Monday, January 05, 2009

Living on Giving, an Insider's Perspective

I may have to swallow my words about not suffering with the economic downturn. Looks like my support may have taken a hit, after all. The regular monthly donors are all still with me. But it's those December 31 checks that make up the difference. Last year's December giving made up more than a third of my income for that year. Unless there are more checks in the mail or waiting at HQ for processing, December 2008's meager donations will total 6% of what came in for 2008 - less, even, than my budget for the month of December.

That would put me a few thou "low" for the year, and my cushion completely depleted. In January I'll likely start going into the red, costing the organization money. I won't know for sure for another week. Maybe someone sent a $5000 check. Maybe I'll start the year ahead, as usual. I wait somewhat anxiously to see.
"Annual income, twenty pounds, annual expenditure, nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the God of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and - in short, you are forever floored. As I am!" (Mr. Micawber, in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield)
Well, I'm hardly headed to the poor house, like Mr. Micawber, and even if I were it would not necessarily mean "result: misery"!

And there's more than a thin silver lining in my case. I haven't been "able" to raise support for years, simply because my income has been equal to or higher than my (pretty modest) approved budget. Monthly pledges hover between 80 and 90%, but income has been greater. So when folks ask me how they can help, in good conscious I have felt I had to send them away. It would have been smart to make a list of those who asked, now that I may need them!

Maybe now I can diversify my support base, not keep leaning on the 2 churches and 20 or so families who have done so much for me these last 14 years (yes, October 2009 is my 15-year-anniversary of taking this job!) Many of them are retiring now and may not be able to keep giving at their current levels, much less increase.

I've been thinking about this recently, as I've become aware of how many people in our church in Colorado give personally to support those who are on the list of "ministry partners." All of them (us) get something from the church's budget but many of them are also well-supported by individuals and families in the church. Not me. Not a one.

So, I'm feeling a bit overlooked. Which is silly, of course, because as I mentioned before when people ask me about my needs I tell 'em to put their checkbooks away! So, I need to get my heart right about this. Make sure I don't walk around with some air of entitlement or self-pity, not compare myself to others who are paid much more for doing their jobs.

There are other benefits that are far greater than my salary - like the opportunity to do what I love, to serve so many people, and yes, to change the world because of how I spend my time. Not to mention the chance to travel the the world, influence thousands, and experience wonderful relationships with people all over the globe because of what I do. Surely I am well compensated. And honestly, the opportunity to live "on support" is one of the things I would count as compensation - the partnership of sharing in the gospel, you know? I love that.

If I do start looking for financial partners among the people I worship with every week - with little clue what their finances, attitudes toward giving, or current commitments may be - I will need to spend a lot of time in prayer. Must make sure my attitude is pure and sincere, since my speech will reflect it, and that I am diligent to see the relationships don't suffer under any strain the "ask" may make on them.


Fiona L Cooper said...

Hi Marti, Happy New Year!

Thanks for being so open about this complicated, emotional, confusing and spiritually significant topic!

I find it difficult to talk about my financial situation to anyone because I'm so aware that I rely on the generosity of others to keep me afloat. It's a privileged but vulnerable position to be in. From time to time I give in to feelings of inadequacy in the face of their generosity.

Paul Merrill said...

Some great thoughts on this tricky subject, Marti.

All too rarely do I pray before or after coming up with harsh thoughts about that person or couple or family who don't support us but "should" (in my perhaps uninformed perspective).

Marti said...

Yes, it is a "tricky" subject! And Americans (at least) can be so touchy about it. Talking about raising support can be like bringing up politics assuming that you know where the other person stands, and finding out you were wrong...

But inviting people to partner with me to support the work I do is one of my responsibilities - as it is for both of you, Paul and Fiona. So, while we should exercise discretion, we can't always just "not talk about it."

For me, finding a job that involved building a financial support team was on my short list of things I was looking for in a job, after college. Even now I would be reluctant to consider a job that required/allowed me to give up my support team. But that doesn't mean I don't fall into some of the mental pitfalls that go with it.

At times I feel really humble - oh, that's your money, please don't feel you have to give it to me! OK, just a little bit! - and at other times, sort of the opposite: why do I have to humble myself and ask, when other people just get paid by their companies, and get raises and promotions and stuff almost automatically, just for something silly like making money for a business?

It's some comfort to me that there are lots of different ways to handle money appropriately, and to support those like us who work for charities, appropriately. I =like= the way things are for me - especially the way the finances support relationship-building, practical reliance on God, and freedom from the rat-race mentality. So I rarely chafe against this system.

But my comfort / convictions may be stretched and tested a bit if I have to put more work into support-raising, this year - and if I get judged or rejected, or end up hurting people and straining relationships.

I know lots of people who have been in ministry for decades and chronically under supported. I've never experienced that but have seen it wear people down. That's one of the (sometimes not stated) reasons people pull out of this kind of work and go get a "regular" job.