Thinking Out Loud

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?

 

 

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October 9, 2017

A Godless Generation That Doesn’t Give; Doesn’t Tithe

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

At a weekend family gathering, my nephew shocked me somewhat. We were talking about a situation in three neighboring towns where Episcopal (Anglican) churches are losing money at a rather alarming rate and there is some discussion about which which church should ultimately survive, as each feels great emotional attachment to their land and buildings.

I’m not sure what happened, but there was a transition in the conversation and suddenly he said, “I’m part of a Godless generation; we don’t tithe; we don’t give money.”

So I asked him, “What about secular charities?”

“No… Nothing.”

In the car on the three hour drive home, we discussed the implications of this for not only local churches but also charities which depend on the kindness of a donor base. What happens when those builders and boomers die off?

On the positive side, we know that while Episcopal churches are bleeding money and members, there are many megachurches that are packed each week, with the very demographic you might have expected to have given up on church.

Second, I look at North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley) where they’ve “kicked the bucket;” giving up on passing a collection plate/bucket/basket/bag because so many of their members have automated their giving.

(Before moving on, I think any church that struggles with support needs to look carefully at what’s working at North Point in Atlanta.)

I feel sorry for my nephew; he never gets to be part of so many good things that so many great people are doing in so many needy and hurtful parts of this world. He doesn’t get the reports of how the donations helped or read the letters from his Compassion sponsored child. He doesn’t get to share the pain of loss with hurricane victims or be part of facilitating the transplantation of a family in war-torn Syria to a place of peace in Canada or Germany.

Of greater concern of course is that he considers himself Godless. Quite opinionated about which Episcopal churches should close mind you, but involved only to the degree of an armchair quarterback questioning the coach’s decision to run a pass play when it’s fourth and fifteen.

My heart aches for him.

September 7, 2017

Crowdfunding “Maybes” vs. Supporting “Already Dones”

Crowdfunding

Driving home on a Fall day two years ago, a radio station was discussing crowdfunding as “the new panhandling.” The hosts were skeptical about the projects, the necessity, the ethics and the fact that it has become all too easy to put your request out there and wait for a response.

That got me thinking (but not out loud, as the drivers in the other lanes tend to worry when the guy in the next car is talking to himself.)

What if instead of crowdfunding people for something they say they are going to do, what if there was a site which allowed people to help someone for something they’ve already done?

Something like, “Last week my wife and I got to participate in a great opportunity to help some individual/group/cause in a special way, but now we are unexpectedly out of pocket to the tune of $3,000 and would like to find others who can share in the blessing of what happened that day.”

The obvious benefit here is that instead of wondering if the trip is going to be funded, the charity album is going to get recorded, the business is going to be launched or the medical treatment is going to be deemed necessary; the thing, whatever it is, is already a done deal. There can be pictures, documentation, links.

It’s a way of saying, “I/we believed in this to such a great extent, that before there was an opportunity to create a web page and ask people for help, we stuck our necks out and wrote the check (or bought the ticket, or booked the flight or studio time or concert hall, or registered the trademark, or started filming). But now we want you to help us in something that is already past the half-way mark in development.” Or, “…something that is already a fait accompli.”

That way you could trust that the project is not a pipe dream or a flight of fancy. You would know that the gears are in motion.

If you’ve ever been unemployed you know the adage that it’s easier to get a job when you are already working. There’s a momentum there, which leads to a confidence. Similarly, I would argue that it’s easier to get people on board for something that has already gained traction, or has already proven itself. Some people like to back a winner; as it stands now, most crowdfunding projects are at best a wish.

What we’re really asking here, is what if some of crowdfunding was about events in the past, not conjecture about a possible future.

Let’s take this further:

  • Suppose for a minute that the person seeking the funding was required to show the project had some substance?
  • What if the person seeking help was asked to prove that they have also put some of their own capital into the request in question?

Wouldn’t that encourage others to get on board?

So what’s a good name for such a website?

images for graphic collage: Plan To Start

May 20, 2017

Giving Anonymously

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:35 am

The church I grew up in had a small 1′ x 3′ brass plaque on the end of every pew showing the name of the donor who had sponsored that pew. As far as I know, those plaques are still there. The senior citizens complex where my mom spent her last years had a wall which showed the donors for the building project, classified into various categories by size of donation. The university I attended does the same thing in their quarterly magazine showing the names in several amount ranges.

But what if you want to give anonymously? It isn’t always easy.

Still, some hold to a Christian ethic of doing good works in secret. They really don’t want themselves to be part of the picture.

The Direct Approach

This approach simply foregoes the anonymity. It says, this is something the Lord told me to do; or I don’t want credit for this, I am simply doing what the Holy Spirit is directing. I witnessed this just yesterday. It’s beautiful. But later I was asked by the recipients, “Who was that person?”

Online

If you’re giving to support a missions project (or something similar) that offers the option of giving online, the way these programs are set up make it difficult for the funds to reach the recipients without some type of notification being received which has a name attached to it. Some sites do allow the donor to remain unknown.

Other Electronic Options

You can email funds these days, but not knowing where it’s coming from, the recipient would probably suspect spam. Unfortunately that’s the world we live in.

Cash and Dash

We were the recipients of such donations on a few occasions. We opened the mailbox and there was an envelope containing, I believe $100 in cash. This is risky these days, and many people don’t carry enough cash to do this sort of thing spontaneously. Of course a check (that’s cheque for my UK readers) would cancel out any anonymity as the name and address are quite visible. I wouldn’t recommend actually mailing the cash envelope, so you might be seen dropping it off, unless you knew when they weren’t home. Complicating this are addresses which no longer have physical mailboxes.

