Charitable fallout

Today is Give to the Max Day in Minnesota, an innovative — and to be sure, worthwhile, idea whereby seed money from several august foundations is being used to match contributions from people donating online.

My colleague, Marianne Combs, has been looking at the idea with a very critical eye.

But as the day winds down — and at last check, over $7 million has been donated — she may have a few additional questions, like, “are the foundations happy where their money went?”

It turns out that the third-leading recipient of donations today (again, at last check. It’s standing may not last) is Desiring God Ministries, the ministry of John Piper. You may recall his comments after a steeple was damaged in Minneapolis while nearby, Lutherans were debating whether to allow non-celibate homosexuals to be clergy.

The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

As the third-most leading recipient today, Piper is eligible for a “bonus” from the foundations.

Clearly the idea has led people to do what they likely wouldn’t have done, today, but it provides a fascinating case study in how money can get directed to public policy efforts that many of these foundations would never have funded individually.

There’s also a guilt-by-association danger in underwriting polarizing figures. For example, are you more or less likely to give to the United Way if you knew that some of your went to a ministry with which you do/don’t agree?