We think wrongly if we define a Transformational Gift in terms of the emotion it evokes in us, the sacrifice which we undertake in giving it, or the worthwhile nature of the cause for which our gift is intended.
Transactional gifts can prompt tears to run down our cheeks (in response to a touching speech or testimony or DVD, for example). They can radically change our lifestyle as we cut out other expenses so that we can afford to give. They can cure diseases, save lives, teach people to read, or lift a family out of poverty.
In other words, it’s simply not true to say that Transformational Gifts are good and transactional gifts are bad.
What differentiates Transformational Gifts from transactional gifts is that transactional gifts are incomplete.
Transactional gifts are, by definition, financial transactions. What changes hands can fit on a receipt.
Transformational Gifts, by contrast, are more than financial transactions. In a Transformational Gift, the head, heart, and hand come attached to the check, meaning:
- The gift is a reflection of a maturing thought process about the cause, ourselves, the person we’re giving to help, etc., and
- The gift is a reflection of a deepening of heart commitment in relation to the cause, and
- The gift involves more than just our money; that is, there is an action component in which we are directly interacting with the cause in tangible ways in which we, not just the organization through which we gave, are the subject.
Two notes on this last point:
- Many Christian nonprofit organizations will immediately respond, “Oh, yes–we definitely want people not only to give but to pray.” To which I respond, “Pray for…?” The answer typically is some combination of the organization, the project, the people the organization will help. To which I respond, “That’s a transactional gift with Christian goofer dust sprinkled on the top.” In Transformational Giving, prayer is intended to draw us into the cause as subjects, not supporters, and it’s designed to directly connect us to the cause, not simply through mediation by the organization.
- Christian organizations patronize their supporters by saying, “You really made a difference! You fed the hungry! You saved a life! You changed the world!” when all the supporter really did was write a check so that the organization could do those things. (It’s interesting that in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats He does not say, “[W]henever you gave to an organization that helped the least of these brothers of mine, you did unto me”. Instead, he says, “[W]hatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did unto me.” The emphasis remains on direct action. Don’t rob your champions of that. Besides, if Jesus were homeless, would you really help him simply by sending a check to the homeless shelter? Come on, people.)
Rule of thumb: When financial giving becomes a substitute for acting, it’s transactional. When financial giving becomes one aspect of comprehensive involvement in the cause, it’s likely Transformational.