Thinking Out Loud

December 27, 2016

Year End, Tax Receipt Incentive Giving Can Be Creative

decemberBeing self employed and in retail means Christmas time isn’t a lot of fun. We‘re still short on one of our supplier payments. We don’t pay ourselves a salary, so getting bills paid is a major goal.

It’s also a good time to start thinking about our personal finances, and in particular, our charitable donations. Not knowing exactly what our income is going to be makes it harder to figure out what we should be giving, but I don’t know anybody who, at tax time in April, looks at their receipts and says, “I should have given less.

Giving shouldn’t be done in December just to get a tax receipt. We give because we’ve been blessed, and because God commands it. But December is a good time to take stock of our personal finances and see what we can do to help others.

Here’s a principle I believe to be important:

You may be tempted to give something to charities in the broader market, but remember that the broader population will respond somewhat to their appeals. I believe there are Christian causes that only we can give to, and we should “do good to all… especially those which are of the household of faith.”

So who can we bless this year? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Our first responsibility is to our local church, the place we call our spiritual home, where we receive teaching, prayer support and fellowship
  • If there’s a “second” on the list, for many this year it is giving to relief and development in the third world, especially projects which are bringing fresh water wells to areas that don’t have potable water, aid the fight against human trafficking, provide start-up funds for micro-businesses, deal with health issues in countries where access to medicine is still limited, or assist oppressed people — especially women — see justice.
  • Is there someone in your area who does student ministry who is lacking in financial support? Consider urban missionaries and youth workers with Youth For Christ, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity and YWAM.
  • What about camp ministries? These make a huge difference in the lives of children, but aren’t fully supported by fees. Is there a Christian summer residential camp that is in need of funds for capital projects or to sponsor children in the summer?
  • What about your local Christian school? A regional Bible College, or Christian University College? Do they need money for capital projects, or are they operating at a deficit?
  • Do you have a local Christian radio station? This isn’t limited to the “preacher programs,” the stations themselves often need additional support to pay staff and overhead. I also find you get more balanced doctrine with most Christian radio than you do with Christian television, plus, you really never, never know who the station is reaching.
  • Who is working with the poor in your community? Is there someone providing meals, or transportation or moral support to people who are disadvantaged economically? If no specific organization comes to mind, consider the work of The Salvation Army.
  • If you own or work in a bookstore, that means you love the written word. Consider those who are putting the scriptures in the hands of people who don’t have them, such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, The Gideons or the various Bible Societies. 
  • What about those invisible ministries that come alongside other organizations? Previously on the blog we’ve written about Engineering Ministries International, Christian Salvage Mission and Partners International.
  • You first considered your local church. Is there another church in your community that is doing good but struggling financially? This year we heard a story of one church putting another local church on their missions budget with a sizable donation. We’re all playing on the same team, and what a wonderful witness this is to those who think we’re competing. 

Also, there may be a family in your community, or in your extended family, or someone you work with who cannot provide you with a tax receipt but needs a blessing this Christmas. Consider also directly donating to someone who is in need. 

You can’t leave this to the last minute, but secure online giving means you can cut it pretty short. Wait on whatever you were going to click to next, and respond as your heart leads you.

April 2, 2016

Being Needy While Wanting to Help Others in Need

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:44 am
Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Because of the particular path our lives have taken, there have been times when we have accepted financial help from friends and acquaintances. In the process, we’ve often said that the people who are least able to help are usually the ones who give. I’m not positing this as a universal truth, I’m just saying that it’s been the case in our situation.

In Wednesday’s link list, I felt moved to post a story about a family who faced unusual financial hardship during Lent because of their daughter’s illness and are asking for help. You can read that link here. 48 hours earlier, my wife showed me a crowd funding page that was set up by students (or former students) in a local high school for a guy who part of our church plant ten years ago and has had a medical diagnosis that will result in unexpected costs. You can read that one here.

I’m reading these through the lens of our own situation.

My wife came to me a few weeks ago — she’s our family and business bookkeeper — and said, “We have enough in the savings account to last us one more month, and then we’re done.” By ‘done’ she means we don’t have a back-up plan, unless we cash in one more savings fund — which is currently locked — and take a huge penalty for so doing.

I announced in Monday’s column here:

We’ve never monetized Thinking Out Loud, but this labor of love — along with our Christian bookstore — have totally depleted our savings. Still, how does one do effective fundraising in the face of other families and individuals with seemingly far more urgent needs? After our US/Canada 800-number, toll-free, call-in-a-pledge appeal failed last year, we’re looking for something that will actually help us keep going. We hope to have an answer late this week. 

