Joyful Givers


Philanthropists we spoke to are keen to invest in models of economic development which give power away to the beneficiary and which are delivered in ways consistent with their own theology and personal faith.

Interestingly, people’s theological and spiritual understanding very much coloured the way they expected to engage with progress reporting and impact measurement. We identified a range of views, each motivated by a combination of self-awareness and interpretation of Scripture:

  Seen as +ve (composite quotes)
Seen as -ve (composite quotes)
Requiring little or no information
I know what I’m like. I’m too controlling and try to hold on to my money.
Once I give money, it’s out of my hands and I mustn’t try to tell you what I do with it.
If I demand lots of information I’m inappropriately wielding power rather than learning to empower others.

If someone doesn’t want to know what’s being achieved with their money, it means they don’t care. They’re just giving money to tick a box or to get their giving out of the way.
Perhaps they don’t even want to give. It’s more begrudging than joyful. That’s not true generosity.

Requiring lots of information
I’m excited that I have the opportunity to be part of this. I want to know who my brothers and sisters are, on the other side of the world, and learn about their lives so that I can better understand.
If someone needs lots of information, they’re trying to take over or they haven’t really trusted you to get on with it. They’re being controlling and perhaps a bit suspicious.

Much of this conversation expressed people’s expectations of power and control. Broadly, most were keen to move away from a transactional model of philanthropy or from assuming that they as the person giving the money knew best what to do with it. But having said that, many people wanted opportunities to share their skills and expertise with the people who benefited from their giving. There is not one simple way to approach this; each individual brings their own experiences and expectations and we met people who had thought carefully about this and reached conclusions reflecting all points on this spectrum.

Philanthropists are very mindful of power balances in their giving and are often intrigued by Tearfund’s church-based community mobilisation approach. Here, people in some of the world’s poorest places are brought together by their local church to agree the things they like about their community, and decide what they want to change in order for their children’s generation to thrive.

The process includes some significant mindset shifts and support for people to start up small businesses, save money together and lend to each other, and organise themselves into groups to plan and deliver better community services.

But the most intriguing element is that the process very much gives power away. When a supporter asks us what the outcome would be if they were to help fund this process in a particular country, we have to tell them we don’t know. It could be a school, a hospital, a road. But it’s not up to us. It’s up to the people who live there to decide what they need and to find ways to bring it about.

Tearfund’s contribution, through the local church, has been to help the community gather together to dream some dreams and organise themselves practically to make them happen.

The apparent infeasibility of such an approach is itself a hallmark of the methodology. Working with people who have previously found it difficult to reverse a lifelong – and sometimes intergenerational – expectation of poverty doesn’t easily lend itself to giving power away. A commonly expressed concern is: How will uneducated people with low expectations know what to do if they are given responsibility for planning the future of their community? So the focus of Tearfund’s work is very much on the local church facilitating the process which helps people to challenge their own perceptions of the future and their place in it, and to find their agency and capacity to change their circumstances.

And so the dynamic gradually shifts. Among Christian philanthropists, their frame of reference being primarily scriptural, the concept of the body of Christ helps to describe this approach:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. 

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  

1 Corinthians 12:12-27, NIV

If the ‘body’ in this philanthropic relationship is constituted of the financial supporter, Tearfund, the local church and the person living in poverty, then this Scripture expresses that they each have a part to play. No one party is controlling another or doing something ‘to’ them; rather by the grace of God and their combined efforts, something wonderful happens and the future starts to look very different. They may never meet each other, but each person in this ‘body’ plays an important role and blesses the others.

In this way, the relationship becomes generous in every direction. Rather than giving and expecting gratitude, the donor willingly plays their part in making it possible for an extremely poor person to find their way out of poverty. And rather than taking money from a supporter, Tearfund seeks to bless and serve them as someone who is as dedicated to seeing long-term transformational change as everyone else involved in the process.

And this alters the way that information and reporting is passed between parties.

Christian philanthropists recognised that there were positive things to learn from mainstream understanding of impact reporting, and also that there were additional considerations based on their faith.

Many of them worried that the act of collecting information for the purpose of reporting to supporters was an unnecessary distraction from the work they wanted to help fund.

I want to help. I choose people who I think are as effective as they can be and I let them get on with it. I don’t want them to waste time writing me reports. I think it’s a waste, too much reporting, actually.

Banker, London

Well firstly, I wouldn’t want to think you have people going out and getting lots of information just for me. I’m sure we’d all rather you were getting on and doing the work rather than having to gather data to report back to me.

Accountant, London

And then there were theological points about a greater value than that which could be captured by monitoring and evaluation. People talked about an ‘eternal value’ which we wouldn’t expect to see within our lifetimes.

This was expressed in a couple of ways. Philanthropists understand that their role contributes to a season in time and that the work of God (which is what they believe they are helping to make happen through their giving) is a much bigger story which has a long history and an eternal future. Many expressed a hope that benefits would be felt long after their support had finished; that children and grandchildren of beneficiaries would have a more comfortable life; and that wider social and community benefits would result from current interventions.

For us, impact measurement is probably a gradual thing. Unfortunately, unless we engage with somebody like yourself for a period of time we’re probably not actually there long enough to see the full impact of support.

Programme officer, Christian grant-making foundation

If you say how does God measure things you get into some very interesting questions about, you know, things like the parable of the lost sheep. God doesn’t measure things by saying have we saved 99 people or one, he says we’ve saved one and that matters.

