I’m currently raising support to work with a church plant in Brooklyn. My day job is freelance copywriting and editing, selling stories and, on occasion, articles. I have never, in seven years of submissions, had a literary agent or an editor tell me “I wish I could publish more, but this is all I can accept.” Not once. It’s either “yes, thanks” or “no, your works sucks, go away now.”
Okay, never that mean.
But no agent or editor ever says, “I’ll give you a tiny advance and publish the first paragraph.” I can’t imagine a market in which that would happen, yet this is the speech I hear all the time while raising support: “I wish we could do more, but how’s twenty-five dollars a month sound?”
Sounds like you didn’t say ‘no.’
Sounds like you’re on board with this vision.
People don’t realize that for those of us living on donated support, from the great big sprawling nonprofit organizations down to the obscure individual, the vast majority of donations come in from middle-class-to-poor people who give twenty-five to thirty dollars a month and often even less. The vast majority comes in from this class of citizen, and not just in number of people giving, but in number of dollars given. Sure, I have people on our list giving hundreds. Some churches dropped four figures on our project, but most of our donations stream in every month from faithful people like you and me whose “little acts done with great love will change the world.”
Which means we need to rewrite our philosophy of giving. When Jesus said that the widow gave more than the Pharisees because she put in all she had to give, that’s not just a heart statement. It’s also, on the smaller scale, a statement about efficaciousness. It’s not just that she gave everything so her heart was in the right place and that means more in a feel-good kind of way or in terms of her spiritual posture compared to Pharisees. Because she gave everything, because her heart was one of sacrifice, the widow’s consistent tiny gift combined with others like hers amounts to more money on the bottom line.
It’s the obscure old woman living on a fixed income who donates her 401k to a Christian college when she dies. It’s the poor college student who goes in with his dorm buddies at ten bucks a pop to give a total of $400 a month to some missionary. It’s the sea of people who decide to live on less so that starving children can live on something, anything. We trick ourselves into thinking that earning more money equals more dollars given, but typically more sacrifice equals more dollars. Even the megachurches that give big gifts tend to have had more given over the entire course of their existence by average people rather than by the rich. That’s not saying rich people shouldn’t give, if anything this is a prompting for the rich to give more, but only after admitting that total dollar amount flows directly from total sacrifice amount. Sacrifice is functionally more effective. That’s the only thing connecting the random group of donors who have committed to our work: we all stand at the intersection of God’s prompting and our obedience.
Neil Gaiman was quoted in the last few years as having said, “Cutting funding to libraries in a recession is like cutting funding to hospitals in a plague.” If I can hijack that quote for a second, cutting nonprofit giving in a recession is like closing hospitals in a plague. I know it’s hard to give to whatever mission or nonprofit you’ve chosen, I know times are difficult, but I also know that this won’t be the first time that our poverty wells up in rich generosity. This kind of thing is scriptural. It’s a hoard of widow’s mites that keep good kingdom work going. There are simply more of them out there and less rich Sadducees. Any investing company would say the same: small, consistent deposits over the long haul are better than a large initial investment.
I was a college sophomore working at a church plant in San Diego. Part of my job was assisting the youth minister, so we boogied up to Biola in L.A. for a Christ in Youth conference. At the conference, one of these child sponsorship programs was doing their shtik. And there I was, pushing these high school kids towards giving when I hadn’t been a consistent donor for anything in my whole life. Well the Holy Spirit moved on me in power and prompted me up to the table and I connected with the picture of this little kid named Joffrey. The price tag was, at the time, like $32 a month. That was a freaking fortune for a stingy punk like me, but each day the Spirit worked on me and worked on me. I put up a good fight, “I can’t even buy gas consistently. How am I supposed to sponsor this kid?!” Finally I filled out my debit card information and turned in the paper.
And you know what?
It’s seven years later. I’m married. I’m raising support myself. And here we are, still supporting Joffrey. I only missed a donation twice in all of that time when my local bank switched owners, other than that it’s one solid line of small monthly gifts. My giving habits and the life of one little kid have both been changed forever. All because a poor college student decided to take a risk, obey, and pick up a paper that others may have ignored, pick it up and give month after month until Joffrey was grown.
One of my own supporters is a college student. He said recently, “I want to support you, Lance, but I’m poor. I think I can do five dollars a month. I don’t think I can do seven. I wish I could do more…” He doesn’t get the math. Five dollars times twelve months is sixty bucks, which is more than our average one-time donation. Sixty bucks times thirty years is one-thousand-eight-hundred dollars, which is more than our highest one-time donation. That’s the power of consistent obedience, of small things done with great love and faithfulness. He says I wish I could do more, but I remember a young college sophomore than decided to take a $32/month risk. The risk of that poor student version of me is worth well over $2, 700 by now – and that’s just financial, that’s not including the intangibles like education and faith that Joffrey received.
You know what I probably said the second I turned in those child sponsorship papers?
“I wish I could do more.”
I was a fool. The widow did do more. More than she could ever imagine. That’s what happens when you give your fishes and loaves to The Master:
He feeds the multitude your sacrifice.