Posts tagged with: charity

A recent NYT article outlines some recent research showing that many people who give to charity “often tolerate high administrative costs, fail to monitor charities and do not insist on measurable results — the opposite of how they act when they invest in the stock market.” Tyler Cowen writes in “Investing in Good Deeds Without Checking the Prospectus,” about the research of John A. List, a professor at the University of Chicago, which “implies that most donors do not respond when they have opportunities to be more effective in their giving.”

Cowen, who is a professor of economics at George Mason and blogs here, concludes, “If donors do not abandon failing causes, those efforts will continue. Perhaps the content of donor pride needs to change. Rather than taking pride only in their generosity, donors should also take pride in their willingness to confront unpleasant news.”

The bottom line is that when you give to charity, you have a responsibility to give to charities that are good stewards of the money, thereby rewarding good charities and punishing bad ones. Doing this gives the proper incentives for charities to work well.

Part of the problem is that people may not really know how to measure the effectiveness and stewardship of a given charity. The Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide is a tool designed to assist donors in meeting this responsibility.

Indeed, Acton’s effective compassion initiatives, based on Marvin Olasky’s seven principles for effective compassion, are largely based on providing the education that donors need to find out the sort of issues and questions that they should be asking.

HT: EconLog

Joe Knippenberg, who blogs at No Left Turns, provides a thoughtful and engaging analysis of the particulars of the recent Iowa court decision finding against InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an outreach of Prison Fellowship Ministries. In “Penitents in the Penitentiary?,” at The American Enterprise Online, Knippenberg writes, “Despite my general support for the faith-based initiative, and for religious efforts to put the penitence back in penitentiaries, I’m inclined for the most part to agree with Judge Pratt. In this particular case, where the state and Prison Fellowship self-consciously tested the outer bounds of current church-state jurisprudence, they went too far.”

Reaction from PFM’s president Mark Earley is available here and at the special IFI verdict page. I have written before in support of work of PFM, and this decision does nothing to change my mind on that score.

It does expose the real complexities involved with taking for Christian ministries, even those that have a strong social service component. As Knippenberg writes, InnerChange staff ran up against the difficulties of abiding by what I consider to be the increasingly rigid and invalid separation of secular and sacred elements: “Where so much of the program is devoted to inculcating a Christian worldview, it is difficult, if not impossible, to precisely delineate what portion of a staffer’s time, or what fraction of a piece of equipment’s value is devoted to secular, as opposed to religious, purposes.”

I’ve written more about the entanglements and effects of the faith-based initiative in the case of the Silver Ring Thing, and there’s conversation between myself and Knippenberg on this linked here, here and here.

“Should I not be concerned about that great city?” asks God of the prophet Jonah about Nineveh, which “has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.”

God is rebuking the recalcitrant prophet, who only carried out his assigned proclamation in Nineveh after a rather harrowing adventure on the high seas. After Jonah delivered his message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned,” the Bible tells us that “Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.”

If Jonah embodies the spirit of withdrawal and the desire for God’s wrathful judgment on sinful human society, think of Tim Keller as the anti-Jonah. As he’s introduced in a piece he wrote for a recent issue of Christianity Today, “For 17 years, he has been preaching at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, distilling biblical teaching into arrestingly simple phrases that convey the radical surprise and gracious truth of Christian faith.”

Photo Credit: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Keller’s ministry is vital and engaged: “Keller’s vision of a church keenly committed to the welfare of its city attracts 5,000 worshipers each week to Redeemer’s four rented locations, sends them out into many forms of charitable service through the church’s ministry Hope for New York, and fuels a church-planting effort that embraces Baptists and Pentecostals as well as Presbyterians, immigrant neighborhoods as well as Manhattan.”

Keller writes in the piece, “A New Kind of Urban Christian,” that for the Christian church to properly and effectively engage culture, “We need Christian tradition, Christians in politics, and effective evangelism.” But these alone or combined are not enough. Keller believes that “as the city goes, so goes the culture. Cultural trends tend to be generated in the city and flow outward to the rest of society.” Large cities tend to attract young and vibrant people, who influence the course of the broader culture.

The sad fact is that the Jonah phenomenon has had an impact on evangelical Christianity in America. “Do I mean that all Christians must live in cities? No. We need Christians and churches everywhere there are people! But I have taken up the call of the late James Montgomery Boice, an urban pastor (at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church) who knew that evangelical Christians have been particularly unwilling to live in cities,” he says. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 3, 2006

This section from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics strikes me as quite true:

The coercive factors, in distinction to the more purely moral and rational factors, in political relations can never be sharply differentiated and defined. It is not possible to estimate exactly how much a party to a social conflict is influenced by a rational argument or by the threat of force. It is impossible, for instance, to know what proportion of a privileged class accepts higher inheritance taxes because it believes that such taxes are good social policy and what proportion submits merely because the power of the state supports the taxation policy. Since political conflict, at least in times when controversies have not reached the point of crisis, is carried on by the threat, rather than the actual use, of force, it is always easy for the casual or superficial observer to overestimate the moral and rational factors, and to remain oblivious to the covert types of coercion and force which are used in the conflict.

