Imitative Philanthropy: An Alternative to Issue Philanthropy and Impact Philanthropy

A post by Sean Stannard-Stockton this week, The Rise of Issue-Agnostic Philanthropy contrasts two schools of philanthropy, Issue Philanthropy and Impact Philanthropy. The best way to define them is to quote a question Sean poses in the post:

Quick quiz, which would be more satisfying to you as a donor:

  • The act of making a gift to a charity within the issue area you are most passionate about.
  • Having conviction that the gift you made to a charity actually made a real difference within one of the many issue areas about which you care?

My answer:

Option C: Giving a gift that further shapes me in the image of Christ.

This got me to thinking: Imitative Philanthropy is the alternative to Issue Philanthropy and Impact Philanthropy, and it’s an alternative that ought to characterize Christian giving.

Many Christians today are captivated by the idea of giving to issues that matter to them. Roll out the laundry list–there’s everything from homelessness to missions to crisis pregnancy. Fund raising appeals from nonprofits championing these causes frequently make claims related to impact:

  • Give now and help twice as many people through our matching gift program.
  • Give now before we go out of business and our cause disappears from the earth.
  • Give before the end of the month because the need is that urgent.

Such appeals are markedly absent from the Scripture, where primacy is given to God’s goal of growing us to full maturity in Christ, shaping us in his image. Here, we give because in giving we mirror to the world the grace God has given to us. In giving, we become further shaped in his image. For example, Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44-45:

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Is your philanthropy based on the issues you care about, or your desire to make the biggest impact possible? If either, consider Option C: giving in order to imitate your heavenly father so that you and those around you may come to know him more fully and be shaped in his image more completely.

(Oh–and before you dismiss such an approach as naive, make sure to read this send-up of Impact Philanthropy.)

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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1 Response to Imitative Philanthropy: An Alternative to Issue Philanthropy and Impact Philanthropy

  1. karstenaichholz says:

    It’s really interesting to see that you’re featuring Sean on the blog. I often see a conflict between religiously motivated charity and issue agnostic, metrics based charity. It makes me happy to see someone merge the two. After all, religious giving makes up a significant part of global charity and making it more impact-based is an amazing way to improve the overall impact of philanthropy worldwide.

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