Curtis Meadows: How Does Faith Shape and Enhance Family Philanthropy

Why does someone give to others? This essay from Faith and Family Philanthropy notes that while a donor’s motivations most often originate from their own values and principles, the insights and wisdom that they receive from others can also be powerfully influential. When the motive for giving is based largely or entirely on the donor’s faith, the result can be an engagement of purpose, process, emotion, and spirit in a powerfully meaningful endeavor.

Why does someone give to others? What causes them to act to help? Behind all philanthropic action is the donor’s motivation. It may arise out of personal experience or analytical research. It may be subjective or objective. It most often originates from the values and principles of the donor but the insights and wisdom of others can also be powerfully influential. When the donor includes his or her family in the philanthropic undertaking and when the motive for giving is based largely or entirely on the donor’s faith, the result can be an engagement of purpose, process, emotion and spirit in a powerfully meaningful endeavor.

Surprisingly, however, only very limited literature exists that probes the profound, as well as the practical questions, that arise when faith and family philanthropy are combined. In Faith and Family Philanthropy, the National Center for Family Philanthropy has assembled sensitive, informative and thought-provoking essays designed to help families understand the links between their faith, their giving, and their family systems.

For a family of faith with resources, the concept of philanthropy is shaped and given purpose around the teachings of that faith. Here they find instruction and direction in answering some of life’s most profound questions: Why were we born? Whom do we exist to please? What are we supposed to do with our lives? What are we expected to do with our wealth? What are we called to do with our talents? What values and principles should guide our lives? What do we believe? Why do we believe these things? Why should we care about others? How should we relate to them? In light of our beliefs, how should we conduct our philanthropic efforts and ourselves?

These questions echo through the ages, asked anew by each succeeding generation. Our parents, grandparents, and religious leaders seek to respond. The answers and explanations, for the family of faith, come anchored in religious scriptures and teachings that have been respected and debated since their first articulation. This “faith of our fathers living still” becomes the central guiding and compelling direction finder in all aspects of life for the faithful.

Acceptance on faith that an all-knowing and all-powerful God created us profoundly alters a family’s perspective on the accumulation of wealth and introduces concepts of stewardship of possessions more than absolute ownership. From that viewpoint, we are trustees of such assets for a higher purpose than mere pursuit of our own, ever-expanding, personal gratification.

Religious devotion motivates a real sense of responsibility for what we do with such abundance, as well as ethical concerns as to how we acquire it. Because wealth is seen as a gift and blessing from God, it comes laden with expectations as to its use in this life. Because it cannot go with us into the realm of death, we must make choices as to the proper disposition consistent with our beliefs. And, because it is not really ours, we cannot be true to our faith if it is dedicated entirely to our family’s benefit and ourselves.

These and other reflections and meditations, then, are often the driving forces around the “giving decisions” of families of faith. Teachings of stewardship include the duty and responsibility of the steward to increase the assets obtained through proper management, and families of faith take that admonition seriously. It implies the acceptance of a high degree of accountability by the steward and his or her family.

But ultimately, the family must decide to what ends shall the accumulations of assets and the profits derived therefrom be directed. As families of faith, guidance is sought from God and the revelations He has put on the walk of life of the family. Experiences and education are combined with prayer and scripture to give guidance as to what is to be done and how it is done to help others. As decisions are made as to how much to dedicate to propagation of the faith and how much to faith at work, families must debate fundamental issues of life in the context of religious values and principles. The solutions and actions taken are passed on to the family as a philanthropic heritage of doing God’s work in this world, according to the light they have been given.

A good steward understands that preparations must be made for the time when others must take over the task of going forward with the stewardship. Families of faith are acutely aware of the need to prepare the next generation for service in accordance to the family’s belief structure. When strong beliefs in faith motivate and direct philanthropic undertakings, a decision to exclude family member participation in the process of giving can and does sometimes occur, if commitments to the teachings central to the family’s religious beliefs are not carried on by the next generation. But when families successfully live their faith in such a way that their children are drawn to that faith out of respect and appreciation, a core of now commonly held religious values and principles bonds the family together far beyond mere biology.

Yet, quite often, philanthropic families of faith feel alienated from professional training meetings and secular gatherings. These families seek interaction with other families interested in giving from a religious perspective. They draw encouragement and knowledge from the experiences of others who have struggled with similar concerns and circumstances.

Recognition of the special challenges and needs of this group of faith-families engaged in philanthropy gave rise to the creation of this new Journal. It is dedicated to addressing the issues that particularly arise in such a setting. Perhaps in the pages that follow, the reflections and experiences presented will support the best efforts and practices of families of faith engaged in philanthropic action. Perhaps they will find encouragement to continue serving humanity’s needs while seeking God’s purpose for their efforts. Perhaps they will be inspired to do as the great religious leader John Wesley preached:

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.