But as the week went by I keep fighting taking this particular approach. Surely the two stories listed above are far more worthy of my readers’ support, right? Still, I know there are longtime readers both here and at Christianity 201 who might give if we created the right vehicle for processing donations.

Within the Christian realm, there are bloggers like Tim Challies who is able to blog full time because of referral income and sponsored posts. Author Skye Jethani is not currently on staff at a church (or at CT) and is supporting his writing and podcast ministry (and his family) through the sale of monthly devotional subscriptions, and eBooks. (Check out, How Churches Became Cruise Ships.)

Because of my involvement in a brick-and-mortar Christian bookstore (which loses money almost every day the doors are open) I still can’t bring myself to be a referrer to A-zon or even CBD, both of which have contributed greatly to the closing of such Christian shops all over North America. So I’ve never monetized the blog in that manner.

And there is the pride issue. As a twenty-something, I was told that I have difficulty accepting hospitality in all its forms. Plus there is the fear of putting it out there only to find the donations embarrassingly meager. Add to that wanting to be hero; wanting to be the one helping others, not the one asking.

So the announcement I was going to make this week is postponed for now. I leave you the comments section — if you wish — for two purposes today.

  1. If you can recommend a crowd funding type of website that isn’t time-limited and would allow people the opportunity to support Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201, I’d love to hear it. Bear in mind that I’m in Canada, but nearly 80% of my readers are in the U.S., so it has to be American-based, but able to pay us up here.
  2. If it’s got a Christian connection, feel free to mention any fundraising page you’re aware of that’s running now. Honest! I don’t mind. (I might delete the comment after any relevant expiry dates.) Today is one day you can use the comments to promote a cause.

 

 

 

 

 

December 18, 2015

Strike Up The (Salvation Army) Band!

Fill the Kettle

At this time of year, my thoughts always turn to the great work done by The Salvation Army around the world. It’s too bad that William Booth wasn’t Roman Catholic, because he would definitely get my vote for sainthood. Or to be more particular, I see William (along with wife Catherine) as:

  • the patron saint of all who do urban ministry
  • the patron saint of all who work with the poor
  • the patron saint of all who help people dealing with addictions
  • the patron saint of all involved with what we now call missional outreach

The first and second may appear similar but they’re not. Urban Ministry deals with more than just poverty, and poverty can strike those in the suburbs. (Trust me, this I know firsthand.)

As to my 4th point, I’ve written here before how in some respects the Booths invented missional. Their story should be required reading at all junctures of ministry training. I’ve posted this here and on Twitter more than once:

Q: Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers?

A: While everybody else is writing about it, The Salvation Army is out there doing it.

This year the Army celebrated its 150th anniversary. While reading an infographic on the back page of the Canadian edition of Salvationist I learned a few things.

  • Although 1865 is considered the year of its founding, it was 1877 before Elijah Cadman began introducing military terminology
  • A year later, The Fry Family introduced the first Salvation Army band in 1878
  • The Army is now active in 126 countries
  • The Army has built 350 hospitals, health centers and clinics
  • The Army has founded 2,700 schools

In my part of the world this is the time of year the local corps (congregation) raises its entire year’s budget for the Family Services division. They can’t shake the sleigh bells anymore — retailers think it’s too disruptive, though the atmosphere it creates is great — but they are present in or at a number of grocery/department stores here.

Salvation Army Christmas 2012Many people here don’t carry cash anymore. For that there are online kettles in most parts of the world where the Salvation Army operates.

This is a trusted, respected ministry. When you give, you’re giving locally. (Do your giving / while you’re living / so you’re knowing / where it’s going.) But don’t just give. Consider volunteering. Share the link to this article with Facebook friends. And by all means, find one of the many books that tell the William Booth or Salvation Army store and read every page.

Also check out these Booth quotations.

 

 

 

October 1, 2015

The Business of Charity

Portions of today’s blog post have been edited to avoid specificity.

Earlier in the week we had a trip into the big city, and Mrs. W. suggested there was a place she needed to go as they are the sole supplier of a particular item she needs for a particular hobby. So after dealing with the necessities that took us there, we ventured into some new territory, only to discover her supplier was across the road from a well known Canadian Christian charity.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity, I dropped in. I’m not sure whether or not this happens frequently or not, but they didn’t seem to have a protocol for this. Nonetheless someone was fetched and she answered a few of my questions, and then I asked her if it was possible to have a quick tour.

