What’s the difference between a Transformational Gift and a transactional gift?

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.

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 the former 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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4 Responses to What’s the difference between a Transformational Gift and a transactional gift?

  1. Jenny Printz says:

    So Eric, what is goofer dust?! 🙂

    • EFoley says:

      From Wikipedia:

      “Goofer dust is an old hoodoo practice of African Americans in the Southern States of the United States.
      It can be used generically to refer to any powder used to cast a spell, especially if harmful in nature, but specifically refers to a concoction of natural ingredients that can be used to cause harm, trouble or even kill an enemy.”

  2. Pastor Foley says:

    The situation is different in Korea, since giving by Christians is almost entirely to/through their churches. That’s good in the sense that by nature it is more a whole life offering. On the other hand, the greater challenge here is that the focus of the giving can sometimes be on the church as an institution/organization rather than as a platform for doing the word.

  3. Pingback: Worship Wednesday – Spirit Pour Out – Andy and Rachel Graham | Blog – Deb Mills

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