Thinking Out Loud

October 1, 2019

The Time Public Giving is Appropriate

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:05 am

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
– Matthew 6:1-2

Fund-raising events like this one may incur costs to present, but donors want to know they are part of a larger host of supporters.

There is a value in fundraising banquets, and that value is not confined to the ability of the charity to present their work, or the fact that people come predisposed to make a significant contribution that they might not make in response to a direct mail campaign.

The value lies in giving corporately, or to be more specific, in knowing that you are contributing to a cause in which others are also invested.

Let me come at this the opposite way.

Unless you give to “blue chip” name-recognizable Christian charities — and frankly, I think your money goes much further when you support younger organizations and second-tier charities — you don’t know what support the organization already has. Your attitude might be, ‘I would give to this more fully if only I knew that other people are also supporting this.’

When you attend the charity’s public events, you see that not only are others deeply invested, but their support extends to doing volunteer work and if available, even short-term commitments overseas.

You’ve all seen Christian telethons for various ministries, I suspect. The host announces, “There’s a group of businessmen who have pledge to match everything that’s given in the next half hour up to $40,000.”

I always thought these dollar-for-dollar matching challenges were somewhat contrived, but now I’m not so sure. Those businessmen (and women) simply want to know that their major donations are being accompanied by grassroots donations of a great host of people who can’t do what they are doing, but they can do something.

The verses in Matthew 6 above indicate that your giving can be both in secret and in public. It’s a caution against name recognition more than anything else. But if your name and amount given (or pledged) remains confidential, you can still show up and by doing so, say ‘I support this cause; I stand behind the activities being carried out by this organization.’

In the larger assembly of people, you might even find yourself adding an extra zero to that check.

November 30, 2017

Short Takes (4): Alumni Association Appeals

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:20 am

You chose your college…
You selected a residence…
You paid your tuition…
You bought your textbooks…
You took the classes…
You wrote the exams…
You repeated the cycle for several more years…

And now they want money.

Even if you completed a one-year certificate course from a trade school, it’s possible that you’ve received a letter in the mail asking if you’d like to contribute financially to your alma mater.

But included in this mailing list there are people who attended that university or college for the express purpose of earning a sufficient income that would allow them to support very specific charities of their choice. In other words, people who do have a philanthropic bent; who do see themselves as among the givers; but who have other passions and world concerns that they would like to make the object of the charitable giving. Some people would simply rather build fresh water wells in Africa than have a first-world educational institution put a new wings on the library.

Chances are, the alumni appeals are among the few donation solicitation lists you can get on without having made an initial contribution. Furthermore, if my experience is any indication, while other organizations will drop you from the mailing list if you don’t give, alumni appeals will probably persist over the course of your lifetime.

If find the whole thing rather guilt-inducing. Furthermore, my life has taken me down a different path and having surplus income has not been part of that equation. When we are able to give, we give to Christian causes that, if Christians don’t support them, no one else will. Even so, any level of success or achievement I’ve felt in my chose career of being in parachurch vocational ministry has been due to other influences and wasn’t dependent on the courses taken toward my undergraduate degree.

If I had completed that MTh I always wanted, maybe I would feel differently about a Christian college asking for money. But — and I’m not saying this to be provocative — with the higher tuition that Christian universities and seminaries charge, it’s hard for some people to believe they need anything.

So what about you? Are you, as the Beach Boys would say, “true to your school?” Or do the appeals from your college end up unread in recycling?

 

 

December 29, 2013

Fantasy Financing: Church Edition

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:41 pm

Dollars and Ministry

In the small town we live, several years ago I identified 38 “worshiping groups” locally and in the surrounding area, and set out to experience worship at 33 of them, in most cases attending more than a single service. Because of my work, I also am closely attuned to what’s currently going on in our local churches.

I also have an over-active imagination. In one of my fantasies, a tall distinguished looking man walks into my place of business wearing a suit. That in itself would be a rarity in a town that super-casual part of the world where only the funeral director wears a jacket with matching pants and tie.

The well-dressed man explains that he wants to invest a large amount — somewhere between one-and-two-hundred thousand dollars in the ministry of local churches in our region. He then asks me to identify some needs and tell him how to divide the pie. So as the fantasy continues, I get to play God with money that’s not my own; though I also get to apply knowledge as to the needs in our area.

Now the fantasy isn’t an obsession, but I’ve played this mental game several times over the years and each time the dividing takes a slightly amended form. There’s one or two ministries that are consistently at the top of my list, both in terms of need and the impact of their ministry in our community. And to be honest, there’s a few that are consistently near the bottom because either the need isn’t great or nobody’s being impact.