Now she could have easily turned us down, but she took the time to show us around the building which was larger than I expected for an agency of this nature. It’s easy to judge from the outside, but I am not aware of all the many facets of their ministry, so I just took it as given that better minds than mine had determined that both the facility and the staffing level were right-sized.

Still, having been around the Christian scene for a long time now, I am sometimes able to sense things. I guess that having worked for Christian organizations that have been forced to operate on a shoestring, I am always surprised at the size and scope of the larger ones, a reminder, as I said when we were walking back to the car, that charity is a business (of a sort) and is part of a larger industry (of a sort) of charities and not-for-profits.

Generally, I was surprised at the number of offices and staff, even though the number is probably conservative by charity standards. I will admit that getting this balance right is probably a science, as indicated by the chart below:

The Business of Charity

I once worked for a Christian organization that paid their staff “based on needs.” As a single, young person fresh out of college and still living at home, I was paid very poorly. (They later faced a lawsuit over this practice, and I was issued a subpoena but was released after I told them I didn’t work concurrent with the woman who launched the suit.)

On the other extreme, a friend of mine once visited the head office of a better-known Christian charity and reported entering the lobby and “sinking in the plush carpeting.” While that person may have been given to exaggeration, I don’t question the report of a grand piano in the “guest reception room.”

I believe that probably fewer people would give the organization I visited money if they saw what I saw, but then again, I’m not sure that some people would continue giving money to their local church if they saw the invoices for floral arrangements sent to funeral homes. Or that the church really needed to lease a third copier/printer which doesn’t do anything that the other two don’t do. One one level, perhaps my tour yielded too much information.

What I do think however, is that the type of “drop in” that I did should be more the norm than the exception. The organization should have a designated person who can deal with spontaneous public relations opportunities that arise, and also be able to offer an apologetic for why the various staff are needed in conjunction with the organization’s mandate or mission statement.

On another level, it never hurts for the people who do the actual giving to be better informed.

 

 

July 12, 2015

The Charity Fundraising Paradox

dollar signAmid last week’s news, you may have missed a small tempest that was created when it was revealed that former U.S. President George W. Bush received a $100,000 fee for speaking at a fundraising gala for the Veteran’s Administration. The charity also paid $20,000 for a private jet to fly him to the event. Interviewed on ABC News, one veteran was particular upset that Bush had sent many soldiers into war, and was now reaping a personal profit from speaking at the charity which assists the wounded assimilate back into society.

The New York Daily News noted this as well:

Former Marine Eddie Wright, who served on the charity’s board and lost both hands in a 2004 rocket attack in Iraq, told ABC he didn’t think it was right for Bush to have been paid to raise money for vets through the group, which provides adapted homes to service members who became disabled in combat.

“You sent me to war,” Wright said of Bush, according to ABC.

“I was doing what you told me to do, gladly for you and our country and I have no regrets. But it’s kind of a slap in the face.”

While you might wish to join the ranks of the outraged, it’s worth noting that this particular gala event tends to raise at least one or two million dollars annually. It’s chairman is quoted at Huffington Post as saying,

“The event raised unprecedented funds that are putting our nation’s heroes into specially adapted homes throughout the United States. His presence was appreciated by the veterans and supporters of the organization.”

And therein lies the crux of the problem. In charity, as everywhere else, you have to spend money to make money. Recently here, we wrote about a situation that came to light in the Family Christian Stores hearings, that the bookstore was paid up to $185 for each fresh child sponsor the bookstore chain signed up. At that time we wrote,

Let’s do some math here.  The sponsor is paying World Vision $35 per month per child. That means that for the first 5.28 months, the organization has yet to break even. It’s really into the 6th month that the sponsor’s donation is free and clear, but of course there are also overhead costs in that $35 that we don’t know. 

In charity parlance, this type of thing is known as “development costs.” There are organizations that carry out this function in different ways; one of the most common is having someone on staff available to older donors for things like “estate planning” or “writing a will.” Years ago, I knew one large church that had a staff member for this purpose, though the modern megachurch tends to attract younger adherents, many of whom haven’t totally embraced the possibility they might someday die.

World Vision in particular is known for having a very high percentage of its operational costs committed to fundraising. For charities like them, the George W. Bush story is a no-brainer: You bring in whatever political figure, actor, singer, author, or sports hero that will attract the right crowd. You do it at whatever cost.

