Thinking Out Loud

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

September 15, 2015

Imagine 100 Jets Crash Killing 26,000…and the Next Day it Happens Again

World Vision president Richard Stearns in the book, The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer that Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World (Thomas Nelson, ECPA Christian Book of the Year, 2009)

Whenever a major jetliner crashes anywhere in the world, it inevitably sets off a worldwide media frenzy covering every aspect of the tragedy.  I want you to imagine for a moment that you woke up this morning to the following headline:  “One Hundred Jetliners Crash, Killing 26,500.”  Think of the pandemonium this would create across the world as heads of state, parliaments and congresses convened to grapple with the nature and causes of this tragedy.  Think about the avalanche of media coverage that it would ignite around the globe as reporters shared the shocking news and tried to communicate its implications for the world.  Air travel would no doubt grind to a halt as governments shut down airlines and panicked air travelers cancelled their trips.  The National Transportation Safety Board and perhaps the FBI, CIA, and local law enforcement  agencies and their international equivalents would mobilize investigations and dedicate whatever manpower was required to understand what happened and to prevent it from happening again.

Now imagine that the very next day, one hundred more planes crashed – and one hundred more the next, and the next, and the next.  It is unimaginable that something this terrible could ever happen.

But it did – and it does.

It happened today, and it happened yesterday.  It will happen again tomorrow.  But there was no media coverage.  No heads of state, parliaments or congresses stopped what they were doing to address the crisis and no investigations were launched.  Yet more than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today and tomorrow and the day after that.  Almost 10 million children will be dead in the course of a year.  So why does the crash of a single plane dominate the front pages of newspapers across the world while the equivalent of one hundred planes filled with children crashing daily never reaches our ears?  And even though we now have the awareness, the access,  and the ability to stop it, why have we chosen not to?  Perhaps one reason is that these kids who are dying are not our kid; they’re somebody else’s.

pp 106-107

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.

 

April 21, 2015

World Vision Paying Bookstore Up To $185 For Each Child Sponsor

Free Press

An article published Sunday in the Detroit Free Press on the receivership/restructuring of Family Christian Stores (FCS) carried information not seen to this point, including the amount of kickbacks the chain received from World Vision for each child sponsor recruited. 

We can attest to the solicitations personally; going through the FCS checkout there is a litany of pitches including bonus buy offers, but also charitable causes including placing Bibles in prisons, and child sponsorship:

The one which was most shocking was the amount of the “bounty” paid the company each time someone signed up to sponsor a child through World Vision:

Family Christian has also benefited from customers who sign up to sponsor a third-party group called World Vision, which provides food, clothing and shelter to impoverished children throughout the world.

The chain solicits sponsorships from its customers and receives a $150 fee from World Vision for each customer who signs up and pays the monthly fee, according to records obtained by the Free Press. Family Christian receives another $35 if the customer signs up for automatic payments.

Again, you’re encouraged to read it all at The Detroit Free Press

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 our part of the world, we’ve seen special events like Couples Night Out and Ladies Night Out which are used to attract potential donors to hear a pitch for sponsorship. These evenings feature special speakers, giveaway prizes, and printing costs for posters and tickets. The cost per sponsor recruited is possibly equally high or higher. 

Still, the idea of the charity paying bookstores such a large incentive to get cashiers to make the appeal is somewhat disturbing, don’t you think?

 

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