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Informed, biblically-based giving advised

NASHVILLE (BP) — With many in the U.S. expected to give more money to charities this Christmas season, financial experts are advising a biblically based, focused and well-educated approach to charitable giving.

Christians should be careful to give their gifts to charities that have proven to be responsible stewards of God’s resources, said William Townes, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee vice president for convention finance.

“Due to the plethora of giving opportunities to deserving organizations, a well-reasoned approach to Christian giving should be both biblical in disposition and responsible in implementation,” Townes told Baptist Press. “Some principles to encourage responsible giving are to ensure that any potential recipients of your generosity align with your personal beliefs, provide strong fiscal accountability, and are efficiently and effectively carrying out their stated mission.”

Charitable giving to churches and nonprofit organizations affiliated with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability has increased annually since 2011, the council reported, and is poised to continue rebounding from the 2008 recession.

Townes predicts what he terms the “perfect giving storm,” a season of increased giving accompanied by numerous charities competing for newly available dollars.

December 2014 could result in rebounding charitable giving, Townes said, “due to the abatement of individual economic dysphoria, new highs in the stock market, year-end tax incentives, increased discretionary income as a result of reduced fuel prices, lower unemployment figures, and most importantly the spirit of the Christmas season.”

As a result, “intentional, occasional and even random givers may give above and beyond what they have given in the past,” Townes said.

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., offered advice from the viewpoint of both the recipient and the giver, writing in a blog that Christians should give first to their local church.

“Though I lead a theological institution dependent upon the generous donations of God’s people,” he wrote at jasonkallen.com, “my wife and I prioritize our local church and encourage others to do the same.”

“In the New Testament, we see by prescription and by pattern God’s people giving to their local church,” Allen wrote. “The Apostle Paul repeatedly instructed and celebrated this pattern.”

Be fully informed about available giving options and the proven stewardship of recipients, Allen advised.

“Be on the lookout both for what [charities] don’t state publicly as well as what they do. As a donor, no question should be off-limits,” Allen wrote. “There are too many great Christian ministries with pressing needs to settle for making ill-informed contributions.”

Be wary of groups that continually engage in “crisis” fundraising, Allen warned.

“Every Christian entity faces seasons of unusual need or unanticipated challenges,” he wrote. “But if any entity perennially engages in crisis fundraising, odds are they do not have a donor problem; they have a business-model problem. Be leery about throwing good money after bad.”

The Internal Revenue Service, on its website irs.gov website, counsels to be alert to IRS regulations for tax deductions and plan your gifts for the greatest tax savings.

Gifts to all churches are tax-deductible, but contributors must itemize their taxes to deduct contributions. The IRS lists on its website all additional charities and agencies eligible to receive tax-deductible gifts.

Follow your heart when making donations, Townes advises, pointing to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions as a favorite.

“For many Southern Baptists, their affinity and giving through their local church allows them to fulfill both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, allowing their passion to be aligned with their giving to an accountable organization which has proven their ability to accomplish their mission,” Townes said. “The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is one such example of an incredibly effective way to reach the world with the Gospel.”

Consider the various avenues available for giving, experts advise, including online contributions. Online giving is just as popular among donors age 66 and above as it is among those 65 and younger, according to a study by Dunham+Company/Campbell Rinker.