Acton Institute Powerblog

Finding the Right Charity

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

The Dave Ramsey Show appears on Fox Business Network and is also available for live streaming via Hulu.

In last Thursday’s episode (at about the 18:00 mark), a Twitter follower of @ramseyshow asked, “I want to start giving. How do I find the right charity for me and how do I find out if the charity is legit?”

Dave’s short answer: “You have to spend time on it.” He expands a bit, but that’s a great starting point. You need to develop a personal relationship of accountability with charities that you support. Dave goes on to describe his personal giving patterns, which include giving to only a few charities, but doing so “lavishly.”

There are some tools available to help you find the right charity. The standard places to go to get financial information about charities are GuideStar and Charity Navigator. You can get some basic data at these sites, including access to 990 financial forms, for free. The Acton Institute has worked to develop a complementary tool focusing on faith-based nonprofits that rely on private dollars called The Samaritan Guide.

WORLD Magazine recently announced the winner of its own inaugural Hope Award for Effective Compassion, Forgiven Ministry of Taylorsville, N.C., “through which volunteers from local churches create days of reconciliation and forgiveness for more than 1,000 inmates, children, and families.” Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky, WORLD’s editor-in-chief, discussed the three finalists for the award in the latest WORLD Forum podcast (Nov. 3).

In an appearance last month on Huckabee, Olasky described the idea of compassionate conservatism: “The concept of compassionate conservatism is that the people in their neighborhoods know best what their neighborhoods need,” Olasky said. “If you had $500 that you could decide how to spend to fight poverty in some way, rather than sending it to Washington, would you know of a group in your own neighborhood that could use the money more effectively than Washington could? So, why do we keep sending the money to Washington in the hope that a little bit of it will trickle back in?”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • It’s fascinating that you guys, conservative Protestants, have chosen as your hero and namesake Lord Acton, a Roman Catholic and a liberal in the mid-1800s. He favored the Confederacy during the Civil War because of State’s Rights, but in so doing he gave legitimacy to slavery. I’m sure you guys don’t, right? On other issues he was so liberal that the Church censured his writings in the British Home and Foreign Review, and like a good Catholic who obeys Holy Mother Church, he stopped (an example Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Patrick Leahy and the rest would do well to imitate today).

    I guess I just don’t get it. You guys are conservative Protestants, yet you support a liberal Catholic. In this particular case, that’s not a bad thing, but I do think Lord Acton would tell you to restore Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach, and 1st & 2nd Maccabbees to your NIV Stewardship Study Bible, of which I have a copy. It’s not bad at all; it is just missing some Sacred Scripture.

  • I guess I just don’t get it.

    The Acton Institute is ecumenical.

    For more on the development of the Effective Stewardship Curriculum and the NIV Stewardship Study Bible, see the Acton FAQ, “Why Did The Acton Institute Develop The Effective Stewardship Curriculum?”

  • Kevin Schmiesing


    Thanks for the comment on Acton, who is a fascinating character. But be careful with the term “liberal.” Certainly Acton was a liberal, but in his time it meant something quite different from what it means to Nancy Pelosi. By Lord Acton’s lights, the Acton Institute would be considered liberal (i.e., for religious, political, and economic freedom, and limited government).

    As for the Bible, I’m with you on that, but I think Jordan and other non-Catholic friends would beg to differ.

    Finally, the fact that an organization is named for someone doesn’t necessarily mean that the organization supports every position or perspective taken by that namesake.

  • DavidW.

    “It’s not bad at all; it is just missing some Sacred Scripture.”
    … nevertheless, two constituting features of Catholicism cannot be substantiated biblically: Firstly, their doctrines of the church offices, which mirrors a neoplatonic take on these issues.
    Secondly, the teaching of transubstantiation, a fruit of the (not so dark) Dark Ages. At least they tried to understand the mystery, and that earns them some points. But – should a hypothesis become a constitional doctrine? I think not.
    Perhaps the Catholic version of the Bible became too thick to handle?
    Speaking as a Protestant, the Catholic Lord Acton is a Christian, despite of some funny doctrines he might have embraced (…’funny doctrines’ = what I could say of quite a few Protestants also, from my perspective).

