Generosity is more than dispossession of assets. Giving is that — reducing the amount of “stuff” we have — but biblical giving is more than that. For the Christian, generous giving means intentionally transferring a piece of one’s wealth so others will benefit.
This is an important part of Christian stewardship. One of the curious values of the faith is that we are called upon to reduce that which we steward and give it to others so they may steward it.
Commonly called “charitable giving,” it is, in fact, an act of reassigning stewardship. The new steward benefits from the transfer.
For secular givers, giving is little more than reduction of net worth — something that can be achieved in many ways other than charitable giving. But for the Christian, for whom giving is a part of stewardship, it all changes. That person has a steward’s responsibility to ensure that assets dispossessed achieve some good.
Wise stewards are thoughtful and prayerful, and act with careful intention to ensure the new steward will deploy funds effectively. It is the giver’s responsibility to invest wisely, to advance God’s kingdom effectively. Mere asset transfer is not Christian generosity.
It is tempting to think that what the generous Christian giver should do is maximize the “return on investment.” Taken seriously, this calls for careful analysis of various options, calculation of “returns,” and comparison of the returns obtained from alternate investments.
In general, I think that this kind of rigor is both impractical and unwarranted. It seems to leave little room for the gift maker to hear from the Lord, to act spontaneously, and to act with reflection or creativity.
So, how does one determine where to give? Who will next steward one’s assets? What benefit will be provided to whom through giving? I suggest two principles.
1.Invest in a well-considered strategy that solves a problem that God cares about.
Ministries and other charitable entities operate programs to achieve specific outcomes with a demographic group. Impact occurs at the program level and that is where strategy is expressed. So, don’t just give to good organizations, rather, invest in effective program strategies. An effective strategy is one that achieves program goals well. This principle calls for review at the program level, not the organizational level.
Strategy looks very different, depending on the purpose and the demographic group. Evangelistic efforts are a lot easier in Papua New Guinea than among sex workers in Sydney. Achievement of a common purpose — salvation — in each population calls for a different strategy, and effectiveness must be considered in light of these differences.
So, firstly, consider where the purpose you — and God — seek to achieve is being addressed using a strategy in which you believe.
2. Assess effectiveness using outcomes as the unit of measurement.
How can we know if ministry is effective? Jesus would likely reply, “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt. 7:16a). For some, effort and good intentions have sufficed as proxies for effectiveness. Givers have presumed that good people trying hard equates to good results — and if results were not sound, that was God’s will. In this view, every organization is equally worthy and exactly as effective as it should be.
A wise giver, on the other hand, should consider the outcomes a program generates. Stewardship can be improved by considering the fruit God has seen fit to bring forth from the effort made. The giver may wish to invest where God is working.
To do this, outcomes must be measured and evaluated. Outcomes are the changes in the population served that are brought about by an organization’s program. An outcome is a person saved, a patient healed, a skill acquired, a marriage saved, a biblical passage understood.
Both those who invest in ministries and ministries themselves should use outcomes as the unit of measurement to assess effectiveness. They tell the story of how the strategy works with the demographic group served.
You can apply these two principles to gifts of all sizes, but they must be bathed in prayer. Then, you should give boldly and generously.
Calvin W. Edwards, an Australian now living in the U.S., has spent most of his professional life within the nonprofit sector. In 2001 he founded Calvin Edwards & Company, a consulting firm that conducts investment-grade research, analysis, and evaluation of nonprofit organizations, and provides counsel to charitable entities and their funders (www.calvinedwardscompany.com). Previously, he was a partner with Ronald Blue & Co., and a senior executive with several U.S. ministries.