There’s also a few that I can’t guaranty will be around in five years. True, there are some things they’re doing now, but I’m assuming the well-attired gentleman in my fantasy wants to make a ministry investment. It also needs to be said that a huge amount of money that is suddenly dropped into a church’s balance sheet can actually have a devastating effect. So although I don’t write anything down, I know my list changes somewhat over time.

Generally speaking though, I think many of the local churches in my area would be thrilled that they got mentioned in my visit with the stranger in town with the deep pockets.

The other day, while was doing something completely unrelated, it suddenly occurred to me that there was a major flaw in my fantasy.  The flaw is this: Money isn’t the answer for whatever challenges your church is facing. Yes, a financial shortfall may require adjustments, but at the end of the day, someone passing through town with a large bank draft made out to your church doesn’t really make a whole lot of difference to the day-to-day ministry of the place where you worship.

It would be nice. It’s a fun fantasy. But the churches in your area simply need more people who will take their faith seriously and then two things will happen. You’ve heard the phrase, “Follow the money.” I offer you this one, “Money will follow.” If ministry is taking place, people will respond without promptings and urgings and money won’t be a problem. Secondly, the church will grow, and there will be more people contributing.

If your church (or parachurch organization) operates on an “If only we had…” basis, then by all means, start your own financing fantasy. But ultimately, I think God uses our congregations most when we aren’t sitting with budgetary surplus, flush with cash. On the other hand, if you own a nice suit and a large checkbook…you know how to contact me.

December 8, 2013

Reconsidering Christmas Shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child BoxesSeveral years ago I wrote a post here asking some questions about the whole Operation Christmas Child (OCC) thing. As I said a year later, I didn’t want to be a “grinch” when it came to OCC, I just wondered about some big picture issues.  Then last year, I reformatted the whole article to include some points that a reader had left in a comment.

This year, I was prepared to lay the whole subject to rest. Besides, collection for the boxes in our local churches has come and gone. But the article keeps attracting readers, and last week Lucy, a reader, left a comment that reminded me that as OCC grows — now with an online component that allows you to pack and ship a shoebox from the comfort of your own home right up to a much later deadline — people still have misgivings and second thoughts about the program.  Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only one who had serious reservations about the OCC program. I just see it as a well-intentioned venture that, in reality, exports Western materialism. Even given the potential spiritual good, do we want children associating Jesus with wrapped goodies? Isn’t that enough of a problem here in America?

I’m a Christian who thinks Samaritan’s Purse has done wonderful things in helping people around the world. But let’s help children by really making a difference in their lives. World Vision and other ministries have programs where you can contribute toward gifts such as farm animals, wells, small business opportunities for women, etc. Much, much better than trinkets.

And thank you, Lucy for that comment. Organizations like Compassion, Partners International, The Christian and Missionary Alliance and Gospel for Asia are among the many — and I chose ones with both American and Canadian websites —  that allow you to make significant, life-changing donations to an individual or an entire village of the type Lucy describes.

Shoebox sized giving will produce shoebox sized results, and furthermore runs the risks she described in her comment. If you’re reading this on a computer — even in a library somewhere — you are among the richest people in the entire world. This Christmas, literally share the wealth.

There is a saying, Do your giving while you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going. The Christmas “gift catalogs” of the four organizations listed above allow you to know exactly where your money is going. Don’t lose this opportunity.

Comments can be made at the original article — first link above.

March 5, 2012

The Business of Charity

This weekend I had two widely different experiences which were both connected by the theme of philanthropy in a Christian context.

The first began with an article I read about an organization which annually pools funds from a handful of wealthy donors and foundations and then receives grant applications from ministry organizations from which a few are selected to receive funding for various projects.  I’m guessing that you have to be giving around $100,000 to play in this league, but I wondered if in the process of collecting applications they had uncovered any organizations that might be of interest to people whose charitable donations were closer to $10,000 annually.

My motivation was that I believe that many people of means who are looking beyond their local church for worthy projects tend to go with what I call “the usual suspects.”  These high profile Christian parachurch organizations and relief and development agencies have frankly, in my opinion anyway, grown fat. They’re well known, well-established; they receive money in bequests, and honestly don’t need as do other charities.

On the other hand, there are a number of what I would call “next generation” missions and ministries which are just starting out, haven’t been corrupted by largesse, and are trying to meet new challenges; while at the same time being relatively unknown among the people I would call “the givers.”

