“Dirty Money”: Why More Donations are Dirtier Than We Think

Thanks as always to Kirsten Bullock for her weekly list of must-read blog posts on fundraising. On the list this week, an especially must-read read from PhilanTopic on a topic sadly swept quietly under most nonprofit rugs:

Dirty money.

An article in Monday’s New York Times(“Mexican Church Takes a Closer Look at Donors“) focuses on an issue that’s as old as philanthropy itself. Should a nonprofit’s leadership decline a gift when a donor’s activities run counter to the organization’s mission?

Damien Cave, the reporter who wrote the piece in the Times, begins the article with an anecdote about a shiny, new Roman Catholic chapel in Pachuca, Mexico. Nothing unusual about that in a country which takes its religion seriously, except perhaps for the donor who made it possible: one Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, leader of the Zetas, a ruthless drug trafficking syndicate. Indeed, the narcotraficante’s support is acknowledged by a bronze plaque on the chapel’s exterior engraved with a line from Psalm 143: “Lord, hear my prayer, answer my plea” — a gruesome bit of irony given that Lazcano is known locally as “the executioner.”

Before we each pat ourselves on the back too quickly for our own spotless records of refusing donations from Mexican narco-terrorists, let’s consider what for the Christian ought actually to constitute “dirty money”.

From The Whole Life Offering book:

Christianity-as-philanthropy contends that comprehensive discipleship is the Scriptural framework for talking about giving. It recognizes that the financial giving of Christians parallels their overall maturity in Christ. If teachers seek to aid students in growing their financial giving in a particular Work of Mercy, teachers must equip the students to grow to overall maturity in Christ in that area. Christians’ financial donations will be roughly the same size as their heads, their hearts, and their hands in relation to a particular Work of Mercy.

Contention: Any donation that is received outside of a discipleship process of growing the donor to full maturity in Christ in the cause is actually dirty money. That discipleship process doesn’t have to occur at the hands of the organization receiving the gift (e.g., the donor may be being discipled in the cause at church but may choose to give to a nonprofit for a specific purpose), but if the recieving organization does not ensure that the gift is part of some intentional discipleship process related to the cause (whether that gift represents the initial or advanced stages of the process is no matter), then the gift is dirty money.

Too harsh?

Back to The Whole Life Offering book to consider what Scripture has to say on the matter:

Scripture itself dwells surprisingly little on questions related to specific numbers, amounts, and percentages. Instead, it dwells on the hows and whys of giving. The focus is on the presentation of the Christian’s whole life as an offering. God is less concerned about the total dollar amount of one’s donations and more about who one is becoming as one makes them.

What do our Christian ministry organizations become when we focus more on donations than on who our donors are becoming as they give?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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