Giving 101: 5 crucial questions for Catholics

How do I know if a charity is reputable? Does God want us to give up all our worldly possessions? How should we budget for giving? Discover the answers to these and other important questions.

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By Dan Conway


*The following is an excerpt from the article "13 Crucial Questions for Catholics" that appeared in the October 2010 issue of Catholic Digest.

 

1. How do I know if the cause I’m donating to is reputable, efficient, and not using money toward un-Catholic causes/ends (abortion, etc.)?

 

Due diligence is required. We need to ask questions of the organizations that ask for our support, review annual reports, talk to people who know the organization better than we do. Consult the organization’s website or request a copy of the most recent annual report. If it’s not clearly spelled out how donated funds are used — and what difference they make in the lives of the people served by the organization’s programs — call the organization and ask specific questions: Where will my money go? How will it be used? What percentage will go to administrative costs or fundraising expenses? And what difference will my gift make? If you still have doubts, give elsewhere. There are lots of good causes out there — more than any of us can possibly support. Being a good steward means making choices and giving wisely so that our generosity accomplishes the greatest good.

 

 

2. I feel troubled by the biblical story of the rich young man whom Jesus tells to sell all he has and give to the poor if he wishes to gain eternal life. How should we read this passage? Does Jesus really want us to sell all we have? If Jesus doesn’t have this in mind, what does He mean by what He told the young man? What does God expect of us?

 

We’ve been given many gifts and blessings, and we are challenged to “give them all back with increase.” The spirituality of stewardship teaches us to “let go” of all our gifts, talents, and material possessions by entrusting them to God’s care and by asking the Lord how He wants us to use all his gifts. If we can honestly say that we are willing to give everything back to the Lord so that we can follow his will for us, there is nothing to be worried about. But if we secretly hold on to something (such as the money we spend playing golf or the time we spend watching daytime television), saying “this is mine, Lord, and not yours,” then we are like the rich young man who was unable to let go and went away sad because he had many possessions.

 

3. My spouse and I disagree on how much to give and to whom. Do you have some advice for us?

 

Talk to each other. Share your reasons for wanting to support different organizations. Talk about how God has blessed you and what you think is an appropriate amount to give back — out of gratitude for all your blessings. There are no right or wrong answers here. Make some choices, and some sacrifices, together. You’ll be glad you did.

 

4. I never know what to do about panhandlers. I want to help, but one never knows if the money is used for good ends. Sometimes I think, Well, I donate to organizations that are helping, but that doesn’t entirely displace the awkwardness of the moment. What should I do?

 

This is a tough one. Panhandlers may misuse the gifts they are given. And yet, there they are — people in need making demands on our generosity and our sense of charity. I think an occasional gift to someone who asks for our help is fine, but I wouldn’t make it a daily practice — especially if you live or work in an area where this is a common occurrence.

 

5. The CEO of my favorite charity earns a salary that seems high. The charity also sends glossy calendars and trinkets when I donate. Why aren’t they spending this money on the poor? What’s a good percentage of money for a charity to spend on things like salaries, administration, marketing, etc?

 

The administrative and fundraising costs of nonprofit organizations vary widely depending on the type of organization and its administrative and fundraising practices. In the Church, fundraising costs average from 5 to 7 percent of the dollars contributed, but other nonprofits will average between 15 and 30 percent. The Association of Fundraising Professionals provides a set of ethical principles and standards that guide organizations. I recommend going to the association’s website (http://www.afpnet.org/ethics) to learn more about acceptable fundraising.

Dan Conway

Since 1979, Dan Conway has worked as a stewardship consultant to dioceses, Religious communities, seminaries, and other Catholic organizations in diverse regions of the United States. He is the author of many books and articles on the theology and practice of Christian stewardship, including "What Do I Own and What Owns Me: A Spirituality of Stewardship," published by Twenty-Third Publications (23rdpublications.com; 800-321-0411).