Friday, November 30, 2007

Will you still give after the holidays?

This op-ed in today's Dallas Morning News by Rev. Gerald Britt is well worth reading. One of the major difficulties that fundraisers for social service organizations face is the inability to raise funds throughout the year, not just in "the season of giving."

We all need to find ways to ask our donors the questions that Rev. Britt asks below. And, even more importantly, we need to work at helping them to understand the importance of their answers.

Will you still give after the holidays?
The need doesn't end after the Christmas gifts are opened, says GERALD BRITT 12:00 AM CST on Friday, November 30, 2007

For 15 years, I've had the privilege of preaching a Thanksgiving service at a church in South Dallas. The worship itself that day is sandwiched in between a very generous breakfast and traditional dinner, served after the benediction.

The church budgets for this feast, and its members set aside time to cook and serve nearly all day before they go home to their own families. The guests of honor are the homeless of our city.

The pastor and members have made this a part of the life of their church. They would no more consider not doing this than they would think of not celebrating Thanksgiving at all.

Indeed, a large number of the homeless being served have been received as members of this church. The church picks them up every Sunday, serving them a hot breakfast before worship and lunch afterward.

Neither this pastor nor his congregation is looking for publicity or congratulations. In fact, they want to do more. But for a middle-class African- American church of relatively modest means, this is significant work, and they serve as an object lesson for the rest of us.

At Central Dallas Ministries, this season brings calls from other churches that want to minister to the poor and homeless. They provide blankets or food, or they share their witness. They are needed and wanted; we welcome their compassion during this season.

But we, along with other nonprofits and congregations, want people of good will and compassion to remember that their help is most needed after the holidays pass – and before they come again.

Issues related to poverty are not seasonal. Joblessness and underemployment, hunger and food insecurity, education, crime, homelessness and substandard housing are year-round problems calling for year-round engagement.

Central Dallas Ministries couldn't exist without partners who understand this and respond to it passionately and generously. One out of every five children in Dallas is raised in poverty, 10 percent of our nation's poor live in our state.

Seasonal charity cannot solve this problem. Poverty is a complex web of personal responsibility, public inaction and disconnectedness. The poor need to know that they live in a world that understands their pain and is willing to endure it with them.

The misguided materialism that some accommodate alongside their faith – suggesting that poverty is a sign of the need for personal spiritual salvation – is unfortunate and inaccurate.

I know many among the poor whose faith puts mine to shame. The poor need those who care enough to demonstrate the power of their faith through genuine concern for their quality of life. Are there poor and homeless who reject help and don't want to try? Of course there are, but stereotyping all the poor in such categories is like saying that all rich people are selfish and greedy.

There may be some truth to that, but it's not the whole story.

What are the year-round gifts that are needed? We need employers willing to give the poor opportunity with living-wage jobs, and we need to address hunger every day. We need for-profit developers willing to take some risks in reviving distressed neighborhoods and strategic public policy to help mitigate some of that risk. We need to augment classroom learning with increased funding for more innovative after-school programs that feature tutoring and enrichment.

We need more churches willing to receive and nurture ex-prisoners re-entering society and help them live productive lives.

In short, we need many more neighbors who will see it as their mission to connect a whole city by caring all year long.

The Rev. Gerald Britt is vice president for public policy at Central Dallas Ministries. His e-mail address is gbritt@centraldallas