 

November 28, 2014

The Audience Ambush

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:49 am

Of all the times I’m counting on the fact that my blog readership lies outside the local area, this is one time really counting on that…

So tomorrow night my wife and I are going out to a dessert night at the church which also includes a worship music component from a musician and band which are known regionally if not known by some nationally. Based on a sponsorship line that appears in the advertising, there is probably going to be an opportunity at some point in the evening to partner with a fairly high profile parachurch ministry organization.

fundraisingI have no problem with that. First of all, I have given to this organization in the past, and we have at least one family member who gives generously to them. They do good work. It’s not one of those cases where I see the ministry’s logo and roll my eyes. But the second reason I have no problem is that I can plainly see the fundraising appeal coming. I’ve been around enough Christian events. I know the drill.

Others may be surprised, especially when there’s already an admission charge.

In times like these I’m always reminded of the time when myself and girl named Carol were invited to the home of a guy named Steve for what we thought was going to be a social evening. Instead, the whole thing was about Amway. Carol was livid. “When I see him next, I’m going to wring his neck;” is I think how she put it. People don’t like being ambushed. People don’t like to go to “A” only to find it’s about “B.”

Thursday night my wife and I discussed this, and I noted that eventually, people will simply be ambushed too many times and they will simply stop turning up for similar events.

A few months ago we attended another event where we were fully expecting the high-pressure fundraising to kick in near the end. Instead, it was all rather low-key. The event was advertised as an information session, and as it concluded, they affirmed that this fulfilled their expectations. Yes, if you wanted to give there were forms and envelopes and a basket into which to place the envelopes, but for the most part this aspect of the night was fairly easy-going, even though they made it clear that the field worker in question did rely on 100% on donor support.

Maybe it was the cranberry punch, but I felt they handled this superbly. Some people gave. Some did not.

But when you go to see your favorite CCM or Modern Worship artist in concert, and you pay $30 or more for good seats, you don’t expect that 20 minutes of your time will be spent watching a slide show of starving or diseased children.

Yes, we need to be aware of these situations, and we all could do more and we all need to do more. But we need to find ways to accomplish this goal that avoid the entrapment situation that essentially says, ‘Now that we have you all as a captive audience, we’d like to make those of you who don’t sponsor a child feel really guilty.’

We need to change the paradigm, or people will either simply stop coming, or will find themselves urgently needing to use the restrooms en masse as soon as the fundraising appeal begins.

 

August 26, 2014

This Book is Certainly not Overrated

I’ve been aware of Eugene Cho for several years though his blog and the charity he founded, One Day’s Wages.  As I opened the cover of his book Overrated, with the Superman-esque cover, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he had me right from the first chapter as his family embarked on a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is adventure in social concern.

As the video trailer above so clearly expresses, many of us are more enamored with the idea of changing the world than we are with actually doing anything. As you read this, it’s probably one of many blogs you will peruse today where writers like myself might present you with a variety of topics. But making the decision to indulge 2-3 minutes on a subject that challenges our generation to respond is not the same as actually getting our feet wet or even making a donation.

Overrated - Eugene ChoThe subtitle is long enough to deserve a paragraph of its own: Are We More in Love With The Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?

The book’s premise is that by talking loud but doing nothing, we are completely overrated in terms of our response to social injustice. I find it interesting that the medium that seems to lend itself most to our schizophrenic response also contains the word social as in social media. Like other issues — the problems in the local church come to mind — we’re very good at articulating the problem of global poverty, very adept at critique.

Much awareness has created the illusion of progress on this front.

So the book begins with Eugene and his family evacuating their home so they can lease it out to a tourist in order to meet a goal they had set for themselves to give one year’s wages. This meant camping out at friends’ houses, a vision that is a little more difficult to explain to your children.

As the best books are, this is one part biographical and one part teaching. The biographical narratives include the perspective of an Asian American, as well as his adventures as a church planter. 

So as to best prod us into action, Eugene Cho leads by example, and he share stories where others are picking up the torch and running with it. His personal ethic is not to ask anyone to do anything that you’re not prepared or willing to do yourself.  

That’s advice that applies not only to our response to the needs of the world, but to other areas as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Watch a video preview of the book

August 16, 2014

How Do We Know What We Know?

David Peck - SoChangeIn many ways David Peck has lived several different lifetimes.

I met him years ago through the Christian concert scene in Toronto. At that time he was an apprentice electrician. Oh yes, and a magician. Dave did a magic show at our wedding. One of our favorite wedding presents. But later on he jumped into academics, getting a masters degree in philosophy, something that I majored in as an undergraduate until my head exploded in third year and I had to change my degree in my final year.

