Adventures in Generosity

The occasionally coherent ramblings of a Stewardship Advisor in the Church of England

Archive for generosity

Living below the Line – Why ?

So as of next Monday I’m challenging myself to eat and drink on a budget of no more than £1 per day – why ? well here’s a very short introduction.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EdY_M-rKjKw

You can sponsor me by going to http://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/twurchsteward and all that I raise will go to Christian Aid.

I’ll be blogging next week on how I’m getting on.

Oh, and if you notice me being a little more cranky than usual you can always send emergency chocolate (for after the challenge) care of Church House Towers.

Storing up trouble …

Those who follow my twitter stream may have witnessed me getting somewhat ‘snippy’ at Scope last night.  Having been chugged on my doorstep at 8.50pm on the coldest night of the year I suggested to them, via Twitter that this might not be the best way to build relationships with potential donors.  I got a response from them almost immediately apologising for ‘disturbing me’ and asking me for my address so that they could avoid doing so in future.

Which somewhat misses the point.

I wasn’t upset at the disturbance – let’s face it 30 seconds on the doorstep was hardly going to make an impact on my evening. What I was trying to say was that seeing a clearly idealistic 20 yr old freezing to death on my doorstep for what I assume is a commission does nothing to enhance my opinion of Scope.  The fact that the girl then started telling me about Scope ‘working with disabled children’ – clearly from a script designed to appeal to the emotional buttons of someone who has children (note the children’s toys in our yard) created still further disappointment.  Ok I’m unusual because I’m ‘in the trade’ as it were, but I am also informed enough to know that Scope do excellent work with people of all ages – and I therefore know that this script is designed to emphasise the emotionally and socially acceptable work of Scope without troubling the potential donor with anything like, you know, the facts, the underlying issues or indeed the cause for which Scope stands (and which might turn off a potential donor).

You see, we have a problem which has been growing worse over the last decade and which impacts directly on my work , and is exemplified by my encounter last night.  We have allowed fundraising to become an industry in its own right, and as industrial practices have come in, and we have become more and more strategically sophisticated in our understanding of what makes people give – we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture.

We know that emotional and engaging stories motivate people to give, we know that chugging produces a rate of return for the charity which is predictable and measurable and we know that the loss of good will that accompanies these practices is outweighed, at least in the short term, by the financial returns which Fundraising Managers and Directors can then gleefully report to their trustees as success.

But we have grasped these short term measurable gains at the cost, in my opinion, of the long term health and generosity of our nation.

We have trained donors that charity is only worth supporting if it pushes our emotional buttons.  That giving is something we do to make us feel good about ourselves when we hear a sad story or see a doe eyed picture of a starving ‘victim’.  We have also allowed potential donors – and therefore everyone, to believe that a small token gesture somehow ‘solves’ underlying problems, when rather it ‘absolves’ us of having to truly consider the issues.  “ a small gift of £2 per month” allows us to retreat from our duty to our communities without the inconvenience of having to consider how what we have, and what we choose to give and to keep, impacts on the rest of our world.  There is no sense in this transaction that giving is a benefit to the giver, no sense that how we give, how much we give and why we give is something we should take seriously if we are to build a better society and improve our relationship with our material wealth.

The more people are encouraged to ‘Give £5 to save the world’, the more they give on the doorstep out of sympathy for the freezing chugger, or because they like the latest script; the less engaged they will become in how much we actually have, how much we could actually do if we acted in a truly generous way.  Instead the new donor, having filled in the direct debit, closes the door on the problem and experiences a short lived warm glow which divorces her still further from the real need and the real sacrifice needed to heal our world.

True generosity does not start with sympathy for the victim, it starts with ourselves.  It is a recognition that we have been given much and that the truly human, the truly fulfilling response to that gift is to share it whole heartedly in pursuit of building better relationships with one another –  rather than simply in response to a growing sense of guilt and disconnection from our fellow man.

I hope that we as fundraising professionals will come to recognise the long term impact of what we do, and I hope we do it before it is too late and we are faced with a generation of ‘donors’ only capable of generosity when they are guilted into it.

A risky business

Sacrifice – it’s an interesting word and one that I come back to a lot in my line of work.  We talk about ‘Sacrificial’ giving all the time, but this weekend at Greenbelt I’ve had cause to reflect on what it actually means, both to me personally, in my work and to the parishes I support.

