In the weeks leading up to Christmas, my mailbox overflowed with Christmas cards, circulars for holiday sales, and letters from nonprofits and ministries encouraging year-end giving. At times, it felt like the solicitation letters outnumbered Christmas greetings from friends!
Maybe you’ve experienced a similar phenomenon. The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy reports that in the U.S., an estimated $75 billion — one-quarter of all philanthropic gifts — will be made between Thanksgiving and New Year’s1. It’s not unusual for nonprofit organizations to receive as much as one-third of their annual budget through year-end gifts.
Clearly, our response to year-end appeals matters, but as the letters piled up on my desk, I wondered how to choose between so many worthy causes. Scripture calls us to steward our finances carefully (I Timothy 6:17-19), so how can we leverage this opportunity to make a difference as 2015 draws to a close?
Financial advisors encourage investors to build diverse portfolios — thoughtful blends of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. — that maximize profit, while minimizing exposure to risky investments. In a similar spirit, I strive to build a diversified “giving portfolio” that allows me to strategically give across a range of areas. Determining categories of giving and the proportion I will give to each simplifies the process of responding to year-end appeals.
To give you an example, my giving tends to fall into four areas:
The local church: If, like many believers, the church is your primary connection point for Christian living, it makes sense to direct the largest portion of your giving to this area. (See Malachi 3:6-11 or Leadership Journal’s article “Why Give to the Local Church”.)
Those in need: In both the Old and New Testaments, we see God’s call for compassion to the poor and needy. Jesus said that those who show mercy to the poor, the sick, and the needy are in effect ministering to Him personally (Matthew 25:35–40) and will be rewarded accordingly. (Also see: Deuteronomy 15:7, Matthew 19:21, Luke 12:33.)
Missional organizations: We can spread the knowledge of Christ by giving to church planters, parachurch ministries, or missionaries who spread the gospel to unreached populations locally and around the world. (See Matthew 28:19-20, Philippians 4:14-19.)
Institutional Giving: I tend to associate institutional giving with large donors, the type of people for whom university buildings and hospital wings are named; yet, smaller donors can have a profound impact when they give to effect long-term social change.
To give institutionally is to address the systems and structures that keep our community from flourishing. Whether you’re alarmed by the rising cost of health care, environmental issues, or your community’s struggling schools, solutions to these problems require deep change in the institutions shaping these fields.
When investing institutionally, it’s important to remember that change occurs slowly. While this type of giving may not have the immediate satisfaction of providing meals for the homeless or building a well in Africa, it has the potential to influence great numbers of people over time.
While Scripture does not provide direct instructions to give institutionally, it calls us to be people who restore a community’s social foundations as we join God in his redemptive work in the world. Passages such Isaiah 58 describe God’s people as those who will, “rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings,” and Jeremiah 29:7 exhorts us to “seek the welfare of the city” where he sends us. That level of influence comes when we devote our lives and resources to large-scale social impact.
As you consider your year-end gifts, I invite you to invest in Denver Institute for Faith & Work as a form of institutional giving. This young, rapidly growing organization equips believers across our state to shape institutions from the ground up through:
– Public forums where industry leaders offer a vision for Kingdom influence in fields like education, health care, architecture/city planning, and business
– Monthly gatherings (“Vocation Groups”) that address the challenges believers face in specific fields such as media/communications or financial planning
– The 5280 Fellowship, an intensive nine-month experience developing emerging leaders in our city
– A growing network of church partners who teach an integrated view of faith and work
A gift to Denver Institute shapes the institutions and industries that govern our daily lives.
As author Os Guinness observes, “Grand Christian movements will rise and fall. Grand campaigns will be mounted and grand coalitions assembled. But all together such coordinated efforts will never match the influence of untold numbers of followers of Christ living out their callings faithfully across the vastness and complexity of modern society.”2
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This post was published December 29, 2015
Joanna serves as Denver Institute’s Director of Public Engagement and oversees the Women & Vocation Initiative. Prior to coming to the Institute, Joanna worked in global telecom, nonprofit consulting, and campus ministry with Cru. She served as associate faculty at Denver Seminary and as a sewing instructor at Fancy Tiger Crafts. A third-generation Coloradan, Joanna appreciates both the state’s innovative culture and its cowboy roots. She has an MA in Social Entrepreneurship from Bakke Graduate University and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Colorado, Boulder.