In his first book, Real Change is Incremental he draws on his background as an electrician and as a magician to create analogies to philosophical models of who we come to know what we know. While the book is a series of essays collected from different life stages, its general theme is epistemology, and the largest essay, based on his university thesis, is about tacit knowledge, the things we know that we don’t even realize we know. In many respects the title doesn’t directly betray the book’s content, while in other respects it is a rallying cry.

Real Change is Incremental.gifThe book also draws on his extensive travel which is a byproduct of his current work as founder of SoChange, an organization based in greater Toronto that works mostly with non-profits, including some very recognizable charities, to help them meet their objectives; something that fits my personal adage that every major institution should employ at least one philosopher, because they see things that others miss.

Real Change therefore occupies a middle ground between story anthology and philosophy text.

Usually the books I review here are supplied by Christian publishers and authors, and there is a frame of reference that readers here can connect with. David Peck has frequently guest-hosted “Canada’s most-listened-to spiritual talk program,” The Drew Marshall Show, but other than a couple of passing references to the faith in which he was raised, the book makes no pretense to be a Christian, religious or even spiritual title. However, what you read within in no way conflicts with that perspective.

I tend to go through review books with a blank half-sheet serving both as bookmark and a place to record observations while I read. Knowing this would be a different journey, I simply allowed the book to play like an album of ideas, some of which reminded me of things I have considered at different junctures in my own life. So it’s no surprise with that album theme, that an analogy about music stuck with me:

Consider the creative opportunity found in a piano octave: twelve simple notes, but a vast musical landscape waiting to be discovered.  This is open structure.  There are sharps, flats, major chords and minor chords, harmonies and dissonances, this scale and that scale.  There is an array of starting points and intervals giving rise to an infinity of tonal sequences that constitute melodies.  The pianist travels through the scale, returns and resolves.  Musical tension is created.  There are any number of tempos – adagio, allegro, largo – and any number of rhythms, combined in different ways.  There are texture and dynamics, crescendo, decrescendo, pianissimo, dolce, con brio, cantabile.  The structure is restricted by a finite number of keys, but is open and presents limitless possibilities.

In many respects that’s how I feel about David. Limitless possibilities. Our contact over the years has been somewhat sporadic and each time there are surprises. When I spoke with my wife last night at midnight about this, we decided the term ‘Renaissance Man’ probably best suits him. In addition to electrician, magician, philosopher, and agent assisting so many organizations that pursue relief, development and social justice; to all that he can now add writer, and good writer at that.

From time to time, everyone needs a philosopher in their life.

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.

November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: The Unheard Story

Today’s guest post is by Ruth, aka Mrs. W., the better writer in the family.


Hurricane Sandy came ashore.

Dozens dead. More dozens missing. Thousands homeless. Damage and repair costs in the hundreds of millions. Transportation crippled. Livelihoods destroyed or at risk. Infrastructure wiped out. Government in crisis. A population of in the range of 10,000,000 souls thrown into chaos once again, while still in recovery, still living with the ghosts of that earlier devastating hit.

Hurricane Sandy’s ‘hype’ has given way to the reality of trying to clean up the mess and put lives back together.

Oh, sorry. Did you think I meant New York?

Haiti and neighbors such as Cuba and The Dominican have been ploughed under yet again. And yet again they’re stumbling to their feet, shaking the mud out of their hair and looking around, wondering what the heck happened. The images are horrific. The statistics are numbing.

Most American and Canadian news coverage in the last few days has been focused so close to home that we’ve heard little about the three day drenching that has damaged more than 70 percent of Haiti’s food supply and created fears of a cholera epidemic like the one after the great earthquake. The epidemic that killed 7,000 people.

The poor are getting poorer.

New York has suffered a terrible blow. They have lost good and beloved people. Homes. Businesses. Entire neighborhoods. It’s easy to look at the pictures online of a damaged roller coaster and a yacht on the train tracks and forget that our friends to the south are genuinely suffering far more than just inconvenience. They are grieving and wondering how to rebuild.

But, like we in Canada, they are among the wealthiest people in the world. The poorest American is richer than the bulk of the people in other parts of the world. We have resources and forces and systems in place that are effective and well trained. Haitians have no such reservoir to draw from.

It’s time to look further than the six o’clock news and see the need that is born out of need. Lack upon lack. New York will take time to put things together again. Haiti doesn’t have that luxury.

New York needs our prayers and encouragement. Haiti needs our support. Food, medicine, building supplies. Find out how you can help.

~ Ruth Wilkinson

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