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Uncovering the Joy of Generosity: Strategic Giving in 2024

Dr. Russell James serves as the Professor and CH Foundation Chair in Personal Financial Planning and the Director of Graduate Studies in Charitable Planning at Texas Tech University. As an Estate Attorney, Financial Planner, and Researcher, Dr. James has written four books and has been published in numerous professional journals.

MortarStone’s Tim Deatrick recently had the opportunity to sit down and interview Dr. James on a variety of topics concerning major gifts and legacy giving. You can access Russell James’ library of resources for free on his website or by following him on LinkedIn. This conversation is a continuation of Tim’s discussion with Dr. James, “What Churches Can Expect with Giving in 2024?”

Tim Deatrick: How do wealth holders view their economic abundance, and how can church leaders effectively invite them to meet Kingdom needs from their resources?

 Dr. Russell James: The real question is, “What are you going to do with that abundance?” And the real decision is whether they will enjoy their wealth by doing good or if they are going to bury it, like in the person in parables of the talents or the minas. The reason that someone may bury it in the ground is because they’re afraid, right? They think, “Oh, my goodness, this could happen or that could happen.” If they don’t trust in the provision from God, then they’re going to be afraid, and there’s no amount of wealth that can completely allay all those possible fears. So, we respond to fear by burying the wealth in the ground. One thing we know is that wealth holders aren’t going to binge on their wealth like King Solomon or the Prodigal Son. What I’m describing is a security issue.

The alternative to burying your wealth is to enjoy it. This may seem like a bit of a surprise, but indeed that is the language that Paul uses in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Paul would argue that the reason that God gave this abundance to you is for your enjoyment. When you look at the word, it is not some serious, understated enjoyment. This is actually “party time” enjoyment. So how can a person enjoy their abundance? 

We enjoy our wealth by doing good, being rich in good works, and by being generous and ready to share (1 Timothy 6:17-19). In other words, don’t bury your wealth; put it to work. And, it can be so much fun to enjoy your wealth when you put it to work. In Paul’s mind, donors are supposed to do good and accomplish good works. They are the ones that accomplish things that are specific and visualizable.

The word good is repeated in our English translations, but it’s actually two different words in Greek. One means something that’s intrinsically good, and the other means beautifully good. 

I work in a secular university. If you are open to making a gift, I’m going to talk to you about all the ways that you can make an impact for good. If you tell me what your life story is and what’s important to you, I will come up with a way that you can use the university to be your instrument of impact to do it. I’m not going to come and tell you about all the great things the university is doing. That’ll get you the small pat on the head gift, but it won’t get that major life investment gift.

Instead, I’m going to learn about what’s important to you and create ways that you can use the university as your instrument of impact. For example, let’s say that you’re interested in cats, right? I might say,Oh, well, we’ve got a veterinary school. Let me tell you about a scholarship you could set up for our veterinary students since you really care about cats. For a larger amount, you could set up a permanent endowed professorship of having somebody who’s always going to be doing research on the quality of life for cats, right?”

I mean, it could be anything. But notice that there’s a difference where churches often just want to say. “Give us money because we are so great. We’ll do something good with it. You just need to hand over the money.” That’s not the framing that Paul is using. He is using a framework where it is the donor who is making the impact. In this scenario, the donor has agency. They are the ones who are doing good and making it happen.

Tim Deatrick: And this is where we can get into some internal conflict because that means that we are allowing the donor to put some instructions with their gift, yes? 

Dr. Russell James: Yes, the donor is more motivated when they can accomplish something specific and visualizable with their gift. We’re really great at doing that in university fundraising, but not so great with the church, where it’s a bit more like, “Just give us the money and we’ll figure it out.” That’s not a very compelling message.

 I think those are some of the distinctions that we’re missing. Let me share a story. There’s an effective fundraiser who works for a large organization that recently was on a flight. The person next to him said, “What do you do for a living?” He shared a little about his organization and his job, and the person responded, “Oh, I could never do that. I couldn’t ask people for money.” His response was great. He said, “I don’t ask people for money. I ask people to do big things that happen to cost money.”

 Asking people to do good works that cost money is a different kind of an ask, and it’s an ask that we’re not making in that church context where we’re not as interested in talking about the impact of the individual donor’s gift. We just want to talk about how wonderful we are as a ministry and how their gifts can help the church do good works. 

Tim Deatrick: Your new book, The Biblical Fundraiser, will be released later this year. I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of the manuscript in draft form, and I’m intrigued by the work you are doing on the two different kinds of giving in the New Testament. Tell me more about that. 

Dr. Russell James: In the New Testament there are two very different words for two very different kinds of giving. The first is the Greek word is eleemosune, which refers to what one might call almsgiving or giving down. There are very specific instructions for that form of giving. For example, in Matthew 6:2-4, when you give to the poor you are not to sound the trumpet drawing attention to your gift like the hypocrites do on the streets to impress the people. Furthermore, you should not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

But there’s a completely different word for giving used in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Here, as well as in Galatians, Romans, 2 Corinthians, and Hebrews, the word is koinonikos, which finds its root in koinonia and is descriptive of the fellowship community. Whereas the first word, eleemosune, describes giving down, koinonikos describes the act of giving across.  This is giving across among brothers and sisters and sharing among equals. And there are explicit instructions for this type of gift.

But wait a second, how does that fit with Jesus saying, “Don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing?” These are two different words. They are two different kinds of giving, so don’t try to shoehorn them together. How does 2 Corinthians 8-9 begin? It begins with a donor story, where the Macedonians are identified as positive examples of people who gave across. Paul identified them and used them to inspire the Corinthian givers.

 Tim Deatrick: There are a lot of givers in the New Testament who are identified by name who gave gifts. I think of Mary of Bethany who broke the alabaster jar, the women in Luke 8 who supported the travels of Jesus and the disciples, Joseph of Arimathea who gave his burial tomb to Jesus, and Barnabas in Acts who gave a piece of land. It’s fascinating how those legacies have been cemented in the biblical record.

Dr. Russell James: Exactly. We have to help our donors know that they can do these wonderful, good works that are rich, beautiful, and visible. If we understand that the goal is for the donor to have a certain kind of experience and our appeal is more around what we want for people instead of what we want from them, they will become more fulfilled in their journey of discipleship and generosity. It will help them become a different kind of person and allow them to bear influence to others through their example.

To hear the entire interview with Dr. James, you can watch the full “What’s The Missing Ministry” webinar today! You can also read part 1 of the interview – “What Should Churches Expect with Giving in 2024” on our website.

For more information about how MortarStone can help you connect with the wealth holders to create current major gifts and other gifts from wealth for your church, contact Tim Deatrick (tim.deatrick@mortarstone.com). To stay up to the minute with the latest trends and feature releases regarding generosity and legacy giving, including our 2023 Annual Generosity Report, follow MortarStone on LinkedIn.

Learn more about MortarStone and how we can help your church increase giving and engagement today!