However, when I delved into this further, what I found grieved me deeply, and when I use the word grieve, I am not trying to be overly dramatic.

In case you don’t know, charity is an industry.

This industry is greatly focused on self-perpetuating and while some revenue definitely goes to charitable purposes, a surprising amount goes to assuring that there will be even more revenue in the future.

As I examined some of the successful grant applications, a large number of them had gone to improving websites, integrating technology systems, streamlining data processing, hiring IT specialists, increasing web presence, etc.  The phrase, “proposals that demonstrate a thoughtful and innovative approach to increasing an organization’s impact will be more favorably considered” should have been a red flag.

The organizations themselves are doing work worthy of support, but these large donors would never have the satisfaction of seeing their money used for those more noble goals.  Instead there was money for proposals and studies and initiatives to increase further fundraising. Quick, gag me with a response card.

There was money for Christian colleges, but it wasn’t going to bursaries or keeping tuition costs flat for the next three years.  There was money for a Bible distribution organization, but it wasn’t buying Bibles.  There was money for an organization that helps out young mothers in poverty, but it wasn’t going toward infant formula or subsidized housing. There was money for a Christian camp, but it wasn’t providing for summer leadership training for students or giving free weeks of camp to children in poverty. There was money for a medical mission, but it wasn’t going to buy pharmaceuticals or first aid supplies. There was money for a student ministry that wasn’t going to hire another high school or college worker; perhaps one that is qualified but not networked enough for the rigorous deputation required.

There was money to buy an organization new laptops, to help another promote a promotional DVD, for another to hire a consultant, for another to start an arts journal. And more consultants, IT directors and website improvements. And then there was the one for a well known inner city mission to improve the acoustics in a meeting room. “Seriously, I just can’t work with the echo in here.”

Do you see the problem?

I was hungry and you hired a consultant. I was thirsty and you improved your website. I was in prison and you merged with another organization. I was naked and you lobbied your government for increased freedoms to raise more money.  I was homeless and you were worried about room acoustics. I was sick and you bought inventory management software.

This is the very type of liberal spending that grates on so many people when it’s done by government, but we forget that there is much excessive spending in the religious charitable sector as well. I’d really like to know how that arts journal is going to make the world a better place.

By contrast, on Saturday night, we attended a fundraising dinner for a missionary in eastern Europe. He got on a plane and landed in a foreign place with nobody there to meet him at the other end. No idea where he would stay when he got there or where his first meal would come from. No covering from a mission agency or church denomination.

The spaghetti dinner we attended — and church fundraising doesn’t get any more basic than this, except for car washes — was put together ostensibly because the church had no proper means by which to receipt donors. The missionary in question was working with the gypsy population until the government forced most of them out of the city in question, and so he now works with ethnic minorities. Any extra money he has he spends on the people he works with, including needs they face for prescription medicine. He has apparently put off his own medical care several times, preferring to look after the needs of others.

The money collected on Saturday night will be given to his mother here in Canada, who will then credit an account that he can access. This is real grassroots fundraising for a real grassroots missionary. What it should be all about. They raised $840; nothing in that number to attract the interest of the elite donors club.

Charity is a business; there’s no getting around it. Its participants end up with confused priorities and misguided visions. The term, “misappropriation of funds” needs not refer to people who are stealing or embezzling from the organization in question, you misappropriate every time fail to meet the genuine needs for which the organization or program was established in the first place.

In all fairness, I should add that all the examples above apply to 2010, and in 2011, the “faith-based funders,” as they call themselves elected to support more realistic projects, and required that each one represent a partnership between two established Christian charities. Still, many of the projects were described in a somewhat nebulous form of charity-speak that belies what the actual invoices for goods and services actually pertained to; and also, as a footnote, the money in both years all stayed in North America; there was no consideration of projects undertaken by U.S. and Canadian organizations overseas.

Sigh.

…If you wish to support the missionary in the story above, contact me off the blog and we’ll try to provide some direction. I guarantee it would be money well spent, even if you don’t get a tax receipt.

James 1:27 Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

J. B. Phillips Translation

 

THIS IS TRUE RELIGION

 


January 9, 2012

Our Post-Christmas Credit Card Crisis

Each year we say that instead of giving gifts to each other, we’re going to do something significant to help the third world, and a couple of years ago we got more serious about this and began a Christmas tradition of donating to water projects — the repair and restoration of fresh water wells — through the organization Partners International.

