One question Christians regularly ask me is, “How do I know whether or not I should give money to a particular ministry?” In this post, I’ll try to provide a practical framework for evaluating different giving opportunities so that you’re able to be a good steward of the resources God’s entrusted to you.
Even if you’re not a Christian, this framework should still be incredibly helpful because although your reasons and motivation for giving might differ, the underlying principles for how to make wise giving decisions are exactly the same, regardless of your religious beliefs.
When evaluating giving opportunities such as different ministries or organizations, there are at least four things to consider or look into before writing a check…
- Is the mission of the ministry or organization Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, and God-glorifying?
- Do you agree with the stated mission or vision of the organization?
If you’re a Christian, then where you give your money matters since we’re all called to be stewards of the money God has entrusted us with during our short time here on Earth. Or as I like to say…
An organization’s mission matters because MISSIONS matters.
That’s not to say that you should automatically ignore any organization that doesn’t have something about Jesus in their mission statement. For example, if your neighbor’s daughter is raising money for her softball team to go to the state tournament then there’s nothing wrong with giving a few bucks to show your care and support.
Just make sure you’re being strategic and intentional about where and why you’re giving money to certain causes.
Or as theologian John Piper put it at a recent conference on missions…
There are a thousand needs in the world, and none of them compares to the global need for the Gospel.
- Are they accomplishing what they say they are trying to accomplish?
- Is the ministry fruitful?
Many times, organizations have a great mission or vision, but no evidence whatsoever that they are actually accomplishing what they say they are trying to accomplish. Obviously, however, this may be hard to discern, depending on the mission of the organization.
For example, if an organization’s mission includes something to the effect of “to provide shoes for children in Africa” it should be easy to tell whether any kids are actually getting shoes. Contrast that with something more abstract like, “to equip Christian leaders with the skills necessary to share their faith” and I’m sure it’s obvious how the latter might be more difficult to discern an organization’s effectiveness.
You shouldn’t always put a number or a timeline on this effectiveness though. Missionary, Adoniram Judson, for example, spent six long, hard years in Burma before seeing his first convert.
With that said, if an organization’s mission is “to provide clean drinking water to children in Africa,” but they’ve been handing out cans of Diet Coke for the last two years instead of water, then you might want to think twice about supporting that particular organization.
- Are the leaders exercising wise stewardship of the resources they’ve been entrusted with or are they wasting money and other resources?
Continuing with our “clean water” example from above, if the ministry is raising $1 million each year, but only providing clean water to 10 people, it’s obvious the leaders likely aren’t being as efficient as they could be in accomplishing their goal.
Try to favor organizations or ministries that are both effective AND efficient at accomplishing their mission.
This doesn’t mean you can’t give to a particular cause or organization because it doesn’t have the efficiency of a Fortune 500 corporation, but it is something to be aware of as you evaluate your giving opportunities.
- Are there checks and balances in place to keep the ministry/organization accountable to good stewardship?
- If the ministry is an organization outside the church, is there an independent board of directors?
- Is the ministry part of a group like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA)?
- If the ministry is under the authority of a local church, do the elders or a church board oversee the ministry?
- What checks and balances are in place to ensure resources are used effectively and efficiently to accomplish the mission of the organization?
With the (unfortunate) high number of reports in recent years of donors being defrauded by some so-called “ministries” and “non-profits,” there needs to be some form of accountability in place for the leaders, administrators, and employees of the ministry or organization. All too often, the person running the ministry is held “accountable” by a board of directors consisting of their closest friends and family.
That’s not to say that the folks running an organization like this aren’t noble and trustworthy, but it sure gives the appearance that there isn’t any real accountability in place.
Giving Opportunities Summary
These four criteria—mission, effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability—are a great starting point when trying to decide which giving opportunities are worth exploring further.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that an organization lacking in one of these areas isn’t worthy of your time or money, but if a few of the above items are suspect, then it might not be the wisest place to send your money.
It might also be prudent to talk with an independent third party, such as a fee-only financial advisor, to help you evaluate different giving opportunities. A fee-only financial advisor can also help you make sure you’re giving in a way that minimizes taxes and maximizes the long-term impact of your gift.
And who wouldn’t want that?