Religious devotion yields philanthropic sharing. That is well established in research. And both religious practice and charitable giving are currently in decline – a stark new development that worries many observers of American society.
(For potent evidence of these realities, see the feature article “Less God, Less Giving?” we ran earlier this year.)
Problem-solving givers may be asking themselves if there is anything they can do to help reverse these trends. Specifically, can intelligent philanthropy bolster religious practice and the many good things – including pronounced charitable generosity – that flow from it?
Obviously a good deal of Christian evangelism is premised on the idea that, yes, energetic and well-resourced outreach can increase personal devotion. Just among young people, for instance, groups like Young Life, Navigators, InterVarsity, FOCUS, Christian Union, the Consortium of Christian Study Centers, and Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) aim to inculcate belief and religious concern for others. Chabad, Birthright, and Tikvah are similar organizations trying to draw secularized Jews back to faith.
And there are myriad donor-supported organizations like the Salvation Army, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Focus on the Family, Prison Fellowship, Oxford House, St. Vincent de Paul Society, and so forth that help Americans improve daily life while also leading them to deeper devotion, to their own benefit and the advantage of the larger community.
Are there more specific things givers might do to undergird religious practice? This essay will offer some simple, practical, hard-headed measures that donors might employ. And these strategies could be adopted with a considerable degree of confidence that they would work – because very similar efforts have had powerful effects in another corner of philanthropic practice from which I’ve borrowed many of the following ideas: charter schooling.
The backers of charter schools made two highly effective, resource-intensive interventions.
One: They funded leader training. Fellowships, incubators, Teach For America grants, new education schools, and in-depth professional development were employed to turn out a passionate, innovative, carefully mentored new group of school founders, principals, and teachers.
Two: Donors put up funds to help these leaders acquire the crucial piece missing from many charter-school plans—an adequate building. Because charters are primarily placed in densely populated cities where the needs and numbers of children are greatest, real-estate costs have been a stumbling block for many school entrepreneurs. Givers have helped solve that.
Some similar interventions may be able to strengthen faith, churches, and their surrounding communities.