This obfuscation of motives is part of what differentiates charity from taxation. True charity cannot be coerced.

See also: Reinhold Niebuhr Today, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 20, 2006

Here’s an article in the Washington Post recently that I want to pass along, “Tithing Rewards Both Spiritual and Financial,” by Avis Thomas-Lester.

Among the highlights are the Rev. Jonathan Weaver of Greater Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church, who says, “Some people have a sense that pastors are heavy-handed . . . in the use of the Scripture to insist that people tithe. But we are not encouraging people to give 10 percent. We want them to be effective managers of the other 90 percent. God wants us to be effective managers of what He has entrusted us with.”

The story also points out the critical function that churches serve in the relief of the poor: “Long before government programs were put in place to help the poor and the needy, black churches were responsible for assisting their congregations with everything from food and shelter during Reconstruction to legal help during the civil rights movement. Money dropped into the offering plate wasn’t just for the building fund. Black churches paid to help poor and disenfranchised citizens at a time when no other help was available, experts said.”

The article goes on to observe some of the potential pitfalls of tithing, namely giving only “under the belief that the members will prosper financially in return.” This is part of a larger “prosperity gospel” movement, and as this piece illustrates, is not restricted to churches in the US.

For more about how the principle of the tithe can function in helping the poor and those who need it the most, see my “The North American Church and Global Stewardship,” and “Building on the Tithe.”

Pat Nolan, president of Justice Fellowship, writes about the challenges that non-profits face in seeking funding, in the latest Justice eReport, “Equpping the Armies of Compassion.” Nolan highlights the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide and We Care America, which has a grant center that assists charities in getting proposals together.

And on a related note, Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns critiques an article by Amy Sullivan in The New Republic, “Patron Feint,” which depicts the faith-based initiative as a mere political tool to satisfy the GOP’s evangelical base.

Joe Knippenberg raises three issues with respect to my critique of the faith-based initiative (here and here). He writes first, “any activity that depends upon money is potentially corrupting, whether the source is governmental or private…. Why governmental money is different from private in this regard isn’t clear to me.”

I agree that the potential for corruption is present in both cases, but the immediate constituency differs from private to public funds. For the former, the donors are the immediate stake-holders and the charity is accountable to them. For the latter, politicians and bureaucrats are those who hold the charity immediately accountable.

Despite the best intentions of many people who work in government, special interests and ideologies can skew their proper stewardship of taxpayer money, and does not always represent the interests of the citizenry. Since taxpayer money is mediated through the government, there is another layer of institutionalization that serves to increase the distance and thus the accountability between the charity and the donor constituency.

This raises another important issue, which is that strictly speaking taxpayers shouldn’t be considered “donors” in the traditional sense at all. Paying taxes is enforced by the power of the state in a way that voluntary donation to private charities is not. One aspect of this is the distancing effect I just pointed out, but another effect is that the moral virtue of the act of giving is displaced by the coercive nature of the taxpayer/government relationship. Surely those who voluntarily give even more to charities than they are required by taxation are worthy of even greater praise because of this, but nevertheless the nature of the money flowing in to charities from these two sources is quite different. One is coerced the other is voluntary. (more…)

My commentary last week on the situation of the Silver Ring Thing has occasioned some conversation on the LewRockwell.com Blog (here, here, here, and here). The consensus on the faith-based initiative seems to be that, in the words of William L. Anderson, they “were pointing out at the beginning that this was a bad idea, and that taking the state’s money ultimately would mean that the state would be interfering with the larger mission of these religious groups.”

Contrariwise, Joseph Knippenberg, who blogs at No Left Turns and is a professor at Oglethorp University, writes in this week’s The American Enterprise online column that the faith-based initiative is being undermined by partisan Democrats and that it will have to continue under the diligent faithfulness of Republicans.

Citing the differences between the Republican and Democratic approaches, he writes of the former, “because the shekels come without unnecessary shackles, the effect of government funding isn’t necessarily homogenizing or secularizing. In a nutshell, this co-religionist hiring exemption enables government to cooperate with, but not dominate, a vigorous and diverse private philanthropic sector.”

The danger is, in Knippenberg’s view, that the faith-based initiative will become dominated by Democratic partisans, who “would force every government contractor into essentially the same bureaucratic mold. Every recipient of government funding would ultimately be simply an extension of the government, offering more or less the same services in more or less the same setting.”

