Reflections on faith, giving, fundraising and sustainable economics from Hilary Blake.
The words of the title of this piece (from 1 Chronicles 29) shape much of the churches’ liturgy and understanding of giving and fundraising. They were spoken by King David after what has been called, ‘the world’s first major donor fundraising event,’ when he gathered palace officials, stewards and warriors to ask them to give gold, silver, bronze, iron and precious stones to build the Temple. Giving has always been part of religious practice, an acknowledgement that whatever may seem to be our own possessions really belongs to God. But we’re not living in the time of King David, so how do we understand giving today, in the context of wealth and inequality, charities, taxation, colonialism, international money flows and our longing for a more just and sustainable economy?
Jesus taught his followers to give secretly – ‘do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’ (Matthew 6:3) – in contrast to those who flaunt their giving publicly and ‘have already received their reward.’ Truly secret giving is pretty hard to do these days, and if the gift is large, suspicions of money-laundering are aroused, but we can still be aware of the power dynamics at play, and prayerfully examine our motivations and the best way of ensuring our gifts do good.
Giving can be powerful. It can put the donor in a position of power over the recipient, both financially and emotionally. Hugely wealthy charitable trusts influence policy and practice in areas from medical research to international aid. Could this influence be positive? They’re registered charities with stated missions for the public benefit, so they should legally be ‘doing good.’ But they are less accountable than public bodies, and the inequality of power between donor and recipient remains.
Some charitable trusts are taking this seriously. I live in York, and two locally-based but nationally-important trusts are reflecting and taking action to make their giving just and collaborative. Have a look at the Friends Provident Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Do you know of other organisations working similarly? Let us know by leaving a comment.
A few years ago, the trustees of Green Christian adopted a gift acceptance policy, setting out some of the principles to guide us in asking for money and accepting it. We might be tempted to ask any organisation with spare money to give some of it to us, and accept any gifts offered. Or, conversely, we might try to limit our sources of income to those which are unimpeachably ‘clean’. Both extremes present difficulties, and we try to find a balance – neither accepting sponsorship from a fossil-fuel extracting company to fund public exhibitions on climate change (as the Science Museum are doing), nor asking each individual donor of £20 a year how they made their money.
The funders we work with are valued companions on the path we’re travelling. Sometimes they challenge us with hard questions; sometimes they help us to try new things; sometimes we pray together; sometimes we campaign together. Some people and organisations have given a large one-off donation, others have supported us with small, regular gifts. Will you join us on the journey?
We’re grateful to the Passionists for their long-term financial and prayerful support for Green Christian and Joy in Enough. The Paristamen CIO has given a valued contribution towards the core costs of Green Christian. Our new Plenty! resource for small groups would not have been possible without the help of the Sisters of the Holy Cross Charitable Trust and the St Peter’s Saltley Trust. And Green Christian would not exist without the committed giving, support, volunteering and prayers of hundreds of members. Thank you; and thank you God, because all things come from you, and of your own do we give you.