10 Things to Think About Before You Give in the Amazing Raise 2014 (or anywhere else for that matter!)

UPDATE:  This was a really hard and painful post to write. I struggled with whether to write it or not, because I don’t have it all figured out. But, as I talked to some experienced nonprofit folks and community leaders, I felt compelled. And…I just know I/we need to think and pray more before we invest God’s money!

Amazing Raise season has arrived! In response to last year’s Raise, I wrote To Give…or Not to Give. Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE the energy around the Amazing Raise and have dear friends and organizations that I believe in and give to. In fact, giving is good for us. According to the book The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose by Smith and Davidson,

“More generous people are happier, suffer fewer illnesses and injuries, live with a greater sense of purpose, and experience less depression.”  .

So, we benefit when we give. However, who we give to matters to others. So I implore you to think about…pray about…WHO you give to. I live in and love a community that receives a lot of ministry and non-profit focus. I’ve seen some good, some bad and some really ugly over the years. So, allow me to talk from the street level after living in and loving the inner city for the last 9 years. It behooves us all to do our homework. Please.

A group of us have bounced some ideas around…and came up with this list of 10 things to think about before giving or volunteering.

1st – PRAY a listening prayer. Ask God to speak to you, to show you where to invest HIS money. We are called to be good stewards of the money God has given us. He’s counting on us to make WISE decisions regarding who we support with our time, talent, resources and finances.

2nd – Don’t believe everything you read or hear! Do your research! 

  • Talk to the community.  It’s important to get first hand information from the folks in the community – not just the ones being ‘supported’ by the organization.
  • Talk to people who used to work for the organization. Why did they leave? What did they see on the inside?
  • Review the 990s. Do the numbers add up? Is there a return on the investment? 
  • Ask questions. 
  • Look for ways that folks may be privately benefiting from the work being done. They may not get salaries, but there are other ways to benefit… using ‘the ends justify the means’.
  • Talk with current and past partners. What does that partnership look like? Why are they not in partnership anymore?
  • Talk with past recipients of their services, if you can. Where is the ‘poster child’ from a year or 2 ago that is no longer around?

3rd – Track what’s happening. Is the nonprofit sustainable? or do they jump from one project to another? to one part of town to another? Are they committed to their mission…or are the suffering from mission bleed…and find themselves all over the place..shifting with the tide? Pulling out before the job has done or pulling out too soon…pulling out just as trust is being built? Signs of going from one project to another and never fully completing what they started is a sign they are either chasing money and/or not building a sustainability plan after receiving a one-time grant. In addition, they just might be unfocused, suffer from ADD or just good ole impatience. This work takes time. CCDA folks say that you need to commit to at least 15 years in order to make a true difference. That’s a really, really long time. Sometimes it takes 5+ years just to gain trust.

4th – Stories are really compelling tool. But, those stories might NOT be all true…sins of omission and sins of commission. (See #1) Are they taking creative liberties to sell the ‘story”? Ask for data to back up those stories. Think about the pictures of poor starving children and abused dogs, etc. which are meant to tug on your heart strings. And we JUMP to give. We see the ‘poor inner-city child with too small clothes’ who needs a bed, a home, clothing, etc. We want to fix it…now.

5th – Are the community and the residents treated with respect and dignity? Are they being done TO? BAD! Are they being done WITH? GOOD!  Are the residents/people/children being exploited just to raise funds? After speaking to one longtime community leader yesterday – this exploitation is considered particularly heinous. The ‘friend’ can’t say ‘No’ to having their picture taken because they are too beholden to the organization, and their livelihood, housing, and resources might depend on it. The community leader said that some may not know their pictures are being used to market the organizations, and they are being told what to say and how to say it…often written for them. YIKES!

6th – Organizations that are 5+ years or older should be transferring some organizational leadership to the indigenous people or the people they serve, especially if they focus on leadership development. Are they employing people from the community by now?  Are community members consulted with, listened to, and heard before something is implemented? 

