Recently, during a meeting at our Church, I talked to Alice, our pastoral associate, about my wife Joyce and I offering to give a special major contribution for a program she heads.

Alice is in charge of a group who regularly review the cases of fellow parishioners in desperate need of money to pay overdue bills for household utilities, rent, mortgage, medical expenses, and other critical needs.

I have a long history of assessing and evaluating the financial "sustainability" of non-profit organizations and know it to be one of the key factors donors use in deciding whether or not to make contributions. Grant-making organizations and donors in general want to be sure their money will both go to a worthy cause and be wisely used.

While most solicitations of donors are made without the presentation of spreadsheets and statements, we know that numbers usually do count, and that at the very least we better be ready to produce them when requested.

Thus, I found myself carrying forth those lessons learned from my non-profit evaluation experience when I began asking Alice questions at length about the designated recipients of our proposed donation.

I probed the "worthiness" of those in need of the generosity of our gift. I asked questions such as:

  • What degree of research goes into the amounts requested?
  • How sure is the church that the beneficiaries will use the money for the purpose for which it is given?
  • Will the recipients do their best to get on their feet so that further assistance isn’t needed?

In the middle of a question, I suddenly stopped and began to silently query myself:

  • Had I completely forgotten what philanthropy is?
  • Where had my belief in charity gone?
  • Had I lost my understanding of the humanitarian intent of my gift by encumbering it with strings of implied “accountability?”  
  • Was I making units of measurement more important than an act of compassion?

As I struggled with those thoughts I realized that something even worse was in danger of happening. I was inadvertently dismissing and diminishing the good work that Alice and her committee were doing to address the very issues I was laboring over.

Shortly after arriving home from Church, a thought came, no doubt  inspired from that sacred setting where I talked to Alice. I remembered what the apostle Paul wrote: "God loves a cheerful giver," and that reconnected me to what our gift was really about.

I had been completely unaware that my searching, and to a degree intrusive, questioning of Alice was the reverse of the thoughts and actions of a cheerful giver. My concerns were too much about my desire to know who was getting the money, how much they were getting, and whether they really deserve it. I had momentarily lost my understanding of the spirit of giving. I had become a "grim giver."

I realize taking the "cheerful-giver" attitude too far can cause us to overlook the rational path we usually want our money to travel. But, there are times when we do not need to fret about our "return on investment." There are times when we don't need to wrap our giving in hard logic.

For me, in the end, this was one of those times. Temporarily, I had forgotten, that our parishioners' desperate need to receive was the perfect balance for my need to give.