporting. We’re doing awesome work, and I want you to consider giving.
  2. The ministry is run on a tight budget with a lot of great people pouring their non-salaried energy into “training minds for action.”
  3. The ministry does not have a cash cow, a bestselling resource to harvest from, or a single donor to underwrite it. Help is genuinely needed.

Sure, this person’s email annoys me. My kids are right: I gotta let it go. However, I checked my database. This email writer ordered my sourcebook for Christmas. That which he claims is “overpriced,” he believed was worth purchasing. My heart is settled: the parent/coach/student/family we are created to serve is being fed.

The real bottom line for me (and should be for all ministries) is this: as long as people are able to grow in the goals of what the ministry sets out to do, the ministry is worth supporting. That’s how it works in the business world, too. As long as people keep buying, we’re worth continuing. That’s “who economics works.”

As 2013 comes to a close, please consider supporting the good work of Training Minds Ministry with your generous donation. We have some great work happening, and I’d like you to be a part of it.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • cynthiajeub

    ouch. That was not a kind letter, and the person who wrote it completely misunderstands the setup between having both a business and a non-profit. When it’s hard to let the hate slide, just remember that that person is impossible to please – no matter how good the quality of your book or how low the price, these people insist on negativity. Don’t let the haters get you down. I still love you.

  • The writer of the letter has no concept of how a ministry actually works, of the IRS rules for nonprofits, or of what it takes to run a nonprofit or a for profit business, Training Minds would be completely legitimate and worthy of support even if it did sell its products through the ministry. As long as the products are within the IRS-approved “exempt purpose” of your 501c3, and the revenue accrues only to the ministry, then that is considered legitimate ministry income.That’s exactly how many 501c3 ministries help pay for their operations, payroll, product publishing, and other expenses. And tax-deductible donations are a legitimate and established alternative funding method to debt-driven models. The nonprofit and for profit model that you have structured is also a common model used by ministries such a Focus on the Family, Navigators, and Cru. Since you could legitimately, legally, and reasonably take a salary from Training Minds as its Executive Director, and at the same time enjoy income from Monument Publishing, it is clear you have gone the extra mile, and more, to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of your 501c3. Ignore the letter. Do the ministry.

    • Thanks Clay.
      “Ignore the letter…do the ministry. Ignore the letter…do the ministry…”

  • Sarah

    Just so you all know, Mr. Jeub is not bragging. I was at his camp this summer and he isn’t Mr. High and Mighty walking around, he talks to the different people who come and is genuinely interested.