A Brief Guide to Smart Giving
August 27, 2014—If you even passively use Facebook or some other social media platform, you are likely aware of the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” Originally, this started out as a fun way for folks to advertise the charity of their choice, but gained new steam this summer raising awareness about ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). It hasn’t taken long for this internet phenomenon to be followed up by various commentators discussing the effectiveness of the exercise, advocating for the greater needs of other charities, and expressing plain exhaustion from watching so many videos.
While I am not one to throw “cold water” on the good intentions of others, I thought it might help to provide a brief guide on charitable giving. Before working at Columbia Theological Seminary, I did communications for a number of great organizations including the Association of Philanthropic Counsel. APC is an international professional association of consultants working with various nonprofit organizations, not just to do fundraising, but building the full capacity of charities to execute their mission. Distilling all of the great advice out there down to a few points, I provide these recommendation for you when mapping out a giving plan for yourself or for your church.
Know the Issue
Most experts agree that “giving is giving,” and that anything nurturing a culture for more giving is a good thing. That said, many people jumped into the “Ice Bucket Challenge” without knowing what ALS is or what the ALS Association does to support research, public education, patients and their families. (I did only because the disease took a member of my family when I was in high school.)
Take time to think through what needs are out there, what issues are important to you, and what kind of progress can be made. Knowing more about a particular mission will only solidify your commitment to progress in that area. It is important to understand all of the ways you can support a cause with prayers, finances, education, and even volunteering your time.
Know the Organization
With so many groups out there trying to raise money, it’s important to know more than just the broad strokes of what they stand for. And while many people are concerned with the financial management of charities these days, it is also important to see what they are accomplishing with the money they are collecting.
Any charity worth their salt will be in regular communication with you about their financial outlook, their best accomplishments, and their future goals. Letters or emails are good when done at least quarterly, but personal follow up by phone or even in person can help tremendously in building a long-term relationship with both the organization and the cause it represents.
If you have looked at the budget for any charity, you know that $100 is a “drop in the bucket.” However, those drops can add up through collective efforts ($94 million and growing for ALSA this summer to date), and through long-term commitments (many thousands of dollars for even an average giver).
A big question ALSA faces now is how to adjust its current program: Do they take on new things with this money knowing that next year they may not raise nearly as much? Or do they put some into savings for a future project? How these questions are approached depends more on the capacity of the organization to adapt around the fresh opportunities and challenges they face today.
Having a stable, committed network of supporters is the backbone of any organization. Among educational institutions, Columbia Theological Seminary is proud to have one of the highest ratings reflecting its support from alumni/ae and other donors, its sound approach to financial stewardship, and its ability to place and support excellent people in church leadership.
Whatever you choose to do, I hope you will invest the same thoughtfulness into a giving plan that you do for all of your finances. When preaching, I have always noted that the biblical tithe serves as a reminder that all of our resources belong to God. May we use them prayerfully to God’s glory.
Michael K. Thompson is the Director of Communications for Columbia Theological Seminary. After graduating from Cornell University with a degree in Physics, he served for 12 years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Troy, NY. Before coming to Columbia, Michael was a senior manager for the Association Development Group where he managed state and national trade associations for transportation, philanthropy, and business continuity. He has been a board member for multiple local organizations including the Rensselaer Land Trust, the Cornell Alumni Association of Atlanta, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) for Rockdale and Newton Counties, and the First Presbyterian Church of Covington, GA.