We’ve found one lost coin, we’ve put our net out there and we’ve found one fish, and that’s how the kingdom of heaven works, small things grow into very big things. All those sorts of parables suggest we ought to be challenging somewhat the human form of measurement that is applied to what we do.

Lawyer, London

For me, because I’ve been brought up on investment decisions, you want to do your due diligence on the people who are going to be spending your money. I’ve got to get to the stage where I say, ‘It’s not mine, it’s God’s money’. I know that. But I want to give it to people who will use it for his purposes, so that discernment about whether they are the sort of people I would trust from a Christian spiritual perspective.

Retired accountant, London

There should be a sense in which we say as Christians we trust each other to use the resources God gives us in a way which is proper stewardship of those resources. So there’s a balance in this. Of course, I don’t want to give my money to a charity - any charity, but particularly a Christian charity - which is going to use my money irresponsibly or badly or waste it.
I feel there’s a sort of hygiene level that charities need to get past before they get in the door of major donors. But I also feel that Christian donors ought to be thinking, actually here are some people I know, I like, I trust, who are doing really good work and who are being directed by God as to what to do with my money. I sort of don’t even need to know. I know that’s a very purist view, but I think theologically it’s correct.

Lawyer, London

This strength of affinity meant that most of the philanthropists we met had already given much thought to the causes they supported and had found charities which reflected their personal passions. At a time when UK public trust in charities is the lowest we’ve seen for the last ten years, the depth of connection that Christian donors feel with some Christian organisations is quite compelling.

Most people talked about having built up this level of trust and relationship over a long period of time, and referenced two highly trusted sources - their church and their family - as being the place they had first come across Tearfund and some of the other Christian organisations they support.

Notwithstanding their concerns about time spent on reporting creating a distraction from carrying out the work, philanthropists were clear that they expect the organisations they support to be transparent with them and to be able to describe clearly the ways donations were used. In a highly trusting relationship like the ones we enjoy, philanthropists often have extremely high levels of confidence in the organisation, but it would be naive to assume this is based solely on a shared Christian faith. People who give at this level have carried out due diligence before deciding to donate, and are in regular contact with staff who are dedicated to managing relationships of this nature and allocating funds appropriately.

I give to Tearfund and other organisations because I trust them, I’ve looked into them and because people I know and trust support them too. If someone I know is supporting you and they’re the kind of person who knows what they’re talking about, I’ll listen to them.

Comment at a roundtable in London

People are often keen to develop relationships with the projects they support, and to learn about effective church-based poverty reduction strategies. No-one rules out receiving numerical indicators of progress and everyone agrees that it is important to understand how many children go to school, how much incomes have increased or how productivity of livelihoods has developed. In fact, they see organisations like Tearfund as educational; helping them to understand how poverty affects people’s lives and the ways local churches are enabling people to move out of poverty.

I see Tearfund as a trusted advisor. I wouldn’t know anything about water and sanitation and how it affects children’s education in Uganda if it weren’t for you. That’s the reputation you have, as far as I’m concerned, and that’s one of the ways you help me.

Comment at a roundtable in Belfast

The levels of knowledge and expertise people attribute to an organisation like Tearfund is because the supporter appreciates that we are continually learning from testing various approaches and listening to the people we serve. When people take us on trust, it is not blind faith, and they are clear that they expect us to evaluate our work so we can learn about the most effective ways to help alleviate poverty.

A charity should assess what it’s doing in a robust fashion. It should assess its effectiveness in the long term as well as the short term. And it must look at the benefits for the whole community, not just individuals, robustly assessing whether outcomes are being met. You should also be keeping track of research into what’s working. I like an organisation with critical scientific assessment.

Surgeon, Scotland

Quantitative reporting was seen as hugely important but, in an important contrast with secular models of generous giving like Effective Altruism, the vast majority of the Christian givers we spoke to don’t expect to interrogate value for money to the degree of assessing unit cost.

Decisions on the basis of unit cost? I’d be uncomfortable with that, it’s rather like acting like God. If I give to Tearfund I know you’re accountable to God. I don’t expect money to be frittered or used unwisely.

Lawyer, London

It is, of course widely recognised that impact reporting which relies on quantitative evidence alone is often insufficient and the individuals we spoke to expressed this concern frequently.

People understand the complexity of human development and those who are drawn to organisations like Tearfund are intentional about achieving change at a deeper level than that which can be achieved solely by simple transactional interventions. They are committed to a level of social change which is deeply felt and will last for more than a generation, and many describe it as a spiritual transformation.

What I’m hearing from Tearfund, the kind of work we’re talking about here, we’re really talking about love. That’s what believing in people is, and making it possible for people to find their way. How do we measure that? I’m not sure we can.

Comment at a roundtable in London

The robustness of the data received by these philanthropists is important and people expect it to be valid and clear. Often, though, by the time people reach this level of philanthropy, they know what the quantitative element of reporting is telling them, and are looking for added value in terms of personal connection.

One group of individuals that give together towards a poverty reduction project in Asia told us they had hugely benefited from the relationships they had developed with Tearfund staff, and they had actively sought to understand the experiences of people benefiting from the project. This group meets together regularly to read and discuss the project reports and to pray for the communities which benefit:

We asked for the names of some of the people who are being helped. We know we can’t know everyone’s names because of the scale of the work - but it was helpful to have a few names so we could mention them in prayer as representatives of all the people who benefit from the project.

Young city professional, London

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