LaserMonks.com is an interesting example of a group of people who have integrated their faith into the commercial world. The web site is an electronic store for toner products. Revenue is substantial ($4.5 million in 2007); net income is used to fund a monastery and the Cistercian brothers who run it, in addition to supporting other charities.
The business started in 2002 when the six brothers living at Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey in Sparta, Wis., were looking for a way to fund the maintenance of their monestery. They live by the Rule of Saint Benedict, which requires self-sufficiency. They stumbled onto the toner cartridge business, found suppliers, set up the web site and marketed their products. The business took off. Today, the site is promoting cartridges that use eco-friendly soy toner. In addition, the business has added coffee and gifts. Read all the details in this 2008 article.
The LaserMonks, as I like to call them, set an important example. They demonstrate that business and faith-filled living can go together. Successful business does not have to be separate from religion. The GEO Principle would say they both have the same goal -- developing a relationship with God -- so it should not be surprising to find examples of commerce and faith completely and successfully integrated.
The LaserMonks also offer a very important model for non-profit organizations. Many non-profit organizations rely completely on donations for funding. It is perfectly appropriate for charities to ask for donations, and donors should feel good about supporting charity. However, where possible and practical, it is good for benevolent causes to figure out funding that is not dependent upon donations. This frees members of the donor pool to concentrate entirely on charities that can only be funded with donations.
Non-profit organizations that have the means to maintain revenue-generating enterprises should seriously explore this avenue, and pursue it if it makes sense for them. The LaserMonks did, and it is making a big difference. The Monks say is only costs around $200,000 per year to run the monestery, which gives them the privilege of donating more than $4 million per year to other charities.