“Sometimes the money can be transferred to a different organization, but several conditions apply.”
In some circumstances, when someone starts with one ministry and discovers another one is a better fit, the organization will release the funds that person has raised to the second organization. But this generally only happens if you are joining another non-profit ministry and have extra money in your account. If you’re collecting a salary or benefits or reimbursing expenses, any “excess” funds in your account will need to cover the cost of those things first.
So people who change ministries often have to “start over” with their support raising. If, though, they have a lot of monthly donors and the donors clearly understand and support the change of direction, it may not be a big deal; just ask donors to send their checks to a different organization (though it is not wise to be presumptuous about such a request!)
Some missionaries ask to have themselves “seconded” (loaned, long-term) from the first agency to the second, rather than quitting the first to join the second. There’s usually some kind of fee for that on one side or the other but it allows the missionary to maintain their donor base and ties to the agency without as much disruption and may be a good choice, especially for an assignment that is temporary or tentative in some way.
The key thing to remember is that the money already given doesn’t actually belong to you, it belongs to the agency your donors gave it to. Of course their intention was to fund your ministry and the agency will do all they can to see that the money is used for that purpose.
But there is a legal issue here. The IRS is strong on this point and the rules are getting more and more strict: if a non-profit charity takes donated funds, they have to maintain control over those funds. They cannot promise donors, missionaries, or mission team members that the money is theirs to do with as they please. That’s why they can’t give a “refund” for anyone who changes their ministry direction.
I’m in communication right now with a couple preparing to go the field who are a little frustrated that their church and some of their donors are holding back the funds they’ve pledged until the family is actually ready to go… on the chance that they might not make it to the field. The donors don’t want to give money to the agency if they aren’t sure it’s going to help this family get to the field. Ultimately, you can’t eliminate all such risk. But there is a time to be cautious.
Ministries should have clear policies that cover what happens to the donated funds if a short-termer withdraws from a trip or doesn’t raise the full amount required and if a long-termer leaves the ministry or does not have enough support to cover their salary and expenses.
Answer from Marti, who has served as a mission mobilizer since 1995, including more than ten years with Pioneers.