This year Partners sent us a catalog containing a variety of projects to which we could donate, and I decided to let the family have greater input into this than in previous years.  The various needs  in the Canadian organization’s mailing called Hope in Action were divided into different categories such as,

  • Children and Education
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Justice Issues
  • Women’s issues
  • Christian Witness
  • Health and Wellness

while Partners in the U.S. has a greater variety of potential giving themes in their catalog called Harvest of Hope.

The family seemed especially interested in projects which keep young women out of the sex trade overseas, or projects which help them not end up there to begin with.  One of these is listed on my receipt as item 8007C — Mahima Home — A Refuge for Girls Rescued From the Sex Trade — $300.00

We selected three projects that were certainly more expensive than our previous investment in water wells, and then added one more to top it off to an even number, a number that was larger than I expected when we first sat down around the computer.  “Oh well, it’s only money;” I remember saying at the time.

But then, like so many other families that overextend themselves over the holidays, we got a credit card bill which contained both our Partners projects and our regular expenses, not to mention the Christmas gifts that we actually gave.

And it’s all due on Friday.

“I think we need prayer;” I said to my wife when she read me the bill.

I then told her, “I think we should ask the pastor for prayer because I’ve run up our credit card on prostitutes.”

It would be funny if it were funny.

It got me thinking however, what about the person who does find themselves with an impossible credit card bill because they did spend too much on hookers?  You’ve got the sin of fornication combined with the sin of overspending, and they don’t cancel each other out.

I might just leave the prayer request at our church’s prayer email address anyway.  We’ll call it increasing global awareness.

February 27, 2011

Compensation for Charity CEOs: How Much is Too Much?

In a very recent article that unfortunately wasn’t picked up for inclusion in the online newspaper, The Toronto Star’s ethics columnist Ken Gallinger raised the issue of the top compensation paid to CEOs of humanitarian charities and relief an development agencies.

Perhaps it’s just as well that the article isn’t available, because the Canadian examples he cited probably pale in comparison to the figures paid to those holding similar posts in the United States.

And he was quick to remind us that many heads of non-profits do, in fact, give back. The salaries quoted would, in that case, only tell us half the story.

In my world, the largest financial donors in some small churches are the ministers themselves, many of whom work 60 hour weeks.

But, to answer the question, the figure he kept tossing around was $200,000.

On the one hand, these are donor dollars, and it must be hard to take home this kind of paycheck when your ads are full of starving children; at $30 a month, that one check would sponsor 550 kids. Ethically, that’s got to cause angst.

But let’s be fair, Nobody is well served by bad, lazy or visionless leadership. These charities are huge. In 2009, World Vision spent over $37 Million (CDN) on employee compensation alone. Heading up such an oranization, whether it manufactures widgets or builds wells in Africa, requires wit, wisdom and experience. And you tend to get what you pay for.

He also pointed out that in Canada’s for-profit sector, the top 100 execs’ average just under $7 Million (CDN) each, noting that the average minimum wage earner gets 0.3 per cent of their boss’s income.

So again, I ask, “How much is too much?”

June 15, 2010

Send This Boy To Summer Camp

A few days ago I mentioned that we were in a “fund raising” mode for our oldest son, Chris, 19.   He’s going to be — for the third year in a row — spending ten weeks working at Camp Iawah, an interdenominational camp in Ontario, Canada.  Much of his work will be centered around the kitchen, where this will be this be the seventh in a growing resumé of culinary accomplishments.  (This year he is also going to be doing some technical assistance in ‘Prime Time,’ the daily chapel program for campers.) He returns to second year electrical engineering in the fall, with fairly high tuition, textbook and residential expenses.

The work week is about 50-hours; it’s a six-day week with a single day off.   The base pay amounts to $3/hour.   (If this were some other camps we’re aware of, they would pay him just about anything to get good kitchen help!)    With previous commitments from people, we’re hoping today to raise an additional $3,000.   (I figure if Jon Acuff can raise $60,000 in a day, this ought to be a no-brainer, even for a smaller blog like ours.)

If you’re interested, go to this page, and click on the second last link (in blue) that says download CISS donor form.   You’d be designating your donation to Chris Wilkinson.   You must use the form for this to credit his summer staff account.

American readers of Thinking Out Loud who want to contribute to this may use a credit card (you will be billed in Canadian dollars which means potentially your donation will go farther) while Canadian donors will receive a valid income tax receipt and may use credit card or cheques.  (We still spell it the British way up here!)  You must complete and mail or fax the form to the camp, and if you’re giving by cheque, do not write Chris’ name on the cheque itself, just on the form.   (A quick e-mail letting us know what you’re doing or considering would help, too; so that we can keep in touch over the summer with what your donations are accomplishing.   E-mail: epistle[at]ymail.com )

In the event his donations reach the pay limit, any overage will go toward other staff members facing a similar need; many of who don’t have parents with an international blog readership.

