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
Choosing where to give our resources is complicated in a world with many organizations and causes. To simplify the process, people frequently use two common benchmarks to decide where and how to donate money.
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 (see links in giving resources [link here]) 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 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.
What is Transformative Giving?
Transformative giving goes further than our finances. It connects change in ourselves to change in the world through three mechanisms:
- Intentionality. 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.
- Connectedness. 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.
- Sacrifice. “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 links to learning about and acting against injustice in the fullest realization of economic discipleship.
Organizations that measure charity efficiency:
Organizations promoting effective giving:
Books and Readings on Generosity and Giving
- Walter Brueggemann, “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” The Christian Century, March 1999.
- Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, 2014
- Elizabeth Drury, “Border Crossing: Five Habits of Incarnational Giving,” The Exchange (Blog by Christianity Today), December 17, 2015
- Kelly Johnson, The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics, 2007
- Robert Lupton, Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, and How to Reverse It, 2012
- Scott Rodin, Editor, Christ-Centered Generosity: Global Perspectives on the Biblical Call to a Generous Life, 2015
- Ron Sider, Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America, 2nd Edition 2007.
- Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose. 2014.
- Seven Day Generosity Challenge, distributed by Kingdom Life Publishing