7th – Look for meaningful results for sustainable change. Are there wrap-around services to go with the transitional housing for the homeless? How are they partnering with the larger movement within the city/county? Are there strong partnerships with other non-profits or churches in the geographical area or same focus (homelessness, sex-traffiking, education/tutoring, etc.)?

8th – If it is a faith-based organization, does it align with your theology? If not, then is it close enough for you?

9th – Before you give significantly or promote… volunteer with them for a length of time. Get to know the organization from the inside. Ask the hard questions from the inside. Observe. Listen. 

10th – Asks yourself…Is the work for the common good of the community? Is there harm being done? This is a hard one. Hard to get to the root of it. Because it may look good and feel good, but after asking yourselves all these questions, you may learn that it is in fact doing more harm then good. Some ‘good’ work is actually a drain on the community, because work is done in a silo, and the whole community…or impacts on the whole community, are not considered. Partnering with the other nonprofits, the city, the community, etc. is a necessity. 

Remember…It’s not about making us – the giver – feel good because we gave, although that’s an addictive feeling. It’s about implementing sustainable transformation, not enabling. Read about the differences between Mercy, Betterment and Development work in last year’s post >>> To Give…or Not to Give.

I know I missed some. I am still learning. What do YOU use to determine where to give and how to give and serve?

If you want to discuss more about any of these or others, happy to chat about it. Just contact us!

To Give…or Not to Give

revised on 8.24.2013 due to some major typos!

The Amazing Raise 2013, GiveRichmond.com’s 36-hour giving challenge, is right around the corner from 6am on Wednesday, September 18 through Thursday, September 19! IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT a request to give! 🙂 But, I have already started receiving emails, tweets, FB messages, videos, FB likes and shares, letters and postcards, and more telling me how I should give to different non-profits.

Plea. After. Plea.

One. Right. After. The. Other.

Soon, I will be asked to give at a certain time, possibly at 2am, to help a non-profit win a specific dollar amount. Fun! (insert sarcasm here).

I have a confession…it really makes me want to scream. Really. Loud. But, before you judge…please keep reading!

My primary God-given gift is ‘GIVING’. If you don’t believe me, ask Louis. He will tell you. We’d be broke (LOL) if he didn’t put the brakes to my natural giving tendency. My thoughts…It’s not mine anyway. It’s all on loan to me…to steward on behalf of God; and I really want to be a good steward of what He has given to us. So…how in the world do I decide where to give??? That’s the part that makes me want to SOL (Scream Out Loud). To make it harder, this year…we are on a MUCH tighter budget!

Louis and I are both relational people. So, we really want to give to organizations that our friends are involved in, founded, are board members, etc. As extroverts, we have a TON of ‘friends’. My goodness…we have ‘friends’ poppin’ out the woodwork asking me to give now! SOL

We want to give where our values align. So, what do we value? We want to see sustainable, transformational change. Where God’s kingdom is being built. Where the Gospel is being proclaimed. Where no harm is being done, especially in the “name of Jesus”. Where there’s more than a ‘good story’. Where the community is involved and have a say in what’s happening.

Like many others, Louis and I subscribe to the CCDA Philosophy and really want to support ministries that are doing development work versus mercy ministry. My thoughts and ideas have also been shaped by experts, authors/speakers and books like Beyond Charity by John M. Perkins,  When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and Toxic Charity by Bob Lupton. You can hear a podcast of Bob Lupton talking about Toxic Charity during his visit to RVA >> here.

One might ask, “What’s the difference?”  Simply put in 3 levels…

Level 1 Mercy Ministry = Hand Out. One person gives. Another receives. There is a need for this, but I think it should be used when it is a real emergency…earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, etc. or when someone really can’t help themselves. examples: Feeding programs. Food banks. Free Markets. Backpacks. Adopt a family at Christmas. Although these ministries make the giver feel good, oftentimes these types of ministries hurt more than they help…causing further enablement, dependency, hoarding, loss of dignity, etc.  Bob Lupton says – “Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) capacity to do for themselves.”   THINK – Give a man a fish.