Thanks for considering this opportunity to make an investment in many young lives through Camp Iawah.

January 20, 2010

Wedneslinkday

This is, without doubt, the most amazing link list I’ve ever posted this week:

  • Phil Johnson wonders what Mosaic teaching pastor Erwin McManus is thinking with his production of “Casket” — wherein a guy stages his own funeral — as the play appears, in Phil’s opinion, relatively devoid of anything close to a proclamation of the gospel.    Read the piece and its comments at Pyromaniacs.
  • All the money being donated for Haiti is being ‘parked’ in a contingency account for the next emergency?   That’s the suggestion of an anonymous disaster relief worker at this “Stop Donating!” post on the blog Solar Crash.
  • Tony Campolo explains why he’d like to add “Do You Hear The People Sing?” from Les Mis and “The Impossible Dream” from The Man of La Mancha to the repertoire of your church’s worship team (!) at this interview on Christians and the Arts at the blog The Virtual Pew Daily.
  • Randy Alcorn re-examines the notion that our charitable giving should always be done in secret.   Yes, he knows that it was Jesus that suggested that, but he offers a fresh look at that passage, and a few others at Eternal Perspective Ministries.
  • Ever feel like you’re invisible?   Jeff Leake embedded this six-minute YouTube video featuring Nicole Johnson, which he says he also used at last weekend’s services at his church.   Check out his blog, The Launch Pad.
  • Darryl Dash doesn’t think it was intentional, but somewhere along the line, the “invocation” or “call to worship” which once started most Evangelical worship services, became the “welcome,” which isn’t really the same thing.   Check out this short but important post at DashHouse.
  • The Post is titled, “How Much Weight Do We Grant To Experience?” though a better, albeit somewhat longer title might be, “What are the Advantages of Aligning Oneself with Groups That Have Frequently Encountered Opposition?”   Okay, maybe the short title works just as well.   This interesting topic over at Pastor Matt‘s blog is begging for more of you to jump in.
  • Horror of Horrors!  Here’s a blog post is devoted to eight things Paul Clark enjoyed about “the little church” he visited last weekend; but it begins with describing the place as “the small church we are acquiring as a future satellite.”   It’s like the head of Starbucks saying how much he enjoyed having a coffee at the little neighborhood shop they’re about to demolish.   Well, actually there’s more to it than that.   Check out, “What I Liked.”
  • Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi summons all the courage he has to go inside a…  wait for it … Christian bookstore.   Apparently these places frighten him.   Read part one of the hair-raising account.
  • David Fitch suggests that if the church you’re visiting next Sunday is truly missional, there are eight things you should notice right away.    Actually, we think these eight things should be present regardless of other considerations.  Check it out at Reclaiming The Mission.   Excellent article.
  • Reformed blogger Kevin DeYoung suggests that if we’re going to toss around the phrase “social justice” we would do well to define it first.   Read his “Modest Proposal” at DeYoung, Restless and Reformed.
  • This one takes us back to December 21st (that’s light years ago in blogging terms) and a refreshing list of “redefinitions” of commonly used religious terms at the blog Kingdom Grace.
  • Pastor Mark Driscoll approaches the 14-year anniversary of Mars Hill Seattle with some things he would do differently he could.
  • Not enough links here?   How about a list of the Top 55 Pastor Bloggers.   That’s what it’s called.   Some of them are really links for pastors.     Check it out at the Online Christian Colleges site.
  • Our cartoons this week are from A Time to Laugh drawn by Aussie comic artist John Cook.

Here’s another one:

March 21, 2009

Satisfaction Guaranteed Or Your Money (or Offering) Refunded

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:46 pm

Joel had a major disagreement with the pastor of Covenant Harvest Church following a sermon that was preached in January to launch the new calendar year of ministry.    There were some follow up attempts by both parties to find common ground, but an unofficial visit from one of the elders ended up burning the bridges it was supposed to mend.

Now, eight weeks later, the church has received a registered letter from Joel.   He regrets greatly the amounts of money — over $3,500 — he gave to the church in the four months prior to his departure and wants a “refund” on his offering.   In the letter, he says nicely, “I want my money back.”

Though the names and circumstances are altered, what do you think of the principle at issue here?  Were the story entirely real as presented, should the church give Joel his $3,840 back?

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