Is Your Giving Transformative?

For me, the central question of economic discipleship is: how can I ensure that my whole life is telling a single story, and that that story is the Gospel? How can the way I use my money become a prophetic witness to the world?

–Michael Zahniser, BFJN Board Member

How do you decide where to give money in a world with so many needs, organizations, and causes?

To simplify the process, many people seem to use two common benchmarks.

The first is efficiency: does this organization apply most of the money it receives to the problems it seeks to address? A number of services such as Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance do the research for you to evaluate charities on the basis of efficiency, reporting on non-profits’ income and spending, governance practices, and strategic planning.

The second is effectiveness: How well is the organization actually fulfilling its objectives? How many people does a particular strategy help? In his influential article “Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor,” Economist Bruce Wydick recommends delivering water to rural villages, giving children de-worming treatments, and supplying mosquito nets as the top three programs that will most cost-effectively reduce poverty and alleviate suffering. The Centre for Effective Altruism researches organizations that do the most good—meaning, they reach the most people with the most beneficial interventions.

Efficiency and effectiveness are definitely important factors when deciding where to give.

But at the Boston Faith & Justice Network we want to consider them as part of third way: a comprehensive process of transformative giving.

Transformative giving goes further than our finances–it connects change in ourselves to change in the world in three ways:

  • It is intentional. Unplanned donating to meet immediate needs or respond to personal convictions should be a joyful, spontaneous element of generous living. But with limited resources, thinking through a transformative giving strategy can allow us to address issues that are closely aligned with our passions. Larger or more regular gifts to one group can provide stability and means for growth.
  • It is connected. One of the best ways to find out if an organization’s work is efficient or effective is by coming alongside its leaders and workers. People who engage in transformative giving are involved in the work they help to fund. They know the strategies and see the impacts. Giving money is a large part of their support, but not the only part.
  • It is sacrificial. “I am afraid the only safe rule [of giving] is to give more than we can spare,” advised the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. “If our charities do not pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.” If all we have is God’s, then transformational giving should push us beyond our own financial comfort, to both build our own reliance on God and allow us to go further in meeting great need.

Transformative giving is joined with learning about and acting against injustice in the fullest realization of economic discipleship. How is your giving transforming the world? How is it transforming you?

image: Steven DePolo

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