Level 2 Betterment or Empowerment = Hand Up. Giving is more reciprocal. A small exchange takes place. Definitely a move in the right direction. Becomes a little more time intensive. More commitment is involved. More listening to the community. Examples: Christmas Stores where donated gifts are sold at 20cents on the dollar. Tutoring.  THINK – Teach a person how to fish.

Level 3 Development = Standing Up. This calls for a long-term systemic change and sustainable economic development. This is not an overnight, easy solution. It’s time commitment. Exchange takes place. Doing it with a community not to or for a community. Requires listening to the community and sacrificing your own thoughts and ideas. Examples – Use of lending and investing. Very little grants. Jobs. John Perkins regularly says “The best welfare program is a job.” (see post >> here) Yet according to the cited survey, only 1% of churches do something about jobs. THINK: Teach a person how to own the boat and the pond.

Here’s an example of a sustainable, development concept we LOVE! Maybe one day we will have a LouDawg’s Kitchen afterall…  Whatcha think?

As we approach this time of giving, Louis and I will want to ask ourselves some questions before we give of our time, money or resources. Here’s a few that will get us started, but I’m sure we are missing some….

  • God – where would You have us give?
  • Whose kingdom is being built? God’s or someone else’s?
  • Is it development work or mercy ministry?
  • Is the work being done with a community or for/to a community?

I’m still learning…still struggling…with how to give and serve well.

What other descriptions and examples can you provide of the different levels?

What questions are you asking?

Being the Mission

You know….for the last 6 years I have loved and served my neighborhood friends.  What a joy it has been!  I love my community!!!  I am often a ‘go-to’ person for a lot of people.  My neighborhood has been my ‘mission’ and way of life.  Now, it was time for Louis and me to be their mission.

A month ago, Louis had emergency surgery due to 2 massive kidney stones drop about the same time jeopardizing function of both kidneys.  They are too big to pass. Although the doctors created a temporary fix, Louis had 3 additional procedures to go through.  One down…two more to go!  The kidney stents relieved the emergency, but he is still extremely uncomfortable and still can’t do a lot.  When he does, he suffers for it later.

On Friday, I had some outpatient abdominal surgery and have spent the last few days laid up in stretchy pants.  Our neighborhood and community friends have been nothing short of amazing.  Visits, flowers, food (and ICE CREAM!!!), dishes, carrying out the trash, prayers, phone calls, etc.

At times, this has been difficult for me….more so than Louis, actually.  He does a much better job of ‘receiving’ than I do.  Louis likes to remind me of Jesus’ words…

Acts 20:35  New International Version (NIV)

35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Louis tells me, ‘don’t steal someone’s blessing’.  That when I don’t accept someone’s help or gift, I could be robbing them of a blessing.  So, I pray the Lord pours out his blessings on all who have helped, visited, gave or will give and especially on those who have offered, but I was too prideful to receive!  Pour it out, Lord.

Although Louis would probably disagree, I think we both have problems with asking for help, but are more willing to receive it when offered. Why is it so hard for us to ask? For me, I guess this is still an issue of pride getting in the way.  A facade that it’s all good. I got it all under control.  When in fact, I don’t have it under control at all, and need the help of friends and family.

I need to keep this in mind when I give and help…or offer.  Some of my thoughts since I’ve been chillin’…How can I reach through or around other’s pride to reach real areas of need?  How can we assist people and still maintain their dignity?  How can I show my own vulnerability in a real and humble way?  How can I expose my needs and still feel OK about it?  What am I really worried about?  What keeps me from doing that?

Thanks again to everyone who has played a role in our care!  We love and appreciate you greatly!

Gratefully yours….Marti

ps.  I’m now off pain meds and about it get behind the wheel of my car!  YAY!