The Intermediary

I have to do this over the next few days. I was given the gift card last week with clear instructions not to tell the recipient who it’s from. This is probably the best form of the type listed here, though the recipient might still connect the dots.

Gift in Kind

You could go to the utility office and offer to pay their bill. Would the local power company allow you to do this? Would they notify the recipient? Things are so bureaucratic these days that some might refuse.

Any other suggestions? How would you anonymously give someone money in a paper trail world?

 

January 19, 2017

The Harsh Reality of an Aid Worker’s Life

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:12 am

Today’s a bit of an exception: A book that’s not new (published in 2012) and not carried by Christian retailers. Rather, it was loaned to me by a friend who met the author at a work-sponsored event several months ago and thought I would enjoy it. I need to return the book to him now, so I don’t even get to keep it, which means I really didn’t need to bother to write anything about it but the fact is, I’m really pumped (a pun which will you’ll get in a minute) about this and want to share it in the hope some of you might track it down.

wine-to-waterWine to Water: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World (Avery) is the suspense-filled autobiographical account of how Doc Hendley went from bartender in a college town to founding his own charity and being sent carte blanche to Darfur, Sudan by Samaritan’s Purse to develop a program to bring fresh water to people there regardless of their religion or politics.

Ever watched or read an appeal for a third-world charity and wondered what the people on the ground actually do when they wake up each morning? It’s possibly the polar opposite of what you imagine. As the story unwinds, Hendley is basically an actor in a play in which he has to write (and re-write) the script daily. There is guaranteed opposition and no real promise that you’ll live to the same the next day. In one harrowing tale, he is at a loss to understand how a bullet fired directly at his head could possibly have missed.

If you haven’t figured it out, the book’s title relates to how Hendley the Bartender begins a series of pub-based fundraising events with the aim of helping with the world water crisis. But he does so not knowing where the money will be used. When he first connects with Samaritan’s Purse, they actually turn down his donation and invite him to see the situation firsthand before he spends the first dollar.

I mentioned at the outset that Wine to Water isn’t sold at Christian retail, but perhaps it should be. On a personal level, Hendley strongly identifies with his religious upbringing as a preacher’s kid.  His personal faith in God and the power of prayer ought to be a challenge to the rest of us who perhaps have the dotted the is and crossed the ts when it comes to doctrine and theology, but may be missing out on actual real faith. I think it’s true that there are no atheists in foxholes.


Read an interview with Doc Hendley on the book’s page at Avery/Penguin. Donations can be made at winetowater.org .

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.

 

 

 

 

 

February 1, 2016

Returning Thanks for Our Daily Bread

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

This is not a sponsored post; just something I felt was right to do today.

Our Daily Bread - Radio Bible ClassFor years, many of us have used the devotional booklets from the organization formerly known as Radio Bible Class. We’ve picked up copies of Our Daily Bread in our church lobby, at a Christian bookstore or perhaps were given one in a hospital or prison.

Today is a good day to say thanks and encourage this ministry.

In the United States go to odb.org. In Canada go to ourdailybread.ca .

Also, whether or not you’re familiar with the devotional, here is a list of other resources produced by this fine organization.

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.

 

 

September 19, 2015

What if Crowdfunding Set a Different Time Frame?

Filed under: economics — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:54 am

Crowdfunding

Driving home Friday night a talk radio station was discussing crowdfunding as “the new panhandling.” The hosts were skeptical about the projects, the necessity, the ethics and the fact that it has become all too easy to put your request out there and wait for a response.

That got me thinking (but not out loud, as the drivers in the other lanes tend to worry when the guy in the next car is talking to himself.)

What if instead of crowdfunding people for something they say they are going to do, what if there was a site which allowed people to help someone for something they’ve already done?

Something like, “Last week my wife and I got to participate in a great opportunity to help some individual/group/cause in a special way, but now we are unexpectedly out of pocket to the tune of $3,000 and would like to find others who can share in the blessing of what happened that day.”

The obvious benefit here is that instead of wondering if the trip is going to be funded, the charity album is going to get recorded, the business is going to be launched or the medical treatment is going to be deemed necessary; the thing, whatever it is, is already a done deal. There can be pictures, documentation, links.

It’s a way of saying, “I/we believed in this to such a great extent, that before there was an opportunity to create a web page and ask people for help, we stuck our necks out and wrote the check (or bought the ticket, or booked the flight or studio time or concert hall, or registered the trademark, or started filming). But now we want you to help us in something that is already past the half-way mark in development.” Or, “…something that is already a fait accompli.”

That way you could trust that the project is not a pipe dream or a flight of fancy. You would know that the gears are in motion.

If you’ve ever been unemployed you know the adage that it’s easier to get a job when you are already working. There’s a momentum there, which leads to a confidence. Similarly, I would argue that it’s easier to get people on board for something that has already gained traction, or has already proven itself. Some people like to back a winner; as it stands now, most crowdfunding projects are at best a wish.

What we’re really asking here, is what if some of crowdfunding was about events in the past, not conjecture about a possible future.

Let’s suppose for a minute that the person seeking the funding was required to show the project had some substance? What if the person seeking help was asked to prove that they have also put some of their own capital into the request in question? Wouldn’t that encourage others to get on board?

So what’s a good name for such a website?

images for graphic collage: Plan To Start

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