Debtors don’t donors make, unless . . .

It’s commencement season on college and university campuses across America. That wonderful time of year when starry-eyed graduates march into life to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, diplomas in hand, dreams in their hearts, and a dark cloud of debt over their heads.

Sorry for raining on the graduation parade with my mention of school loans. But with the average debt of today’s college seniors speeding toward $30,000 ($40,000 at private colleges), we need to do more than hand out umbrellas. It’s time to talk honestly about debt.

Or so suggests Kevin Miller, associate rector of Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, IL, in a Leadership Journal article titled “Raising Money from Millennials.” Miller writes for pastors, but alumni and development staff in Christian colleges and universities do well to heed his advice. As he describes, it’s as likely to get water from stones as tithes or regular annual fund gifts from debt-laden twenty-somethings.

JUST DO IT, BOTH

But that doesn’t mean the community of faith should give young adults a pass when it comes to giving. Nor is that what the Millennial generation wants, Miller tells us. They’re a generous lot. They show as much with amazing acts of service and volunteerism. But although their will to give is strong, their bank accounts are weak.

Which is why, in Miller’s words, it’s not enough to talk in glowing terms about faith and generosity. Churches, Christian colleges and universities, and other faith-based nonprofits should encourage young adults on their membership rolls or alumni rosters to focus on repaying debt – even if that means making smaller gifts for a few years.

Miller’s advice to Millennials (and all debtors): paying off debt and giving generously are both important.

One reason debit is such a pain is that it limits freedom. It cuts off your choices. I believe that Christians must honor their creditors and pay off their debts. . . So the painful reality is that paying off your debts must be a high priority for your financial life.

Having said that, do not wait until your debts are fully paid off before giving to God. You need to give for your spiritual health, for your connection to the church, and for your own dignity. . . Your giving will be lower than you want it to be right now, but over time, as you pay down debts, you will regain the freedom to give more.

My take-away from Miller’s article is this. The best gifts the community of faith can give the Class of 2013 are: financial counseling as they deal with debt; right-sized fund appeals as they test the giving waters; and gratitude for all gifts they bring to the table — time and talent, as well as treasure. For the sake of the Kingdom, generous matters in our interactions with members of the Millennial generation.

For more on this topic, see:

Young alum, can you share a tenth?

Alumni/ae engagement and an elephant named Debt

Reaching Millennials through stewardship education

What's your take on this topic?

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