A jar of coins with a small green plant growing out of it.
micheile dot com/Unsplash

Congregations have a rich history of charitable giving to diverse causes and programs. If we want to make a lasting impact in our communities, we should make strategic investments in people, programs and institutions that are making a difference.

With a widening wealth gap in our country and the systemic and racial roots of income inequality, the church cannot be content with only using a benevolence approach to address needs in the community. Benevolence often focuses on helping people with short-term, immediate needs, like unpaid utility bills, rent and food, which are certainly significant problems and do deserve resources. But what might be possible if churches started to think more like philanthropic foundations?

Many philanthropic foundations look beyond the urgent crises and invest in long-term change. Are more people coming to the church for assistance with rent because they budget poorly, or has rent become a problem because we need more affordable housing or a living wage? If we adjust our approach, our congregations are uniquely positioned to address short-term needs and make investments in real, lasting change.

When people ask philanthropic foundations for money, the foundations ask hard questions about how the money will be used and what success will look like. Foundations know they are accountable for what they invest in. When people approach our churches with a request for funds, we of course want to be generous. But what if, instead of waiting for the needs to come to our doorstep, we proactively looked for ways to partner with churches, nonprofits and other institutions on solutions? In doing this, we’re in a position to measure success and change together.

As congregations recalibrate their financial capacity in today’s environment, it may be a good time to revisit how we spend our charitable dollars. How can we do more than just react to urgent needs? How can we invest God’s resources in human flourishing for the sake of the world?


Catalytic philanthropy

Q&A with Mark Kramer

Before you go…

Our congregations cannot solve every problem in the community, but we can explore new ways to invest our knowledge and resources. It’s gratifying to see how many causes we supported at the end of the year, but what if we spent more time looking for potential partners who are as committed to change as we are? One approach is to set aside funds that are used to make larger investments in a few carefully discerned initiatives. If you can identify stable, well-run organizations whose work is consistent with your values, you can collaborate with them to scale up existing programs or experiment with new approaches. Check out the resources this week to spark your imagination.

Feel free to contact me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

More on this topic

Does your church respect you?

When we esteem one anothe...

What are you doing about evangelism?

We cannot afford t...