Philanthropy or Giving: Reward or Blessing
Gerry Ebbers, SCSBC Consultant for Stewardship and Development ◊
In secular circles the practice of raising funds for a charitable cause is called philanthropy. It is based on the belief that individuals can be persuaded to support people who are needier than themselves or to support programs that are of widespread public benefit. In addition to a thank-you and a charitable receipt, a donor often receives some form of public recognition or a tangible reward for his donation.
In Christian circles the word fundraising should never be used, if we truly believe and practice the Biblical principle called giving. Giving is based on the recognition that all that we have comes from God and that God calls each of us to return a portion of what we have received to further His kingdom. Givers are blessed by God: an intangible promise, but one which most donors will attest is experienced in very real ways.
Increasingly in our churches, Christian charities and Christian schools, giving is being replaced by fundraising activities that vary little from what we see in the multitudinous fundraising around us. Many Christians have a poor understanding of the Biblical principles of giving; thus, many fail to practice it and therefore miss out on God’s blessing. In our schools, we often contribute to this lack of understanding in how we raise funds from our supporting constituency and from within our own student body. Rather than using all of our fundraising activities to teach and model Biblical giving, we jeopardize our own charitable income future by reinforcing non-Biblical methods of soliciting support.
Here are some practices with examples that deserve your careful consideration:
1. Contests to raise money-the class that brings in the most pennies gets pizza for lunch. This simply denies God’s blessing on the students and replaces it with pizza.
2. Rewards for giving-the first 100 people to give will receive a book. This fosters the ‘something for something’ approach that is so prevalent today in secular fundraising. However, including an unexpected token of appreciation with your thank you letter is not the same thing, since it is not part of the solicitation.
3. ‘Thons’ of all sorts-Not bad fundraisers, but if it’s the students who are asking to be sponsored, it’s important for them to put their name first on the sponsor sheet. In other words, they need to practice giving as an example for others. “This is what I’m willing to do for this cause, can I ask you to join me?”, not “Will you sponsor me?”
4. Golf tournaments-Not bad fundraisers either, except that when each golfer gets a T-shirt, golf balls, a dinner, prizes, and possibly his/her round of golf paid by his/her company, there’s not much that looks like giving. Companies usually expect to be recognized for their support and that’s okay; it’s the way that they show that they contribute to society. Let’s just be sure that we don’t confuse this with biblical stewardship, and let’s make sure we take all opportunities to share what God requires of us.
5. Auctions-Great opportunities to build community if they are structured correctly, and great opportunities to give if that is stressed. But if our auctions are just a Christian version of Costco, a place for great deals, then we’ve fallen into the practice of philanthropy with a system of rewards, not blessings.
6. Matching gift challenges-If introduced appropriately, these can be great opportunities to share vision and mission, but there’s the danger that people will give because they’re getting something for their gift: a dollar match, rather than God’s blessing.
Increasingly, it seems that we need to be stroked in some way before we’ll give and that is my greatest concern. I like annual gala events that bring the larger school community together to worship and praise God, to see what God is doing through the school, and to rededicate ourselves to supporting this part of His kingdom. But if we won’t give unless there’s a banquet thrown in, we’re missing out on God’s blessing. I think that schools need annual drives because they are real opportunities to teach Biblical stewardship and to give supporters an opportunity to give to the school without any form of recognition or reward. Our own students need to be taught this too and need to be given opportunities to give unconditionally, just like God has given to us.