It’s a big word.  It’s a scary word and the tendency is to downplay it – Sacrifice, we tell ourselves, means how much a thing inconveniences us.  My giving is sacrificial because it means I go without some of the material pleasures  of life.  My volunteering is sacrificial because it is time that I could have given to my friends, my family or to catching up with Dr Who on iplayer.

But what I have heard time and time again this weekend isn’t about inconvenience, it isn’t about how many hours I spend in terminally dull PCC meetings, it isn’t about getting up at stupid o clock to be at a church on the other side of the Diocese for their 9.30 Mass, it isn’t about the percentage of my income I give away.

True sacrifice costs more, and less, than that.  True sacrifice exposes us, it opens up our very being and offers it to others – it costs us, at the very core of our soul.  Living sacrificially isn’t about time, or talents, or treasure.  Sacrificial living calls us to expose ourselves, to show the Self that God sees to the world and to offer it, to invite others to share in it.

This is true generosity, the generosity of the spirit, the generosity that risks all of ourselves and offers it, not just to God, but to each other.  When we are truly ourselves, when we place that true self in Gods hands, we are freed from the day to day inconveniences and, though it is risky, it might hurt, it might terrify and it WILL cost – we are freed to fully experience the person God has given us to be in sharing it with others.

Greenbelt for me this weekend was a very ‘raw’ place – where masks were dropped, where risks were taken and where, through the sacrificial generosity of one another, we took small steps closer to the God who dwells in the core of each of us.

 

 

No words necessary.

I really don’t have to say a single word about giving ever again – this man has said it all

Trouble brewing ?

Ever had one of those conversations where you thought you were talking about one thing but it turned out that what you were actually talking about was something else entirely ?

Twitter went a bit manic today when a seemingly inoccuous discussion about Coffee and its general quality in church uncovered a seemingly bottomless well of discontent and frustration – which it turns out isn’t really about coffee at all !

The collective conversation which ensued is too lengthy to repeat here – suffice to say that the potential for a book exploring the subject in-depth was mooted as a possibility. But in a nutshell the flow of the conversation went something like this:

A Rev. twitter buddy of mine was in trouble with member or members of her church because the coffee being served at lent groups had been switched from instant to ‘proper coffee’ !!!

Trivial, yes ? we thought so and had a brief titter – but then, someone else asked – why the concern over such trivial matters and why do they seem to blow out of all proportion so very often ? And why, while we are on the subject is the coffee generally served up by churches so woefully awful ?

Tweep after Tweep seemed to join the throng, observing that not only was the coffee generally awful, but the tea and biccies were usually fairly low rent too, and while we’re at it – why do churches insist on sticking up badly designed posters all wonky on scruffy looking noticeboards, what’s with all those old piles of dusty parish mags at the back and why, in short was the church so generally determined that ‘that’ll do’ would do ?

As the conversation continued it seemed the original problem arose because ‘proper’ coffee was all too expensive and that whilst ‘young folk’ could fritter their money on such frivolity as ‘posh coffee’ the church ought to be above such pointless frippery and stand up for… what exactly? bland, second rate beverages?

So now we see – this isn’t about coffee at all ! this is about piety ! self denial ! we are shonky and a bit amateurish because it is what God wants! Away with your warm hospitality, we don’t want to offer the best we can afford to our brothers and sisters, even less to occasional visitors – what God really wants is for us to offer a grudging mug of luke warm sludge and a broken digestive to our guests – right ?

Erm, well, not exactly.

The Bible is fairly clear on the subject of hospitality – my current bible study plan covers passage after passage in the OT commanding Israel to offer the best of their hospitality, to welcome all comers with the very best they have to offer.

Jesus didn’t turn water into any old cheap plonk – He saved the best for last. The prodigal son does not return to a warmed over pot noodle.

The bible exhorts us again and again to treat others with the generosity, love and welcome that we would wish to receive – why ? Because when we honour each other we honour our Creator – because “when you do this to the least of these, you do it to me” .

So what are we saying when we offer less than the best of ourselves ? Whose money, exactly, are we saving ? And what message does our welcome give about the Gospel we proclaim ? Are we guilty of perpetuating an image of the church as cheap, scruffy and deteriorating ?

