Happily ever after in the land of niche philanthropy

The land of niche philanthropy is a fascinating place, peopled by passionate folks committed to causes about which you probably haven’t heard and/or don’t much care (at least not yet).

Consider the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. The message: cooking can kill. The goal: to place affordable and efficient cookstoves in a hundred million homes in developing countries.  A champion: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Then there’s the Tropical Health Alliance Foundation and its fight against podoconiosis (“podo” for short), a disfiguring disease of the legs and feet. The message: people don’t have to live like this. The goal: to wipe out podo in Ethiopia within 20 years. A champion: Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes.  

Although the US birthrate of new philanthropies has slowed in recent months, the number of charities and foundations is now more than double what it was just 15 years ago. (Source: Chronicle of Philanthropy) No surprise then if leaders of long-existing nonprofit organizations – including those with a faith base – are tempted toward jealousy and competitiveness.

However, as Thom Jeavons and I caution in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry, fundraisers and other organizational leaders dare not give in to these all-too-human emotions. At least not if the goal is to encourage donors to be rich toward God.

Christian fundraisers can rejoice that God gives one person an interest in health care issues and another in feeding the hungry; that someone is primarily interested in the plight of children and another in caring for the elderly; that one person has a passion for education and another for evangelism.

Ministry-centered development programs reflect a confidence that comes from operating with a clearly identified “kingdom niche,” and as a result staffs are not threatened by the existence of other good causes or even similar ministries. Exemplary fundraising programs are grounded in the confidence that God’s goodness is great enough to encompass the whole and that God has no favorite causes.

Obviously, budgets must be balanced if organizations are to continue. Fundraising goals must be met for the work to flourish and grow. Still, the good news is that the successes of one truly faithful organization need not – indeed, ultimately does not – come at the expense of another.  

Tremendous freedom results when organizational leaders take hold of the truth that God has no favorite causes. God’s generosity is sufficient to enable all God’s people to do God’s work as it needs to be done now.

And that, my friends, is the secret to living happily ever after in the land of niche philanthropy.

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