In the Book of John, Jesus teaches us that he came to give abundant life. The idea of abundance starts with a love we’ve been freely given and extends to eternal joy, peace, and strength that flows from God through us. If our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, that abundance extends to our tangible resources, and we are motivated to be cheerful givers. But how do we know where to start?
A simple internet search of nonprofits yields literally 3.5 billion results. There is no shortage of organizations, causes, and ministries appealing to the public for financial donations in order to carry out their work—work that they often describe in gripping terms like life-changing, transformative, essential, and impactful.
When it comes to supporting charitable work, Christians want to believe the best in others, but trust must be built. Many seasoned givers wish they had risked the awkward conversation with an organization’s leadership or spent an evening perusing financial documents before they wrote their first check.
It’s not about assuming that an organization is doing something wrong and digging up the evidence to prove it. Instead, it’s about living according to the reality that all they have belongs to the Lord, so it is their responsibility to steward it wisely.
By learning from three of the most costly mistakes generous givers make, Christians who want to support God’s work in the world can learn how to do so with discernment, confidence, and joy.
Mistake #1: Leading With Money Instead of Relationships
The world is full of opportunities for real, substantial generosity. Each day, stories of poverty, critical illness, or a lack of quality education make the headlines. Stories of challenging relief efforts following natural disasters and ongoing conflicts reveal that suffering and broken systems show up anywhere that humans are found.
In light of these pressing realities, high-capacity givers might believe that the most meaningful thing they can do is make a gift that ends in several zeroes as quickly as possible. But many high-capacity givers have discovered that they need to carve out a season for building relationships.
Building relationships with key stakeholders in a ministry or organization can empower donors to give in ways that lead to positive outcomes for organizations, the populations they serve, and the donors themselves.
Some of the relationship-building steps that high-capacity givers recommend include:
- Joining collaborative groups that involve broad ministry partnerships
- Seeking endorsements from peers
- Thinking about the long-term—one lunch may create a sense of goodwill, but years of connection and collaboration can cultivate greater trust and impact
- Researching opportunities to see programs and services executed in real-time—not through curated tours or special events but in a day-to-day environment. “You need to go to know.”
- Asking thoughtful questions about leadership, the organization, and the project.
Mistake #2: Lack of Early Focus and Due Diligence
Christians who desire to live according to Luke 12:48, which tells them that “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded,” want to trust that every dollar they give will be stewarded well. Some may feel hesitant about asking questions since that might communicate distrust, stinginess, or reluctance.
As generous Christians, we should also value discernment and wisdom. Rather than assuming that all charitable endeavors are effective and efficient, Christians who want to give of their financial resources are called to a higher standard. There is nothing noble in being naive or uninformed. Generous givers can and should pause, hone their focus, and perform due diligence on the charity or charities they are considering.
Members of high-capacity giving organization Strategic Resource Group (SRG) offer the following pieces of advice for sharpening charitable focus and conducting due diligence:
- Request an impact report (sometimes called an annual report) from the organization. Ask key staff or board members to clarify vague numbers and look for supporting documents that verify reported results or third-party validators.
- Reach out to current donors. Ask how satisfied they are with the ministry’s results, how they feel about the quality of reports they receive, and if they have increased their giving to the organization over time.
- Cross-check with similar ministries. Perhaps the organization lists partner ministries. A conversation with key stakeholders in other organizations can be useful for understanding the organization’s reputation.
While this due diligence will take some time and effort on the front end, it’s very likely to save a donor time, money, and energy in the future. If the organization does not meet the criteria for stewardship, the potential giver can reallocate their resources. If the charity is a good fit for the donor, the organization will know that they have secured an engaged, discerning donor who is not afraid to ask challenging questions and responds to good answers with generosity and support.
Mistake #3: Failing to Consider Sustainability
It’s natural to feel a unique, thrilling excitement when learning about a new ministry, project, or organization. But while that early enthusiasm can be channeled into momentum toward future success, it should not be conflated with the promise of sustainability. A promising beginning does not always lead to promises made good in the end.
For example, one couple who now gives through SRG studied some potential mission projects. During their research, they learned that projects led by Western missionaries were not as sustainable as those led by nationals. High rates of Western worker attrition can lead to slow ministry growth and inefficiencies.
Here are some questions that high-capacity givers wish they had asked in the past and ask now before making their first donation:
- If the organization operates overseas, what is the rate of national participation in program delivery? What are the organizations’ goals for sustainability through indigenous leaders?
- What is the organization’s succession plan? If the founders or key leaders were to leave tomorrow, how would the organization’s programs and services be affected?
- What is the organization’s business model? Are they solely donor-funded, or do they generate revenue through any of their projects or endeavors? If giving dried up, how long could the organization sustain itself?
Give with Wisdom and Generosity
Learning how to become a discerning donor can feel like an overwhelming task. The experienced donors at Strategic Resource Group can help you identify ministries that will faithfully steward your gifts. Connect with wise, generous givers by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.