There is much more to be said following todays discussion – about how this ‘second best is good enough’ attitude spills into our financial stewardship, about attitudes to change and attitudes to the young, about Fair Trade, about our image of ourselves and of God – but for now I would like to exhort each of us with the words of a fellow twitterer @crimperman:

Lets give up bad coffee for Lent !

In our time of preparation lets prepare our churches for Easter morning by throwing open our doors, welcoming all comers with warm and open arms, tidying up a bit and putting on a decent cuppa.

Given the cost of Good Friday I’d say a couple of quid on a packet of Fair Trade Costa Rican was a small price to pay.

Investing or Giving ?

I’m in a quandry.

Other Half is a local councillor and as such is approached from time to time to get involved in all sorts of community action.  It’s one of the great priviledges of the job..

He’s just been sent some information on a new local charity that’s wanting to set up to support the education of children in the care of our local authority.  Starting with the little ones being provided with additional books and pre school support, the fund will aim to provide opportunities to keep cared for children in education as they grow up, and ultimatly support them with bursarys for university. A worthy cause indeed given that less than 4% of looked after children go on to higher education.

We’re being approached as ‘prominent local people’ (sorry, it makes me cringe too!) to become ‘founder donors’ of the new fund.

And there’s the rub.

When we decided to commit to planned regular giving we set up an account, some of the money goes every month to the same causes but we decided to keep some back so that we could give to special appeals when they happened, and we could support this, in fact would love to.

But.

It has to be said that being a ‘founder donor’ of a charity that’s targetting the local great and the good would do no harm at all to OH’s political profile, especially when the basis of the appeal is that founder donors ‘will be invited to a special gala launch’.

SO …

Is is really a charitable gift? should we be using part of our Tithe, which after all is supposed to be sacrificial, or is it in fact an investment for us as much as for the charity ?

We could give anonymously.  There’s a thought, problem solved.

But.

As a fundraiser I understand that for the charity, the fact that we are supporting it is as important (in fact probably more important) as the gift, and I know how I would feel as a fundraiser if an opportunity for raising the profile of my cause was lost because of pompous and abstract moralising.

I’m pretty much sold on the fund being a good idea, and I’m certain that I’d want to support it regardless of it’s political benefits for OH – am I deluding myself ? Am I just being a pompous arse ?  I just can’t shake the image of the rich bloke rattling up to the temple with trumpet fanfares, silently followed by that widow ….

Would really appreciate your thoughts.

On wedding lists …

It is very common among my peer group (middle class, university educated, professional types) for couples to get married in their late twenties or early thirties.  It seems to make sense,  to take time to get to know our own minds, develop a career and a network of friends and establish our own identities before we share them with another.  More often than not, when we do get married, we’ve been living with our intended for some time, getting to know each other and setting up home together with all that entails.

For all the advantages though, the cohabitation ‘try before you buy’ approach does rather leave ones family with a bit of a conundrum.  What do you buy the couple who have everything ?  The traditional wedding list was designed specifically to provide all those essentials that a newly wed couple would need in their new home.  But frankly, by the time most of us tied the knot we already had quite enough towels, pots, pans, cutlery, dinner plates, glasses (lots of those in our case !) etc.

There are alternatives – some I know went for the ‘we can’t afford a honeymoon’ wedding list – the extortion racket that is the modern wedding industry generally means that by the time you’ve paid for a half decent venue, a frock, some flowers and a bit of cake you’ve probably got enough left for a wet weekend in Bognor – so guests were encouraged to purchase holiday vouchers to ensure the newlyweds got away from it all for a suitably romantic start to married life.

But not everyone has this problem, and frankly, the whole ‘wedding gifts for the sake of it’ thing isn’t very in keeping with the current Zeitgeist now is it.

So I was thinking, and would like to suggest to any couples currently contemplating nuptials, why not buck the trend and set a new kind of example ?  I heard recently of a couple who asked their guests to make a donation to charity water.  Or perhaps in lieu of those dreadful sugared almonds go for Oxfam unwrapped gifts as table favours.

If the happy couple were lucky enough to have guests with the finanical wherewithall they could even suggest a modest contribution to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – especially if they had a particular fondness for Africa.

Just a thought …