Secular fundraisers told to look to the faithful

“Don’t count out Christians.” This wasn’t advice I expected from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, but there it was in bold face, large font on the SSIR blog site. “By including religious groups in their outreach efforts, secular nonprofits stand to significantly strengthen their ability to effect change,” the tag line to the piece promised.

magnify_the_cross_8882“Amen,” I muttered, along with “but please don’t go there.”

Daily I hear leaders of faith-based organizations (including my home congregation) complain about intense competition for funds from brother and sister ministries in Christ. It’s my experience that organizational heads have bought the scarcity message hook line and sinker. The last thing these folks want is secular organizations trolling their over-fished (or so they believe) philanthropic waters, especially as they’ve pretty much given up hope of re-stocking the pond.

In other words, people of faith are as guilty of counting out Christians – in particular, the young fries in our midst – as are the secular readers to which the SSIR article is directed. And now “they” are coming after “ours.” Let the hand-wringing commence.


But wait.

It’s not the secular organization down the street that’s the problem for most ministries. Rather, it’s our own low view of the generosity of God’s people in combination with time-worn fundraising methods. As the writer of the SSIR article puts it:

We must understand that the face of Christianity has changed. It is no longer the religion of our grandparents; instead, it comprises young, social-media-savvy believers who wear skinny jeans, have ironic tattoos, and conduct Bible study on their iPads. Yes, there are areas where Christian and secular views clash profoundly. But there are also many areas where young Christians’ passion for social-justice activism could easily be confused with those of recent, non-religious, college grads who are eager to work for nonprofits and change the world.

For many believers, the Bible provides an established set of values that creates a moral framework and influences daily interactions. It provides commentary on issues ranging from slavery and human rights to the environment. In this capacity, it is a ­text full of social-justice teachings, and while some may feel that Christianity poses as a blind set of beliefs, if we take a step back, it is clear that many commonalities emerge within the moral framework of both secular and religious advocates (emphasis mine).

In fact, the grass is exceedingly green on our side of the philanthropic fence. To be sure, fundraisers in faith-based settings need to talk about the good their organizations do, about how significant problems addressed, and about how our communities would be poorer places if this work was not supported by people who care about the common good.

This is a basic foundation for appealing to donors that religiously based nonprofits share with all charitable institutions. But we have more.

We can talk about how the work of our organizations represents efforts to make the values of faith tangible and meaningful, to preach the Gospel (perhaps) without words, and to keep hope alive in a world that often lacks hope. We can present giving as an act of trust in the beneficence of God, in the abundance of God’s grace, and in the possibilities for making a better world when we cooperate in that grace.

If Christian organizations are faithful in talking to supporters (current and potential) in these ways, there will be no counting us out.

For more on the generosity of God’s people, see:

First some good news, then the bad about giving and the faithful

Ten reasons why people become generous stewards

If not in church, then where will “nones” learn to give?

What's your take on this topic?

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