  • Neal Lang

    Paul: “It’s fascinating that you guys, conservative Protestants, have chosen as your hero and namesake Lord Acton, a Roman Catholic and a liberal in the mid-1800s. He favored the Confederacy during the Civil War because of State’s Rights, but in so doing he gave legitimacy to slavery. I’m sure you guys don’t, right? ”

    Actually. Paul, there is a vast difference between a “Mordern Liberal” and a “Classical Liberal,” to wit:

    “MODERN LIBERALISM: A term used to describe a political philosophy with progressive cultural and political viewpoints. Modern liberals are not always hostile to the free market, but they do think that if left to itself the random nature of the market will produce poverty and inequality. They argue that state action is necessary in all areas where human welfare is at risk, including direct government assistance, pensions, unemployment insurance, and health care. Liberals actively lobby for social change through political and legislative means. Their motivation for proposing radical reforms usually stem from a perceived violation of justice, fairness, or a sense of social equality. Today’s usage is often associated with such terms and concepts as legal activism, government regulation of the economy, and the redistribution of wealth. Key thinkers include John Kenneth Galbraith*, Upton Sinclair*, John Rawls*, Reinhold Niebuhr*, and Walter Rauschenbusch*.

    “CLASSICAL LIBERALISM: A term used to describe a political philosophy commonly held in nineteenth-century England and France but now undergoing a renaissance in the United States. Classical liberals advocate free markets, a vibrant array of nongovernmental institutions (such as civic groups, schools, churches, etc.), and minimal tax-financed government services. Classical liberals firmly believe that both persons and property should be protected from physical harm. They also emphasize the strict enforcement of contracts. Classical liberals, following Lord Acton, consider liberty to be the highest political value but not to the point of becoming a worldview. Examples of classical liberal thinkers include Frederic Bastiat*, Lord Acton*, Alexis de Tocqueville*, John Locke*, John Stuart Mill*, and Friedrich Hayek*.” * = WIP

    Lord Acton, as you can see was a “Classical Liberal.”

    As for Lord Acton and the Civil War – he never approved of slavery, as it was directly opposed to his highest plitical attribute, which was “liberty.”

    “Although he was a lifelong opponent of slavery, he published a succession of influential articles embracing the Southern struggle for independence, and his partiality did not alter when the North won. ‘I deemed,’ he wrote to the defeated General Robert E. Lee in 1866, ‘that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.’ For the rest of his career, Acton wrote favorably and at length about the Southern cause. Looking backward in 1881, he recalled that “I broke my heart over the surrender of Lee.” He was still avowing what he called “Rebel sympathies” thirty years after Appomattox. His reasons for those sympathies shed light on the Civil War from an unfamiliar and surprising angle.”

    “With his gift for memorable phrases, Lord Acton expressed the central conviction of nineteenth-century liberalism more pithily than Mill or any other thinker: ‘Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.’ He denounced slavery with increasing intensity wherever he encountered it, whether in his study of the ancient world or in those backwaters of the nineteenth century where it still survived.” From: “Lord Acton and the Lost Cause.(the English hisotrian Lord Acton was an outspoken supporter of the Confederacy during America’s Civil War)” by Christopher Clausen, American Scholar, January 01, 2000

    To paint Lord Acton as a racist simply because of his support of the South’s hopes for self-government is quite frankly both absurd and unfair.

  • Neal Lang

    Kevin said: “As for the Bible, I’m with you on that, but I think Jordan and other non-Catholic friends would beg to differ.”

    Especially those Pharisees that decided to close the Jewish Canon at the Conference at Jamnia some 60 years after the death of Jesus, the Christ. As you may recall, the Pharisees took the lead in persecuting Jesus, the Christ, and His followers. Saul, a great persecutor of Christians bef the road to Damascus” was also a Pharisee.

    Some of the books not admitted into the Hebrew canon, such as Wisdom and 2 Maccabees, gave the only Biblical support for the common first century Jewish belief in the after-life. The martyrs’ prayers for the dead and the living praying and offering sacrifices for the dead motivated Martin Luther to reject these books as apocryphal because they supported Catholic doctrine and practice. Luther used his own reason to change the Word of God!

  • Roger McKinney

    Paul seems to think that if Catholics brush their teeth, Protestants should break theirs out with a hammer. However, the Reformers did not reject everything in Catholicism. We still worship the same God. The Reformation was about reforming the Church, not gutting it. Had the “Holy Mother Church” embraced the reforms, there would have been no split in organization. The reformers had not choice but to form their own organization. And some of the reforms the Church later agreed were good, such as doing away with indulgences.

  • DavidW.

    “And some of the reforms the Church later agreed were good, such as doing away with indulgences.”
    Sad enough: Indulgences are NOT done away with yet. Some excesses have been removed but the doctrin itself is still there. This teaching was somewhat revived (or rather: brought back into memory) by an encyclica of the late John Paul, leaving quite a few Catholics I know pretty puzzled.
    Perhaps some Catholics here around might explain that further.
    It’s also in the Catholic Catechism as far as I recollect.
    What you can diminish by indulgences nowadays are not sins, according to the Catholic teachings, but the consequences of sin. Well, perhaps one of the insiders around might kindle the the candlestick here. But I guess you wouldn’t like what they would have to point out.