By Barry Howard
ASSOCIATED BAPTIST PRESS — As the holiday season approaches, my inbox and our mailbox seems to fill quickly with Christmas greetings and with requests for money. We love getting Christmas cards and letters. After reading them, my wife displays them around the living room with other decorations to remind us of the friendships we share around our community and around the globe.
Request letters are different, because with each request, we have a choice to make. Do we discard or delete those letters as junk mail, or do we consider the request and decide whether that particular organization is going to make the cut in this year’s holiday giving? I believe it is possible to make both wise and generous decisions about charitable holiday giving.
Most non-profit organizations struggle for funding, even in good years. In this season of gradual economic recovery, non-profits are in a heated competition for charitable dollars. Therefore, this year you might want to be prepared for more numerous appeals vying for your holiday or end-of-year giving.
Many businesses and foundations have pre-determined guidelines for determining the charitable causes to which they will make contributions. At our house, we employ the following guidelines to help us filter through the requests and determine which charities, missions, and ministries will go on our Christmas list:
1. Our first gift goes to the mission offering of our church. Throughout the year, our tithe (the first 10 percent of our income) goes to support the ministries of our church. Primarily, this is an act of obedience in response to what we believe the Bible teaches. Through the years, however, we have observed that the cumulative projects of a local church make a significant impact on improving individual lives. So, at Christmas, we give an additional gift to the missions offering to support the work of missionaries around the globe.
2. We tend to give to organizations that are faith-based and focused on assisting the “least of these,” those who are disconnected, disadvantaged, or disenfranchised.
3. We aim to give to organizations that have low overhead and administrative costs. We don’t want to give to an organization that exists to sustain itself. We want to give to organizations that provide a monumental service to people in need or that serve as conduits to get funds and resources to people in need.
4. We give to organizations that have demonstrated accountability, those who have a reputable board of advisers and a reporting mechanism to let us know where previous gifts have been used.
5. We determine not to do “guilt giving” or to respond to “arm-twisting requests.” We are motivated more by the missional pulse of a group or project than by the emotional plea of the one making the request.
6. We do not give directly to persons on the street, at intersections, or interstate ramps. Our experience is that people are most effectively helped through missional organizations and relationships. (We do offer to help get persons on the street to our mission center for assistance, or we offer to buy them a meal, but we do not give money, simply because of the high rate of manipulation and addiction among regular panhandlers.)
7. We recognize that some good organizations will be left out of our giving plan. There are thousands of organizations, ministries and causes that are trustworthy, accountable and effective, but we cannot support all of them. There are hundreds we would like to support, but our resources are limited. So, we choose a few of those organizations or projects that fit our criteria and we give to them cheerfully.
8. We give ourselves a matching challenge that helps us to give generously and according to how we have been blessed. We try to give an amount equal to the total of what we spend on gifts for family and friends. For example, if we spend $1,200 on gifts, we will also give a matching $1,200 to missions or charitable causes. Other friends of ours gift an amount equal to their season tickets for college football or an amount equivalent to their annual dues at the country club.
9. We have transitioned to electronic giving, as long as the organization provides or links to a secure website. E-giving transfers our gift to the organization more quickly and it gives us an immediate receipt of the contribution.
10. We re-evaluate who we are giving to each year and do not automatically give this year to the same groups as last year.
As we grow and learn better stewardship practices, we realize that we are not liable for supporting every worthy cause. However, we are accountable to God for the resources placed within our care. We have the privilege, especially during the holidays, of generously discerning from among many worthwhile causes those projects and organizations we will support. Then, we hope and pray that other organizations receive contributions from discerning donors as well.
As you plot and plan your holiday giving, don’t be overwhelmed with guilt for not supporting every single cause. Be generous and wise. Give to those causes that have a proven track record of ministering to spiritual, physical, and emotional needs.
Barry Howard serves as senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola.