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Revisioning charity

Revisioning charity

Conventional wisdom about nonprofits is managers should work for lesser wages than the business sector and donations should go to direct aid not advertising. Dan Pallotta, founder of the AIDS Bike Ride and other charities, says, “everything the donating public has been taught about giving is dysfunctional.” He aims to transform the way society thinks about charity and giving and change. Author of Charity Case says:

“The nonprofit sector is critical to our dream of changing the world. Yet there is no greater injustice than the double standard that exists between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. One gets to feast on marketing, risk-taking, capital and financial incentive, the other is sentenced to begging,” Dan Pallotta says in discussing his latest book, Charity Case. This economic starvation of our nonprofits is why he believes we are not moving the needle on great social problems. “My goal … is to fundamentally transform the way the public thinks about charity within 10 years.”

How might this change giving to Episcopal Relief and Development or the Church?


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@Jonathan: A perfect time to point that out! Tithing, as I said, is poor theology and poor Biblical interpretation. It’s also a terrible fundraising method which fails year after year after year. Financial faithfulness is a completely different animal, and that’s what we need to be looking at!

Laura Toepfer

Jonathan Galliher

Would this be a bad time to point out that very few people actually tithe to the church, Laura? If every Episcopalian gave 10% to the church we’d be in much better shape financially and probably wouldn’t be nearly as worried about making sure we raise enough to cover our mission in the world.

That said, I agree with you that parish and church organization fundraising communications should be heavily or entirely focused on raising the amount required to fulfill our mission in the world. However, for individuals reflecting on how they can live a more devout life it’s important to focus on the tithe when addressing financial faithfulness. After all, humans need the physical reminders that everything we have, even our selves, is a gift from God. The number or percent associated with the tithe is much less important than that principle.

Turning back to the TED talk video, he’s got some points, especially for how large non-profits are run. I think he’s mistaken to insist that the amount devoted to overhead doesn’t matter, however, although he is right that it is sometimes better to spend more now to greatly boost donations later in the year. However, for small or unsophisticated philanthropists it’s probably still best to focus on how much goes to overhead unless there’s some easy way to tell how much they’re boosting their ability to fund-raise by spending more on overhead.


For one thing, I think we need to quit talking about tithing and talk instead about generosity tied to mission.

The theology of tithing is an incredibly poor misreading of Scripture, in my opinion, similar to other misreadings of Levitical codes. And yet over and over we keep using the mandate of the tithe for churches. Instead, I think we need to go deeper and more fundamental and figure out a) what is our mission in the world; b) how much it costs; and then c) raise that amount of money.

I find it tiresome that our mission tends to be driven by the money received and not the other way around. But I think part of that is due to the fact that we tie giving to incomes not outcomes.

Laura Toepfer

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