My wife and I used to give about 6% of our annual income to our church. They don’t require it or even ask for it outside of a collection plate; we do it because we see how much good the church is doing in the community. For example, this month they are having a non-ecumenical Christmas party with wonderful gifts for every impoverished child in the town, and we participated by buying a gorgeous coat for an eleven year old girl who we don’t know (gifts were requested and purchased anonymously). They have a free dinner for the public once a week, so anyone who needs a warm meal and some companionship always have a place to dine, and the pastor’s door is always open for anyone who would like to talk about anything that is troubling their spirit. Regardless of your feelings on religion, these services are valuable to any community’s health, and it warms me to be a part of it.
But our church is fairly large and it does have a significant endowment from some members who left part of their large estates to the church. Even though the church spends a lot of money on community services and church maintenance, the rate of growth of the investments plus the donations is currently exceeding the expenditures by quite a bit; in fact, some members sarcastically refer to the finances as the “war chest.”
On the other hand, my wife’s hometown church is in deep financial straits. Even though we are not members, we still receive their newsletter, and inside a recent one was a frank discussion by the president of the church council on the bankruptcy of the church unless they stop providing any community services at all or else let their pastor go and have only a part-time pastor for a while. At their current rate of spending, their investments and money will be depleted in eight years.
So we made a decision. We split the amount of money we give to the church into three pieces, each effectively equal to 2% of our annual income, and we are sending two of the pieces to her hometown church. Even if they change nothing at all about their budget, if they take our money and add it to their investment portfolio, our contributions alone will add almost a year of solvency to the church, which will make a tremendous difference in the lives of some people. Our current church won’t be hurt in the least; in fact, our pastor was quite happy we were doing it.
The lesson of the story is that you should put your donations where they will count. If you just quietly give each month to a church, consider which church could use it the most for survival and for the benefit of the community as a whole. If you give to a charity, consider other charities, such as The Simple Dollar’s favorite charity, the Child Abuse Prevention Center.
A dollar is a dollar, but what you do with that dollar can make all the difference in the world.