But even if Knippenberg is right, and there is this vast difference between the approaches of the two parties, it merely serves to underscore my point about the unreliability of government funding. He is responding in part to this Washington Post story which notes the boon that Bush’s faith-based initiative has been to certain conservative-minded charities. (more…)

Touting the success of his faith-based initiative last week, President Bush noted that faith-based charities received more than $2 billion last year from the federal government. But even as Bush announced that the Department of Homeland Security would be the 11th agency to establish an office for the faith-based initiative, some groups are finding the money to be a mixed blessing.

An example is The Silver Ring Thing (SRT), which following a settlement between the ACLU and the Department of Health and Human Services, can no longer recieve federal funds under its current program. In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Golden Opportunity for ‘The Silver Ring Thing’,” I note the temptation facing SRT “to acquiesce to the HHS regulations and attempt to rigorously separate the faith element out of the program.”

I conclude that “the temporary setback of the loss of government funding has the potential to be a long-term opportunity for The Silver Ring Thing,” in the sense that SRT can seek out private sources of funding and evade the strings that are inevitably attached to government funding.

“You can’t be a faith-based program if you don’t practice your faith,” said President Bush. He also said, according to the AP, “It used to be that groups were prohibited from receiving any federal funding whatsoever because they had a cross or a star or a crescent on the wall. And that’s changed, for the better.”

We can hope, however, that the faith element in religious charities is not merely restricted to mere display of a religious symbol, but pervades the charitable work of the organization. It’s this “damaging form of secularization: the kind that separates Christian faith from works,” that The Silver Ring Thing must resist.

David Kuo, a former deputy director of the White House faith-based office, criticized the administration for allowing the initiative to become “a whisper of what was promised.” Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky, in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, expressed disappointment with the lower priority the faith-based initiative from the Bush White House.

But at least part of the difficulty the program faces comes from the problems posed by the enforcement of secularizing regulations by government bureaucracy. When asked about the impediments that governmental regulations put on their charitable work, one non-profit worker responded: “The complexities of the laws affecting part-time workers have made it impossible for us to hire candidates we could afford to pay. We have been amazed to learn that hiring even one part-time employee makes us a ‘pen-pal’ with a complicated array of government agencies.”

Read the whole commentary here.

Last Wednesday, I was privileged to attend the Samaritan Awards Gala in Washington, D.C. I have to say up front that Acton’s Effective Compassion events are probably the most enjoyable for me to attend because invariably one comes into contact with a group of very special, very dedicated people who are completely devoted to what our society would term “lost causes,” and having great success.

Ken Ortman

While there were a number of award-winning programs at the Gala this year, I’d like to take some time to focus on the 2005 Samaritan Award Grand Prize Winners, Ken and Sheila Ortman of Lives Under Construction Boys Ranch in Lampe, Missouri. Ken and Sheila were joined in D.C. by their daughter Melissa, who serves as the Development Director for the Ranch, and 7 young men who are currently residents in their program.

Sheila Ortman

Ken, Sheila and Melissa are wonderful people – remarkably kind, decent, and humble – who are doing amazing work with young men who come out of shockingly difficult circumstances. They are hard workers – Ken remarked during a conversation that he couldn’t imagine working at a job like mine, which involves a lot of sitting at a desk – who moved from their South Dakota farm to southwestern Missouri in order to start a new life working with troubled boys. And they are successful – the LUC program has a 92 percent success rate over the last 20 years, turning many young men away from lives of crime and substance abuse and toward a productive life in society. They do so by establishing a structured environment within which the boys can learn respect for God, authority figures, and gain a proper view of themselves as persons.

Melissa Ortman

We had the chance to meet 7 of the young men who live at the ranch, and the transformation in their lives is evident and remarkable. By all outward appearances, these boys were just like any other group of young people touring Washington, D.C. You’d never know that each of them had likely had severe drug or behavioral problems and numerous encounters with the law. They were a group of normal, if somewhat rambunctious teens.

The LUC Bunch on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

It is truly a blessing to meet people like the Ortmans, and it was great as well to watch the boys – many of whom were on their first trip to a large city. As I noted earlier, I always enjoy Acton’s Effective Compassion events, but having these young men along added a spirit and sense of adventure to this trip that will make it unforgettable for me.

If you haven’t done so in the past, I encourage you to check out the many fine charities like LUC Boys Ranch that are in our online Samaritan Guide, which is an excellent resource for anyone looking for effective private charities across the United States. Many of the programs in the guide are very small, but doing amazing work, and are well worth your attention and support.

I had an opportunity to talk with a few of the boys and with Ken, Sheila and Melissa. To hear my conversation with the Ortmans, click here (4 mb mp3 file). To hear from the boys, click here (1.9 mb mp3 file).