What is the distinguishing characteristic of Transformational Giving (TG)? Like the smell of burnt gunpowder following the firing of a rifle, what is the sign that TG has definitely occurred? What is its unique signature that cannot be replicated by traditional transactional fundraising?
Liberty University’s Dr. Michael R. Mitchell quotes James McGregor Burns in Mitchell’s Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples on this point:
Burns suggests transformational leadership ‘occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality’ (p. 13).
The transformation in Transformational Giving, then, is not primarily the transformation of the gift, though such transformation is certainly possible. Mission Increase Foundation, for example, does a great job building the case for the leverage aspect of Transformational Giving.
The transformation is also not primarily about the transformation of that which the gift is given to affect. This is the arena of impact, which is the emerging buzzword in fundraising these days. Again, such transformation is desirable and hopefully even common in Transformational Giving.
But Mitchell suggests, and I think rightly, that the Transformational Giving’s “gunpowder scent” is not found in either leverage or impact. Instead, it is found in the moral transformation of the giver. That is, Transformational Giving is focused on moral responsibility: What does God call us to do, and how and to whom does he call us to do it?
A gift is transformational to the degree that the giver gives it in recognition and fulfillment of a specific moral responsibility. That is, the giver is not responding to a summons or an impulse to be more generous, nor is he or she responding to the need or opportunity to make a difference. Instead, he or she is responding to a specific command to give–in a certain way, at a certain time, to a certain person or cause.
For Christians, the biblical text becomes normative: one gives out of joyful obedience to God, giving to what God has commanded as God has commanded the gift to be made.
When morality is recognized as the foundation and end of Transformational Giving, the fundraiser works from a new basis of authority. No longer is he or she appealing for gifts on the basis of emotion, personal relationship, or the possibility of impact. Instead, the appeal is rooted in a call to faithfulness. The fundraiser helps the donor to identify what God requires and then aids the donor in fulfilling it.
To say that Transformational Giving is moral is not to say that the fundraiser’s appeal is deontological. That is, there is more going on here than simply saying, “You should give in this way because this is what the Bible tells you to do.”
Instead, as Mitchell notes, the moral ground of transformation is imitative:
In its fulfillment, someone or something will be transformed and truly follow the leader. This is in contrast to transactional leadership that simply and only accomplishes a specific task (p. 13).
Transformational Giving is giving designed to shape us in the image of Christ. Give, in other words, because this is how your Father in heaven gives, and we are called to be like him, mirroring his philanthropy to the world.