Katrina Funds vs. Fast Offerings

September 6, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 9:15 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices

We are commanded to give to the poor and needy. Ancient and modern scriptures are clear on that. But are there clear priorities when choosing how to distribute our offerings? Let me give you a hypothetical situation to see what you think.

Imagine a young LDS family that takes seriously their responsibility to care for the poor and needy. They adhere to a strict budget annually and based on their annual income and the costs of living they have decided they can stretch themselves and give $100 per month to the poor and needy. This is a lot of money for this young family because they have children and a single income, plus debts they are trying to pay off. That $1200 per year represents nearly 2% of their annual gross income and it is given on top of the 10% tithing they already pay. But they feel that they have been blessed already and want to obey God and help those that are in need so that is their plan even though it is a real sacrifice for them. This offering is given through fast offerings at their ward.

But then a natural disaster (like Hurricane Katrina) strikes. Their hearts ache for those distressed people they see on TV that have lost everything. There is a drive at the husband’s company to donate to the Red Cross to aid victims. The company even offers to match donations from employees. The family is totally maxed out as to what they can give to the poor in terms of amount, but they consider diverting some of that $1200 per year to this victim’s aid fund through work. The young couple discusses reasons to divert the funds or not:

“Everyone at work knows I’m a Mormon so if we diverted money to that fund perhaps we could make the church look good and help the poor at the same time. But then again, shouldn’t our giving be anonymous? Would that sort of defeat the spiritual purpose of giving if we are trying to get some sort of missionary-based marketing out of it? But it is hard to give fast offerings and have no real idea of who is receiving – giving to a fund like this is in some ways more emotionally rewarding. But then again, shouldn’t we have faith in the discernment of the judges of Israel to make inspired decisions on how to best help the poor? We can’t count on that kind of discernment and divine intervention with the relief fund…” And so the discussion goes.

What do you think? What advice would you give this young couple?

26 Comments »

  1. I’d say keep paying fast offerings and tell people you’ve already donated elsewhere. The Church is going to use the fast offering fund to get supplies to the Gulf Coast. They’ll either use your directly, or they’ll use it directly being letting it take the place of that which they’ve used.

    Say the couple has been paying for ten years before the hurricane struck. 120,000$ can go a long way that whatever they would be giving at the office. Think of it as sustained contributions.

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 7, 2005 @ 4:52 am

  2. The Church is going to use the fast offering fund to get supplies to the Gulf Coast.

    I’m curious about this. My Bishop said on Sunday that he hadn’t had any specific instructions about the Katrina relief. My understanding is that fast offering funds stay local. I’m not a clerk, but were clerks told to move fast offering to a Katrina fund this week? How do you know about this, Kim?

    And to answer the question: your couple would be absolutely justified in diverting their giving to a specific cause at a time like this.

    Comment by Ronan — September 7, 2005 @ 5:48 am

  3. If you want to get all letter-of-the-law about it, you could pay fast offering in the amount of the cost of two meals and divert the rest. The humanitarian fund is one obvious possibility for redirection.

    The best reason to contribute through your employer, however, is to take advantage of the match. That’s a powerful lever as long as the employer’s contribution is not capped at a certain dollar amount (as many seem to be).

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 7, 2005 @ 7:02 am

  4. I’d tell the young family that God sees all charity as equivalent–and that this is the time to route as much of that charity as possible to first-line responders. So pay your fast offerings to the Red Cross this month!

    More generally, fast offerings are a way of implementing the Law of Consecration, but they certainly aren’t the only way. There’s obviously no commandment to shun non-church charities. Furthermore, the commandment about doing much good of our own free will might be interpreted as encouragement to seek out non-church charity opportunities.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — September 7, 2005 @ 7:03 am

  5. I’d divert some of the money that would normally be spent on Fast Offerings to the matching donation, to maximize the amount of help given.

    For me, it wouldn’t be about anonymity or spirituality; it would be pure economics.

    Comment by Crystal — September 7, 2005 @ 7:15 am

  6. Ronan,

    The way it works (as far as I understand it) is that whatever fast offering funds a ward does not use goes to the stake to distribute to other wards in the stake. Whatever funds a stake does not use goes to Salt Lake to be used for other stakes and humanitarian efforts.

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 7, 2005 @ 7:55 am

  7. Ronan,
    There weren’t any specific instructions from Salt Lake on fast offerings to our bishopric this past Sunday. It might be wishful thinking to expect our offerings to go to the Gulf Coast. I would imagine the chances are much higher if you put the money under “Humanitarian Aid” though (a handful of our members did just that this last week).

    Comment by Rusty — September 7, 2005 @ 9:08 am

  8. rusty,

    The CHurch has published instructions on their website.

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 7, 2005 @ 9:10 am

  9. Good ideas all around.

    I suspect that in terms of the souls of this couple it makes very little difference what they choose. It becomes a matter of efficiency and perspective I think. Unfortunately the poor really are always with us, and we can only do so much individually. These questions of exactly what to do individually do not seem to have universal answers.

    It seems that the drives after disasters are aimed at getting people that are not in the habit of giving to the poor to loosen the purse strings because of the emergency at hand. But that does not apply to this couple. It makes me worry that the media sometimes can direct the flow of all funds when there are homeless and starving people all over the world and often even in our own LDS congregations. I hate to see them neglected just because they don’t make the news that month. For that reason I personally would lean toward recommending this hypothetical couple stay their course with the fast offerings.

    I think the company matching program is the best argument against that choice, though.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 7, 2005 @ 10:10 am

  10. Er, no, Kim they haven’t. It says you can donate to fast offering, but doesn’t say how/when/if fast offerings will be syphoned off for Katrina. Rusty’s experience seems to suggest they won’t (or won’t necessarily). This is annoying.

    Comment by Ronan — September 7, 2005 @ 10:24 am

  11. My bad. Yes, they have not issued instructions regarding allocating fast offerings for Gulf Coast relief. My assumption is that it will be no different than any other disaster, in that excess fast offering funds are used.

    I am not sure I see what is so annoying about it. If you are dead set on donating money to the relief effort and not anything else, then follow the other instructions on the page to which I linked in my previous comment. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 7, 2005 @ 11:02 am

  12. I agree, Geoff.

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 7, 2005 @ 11:03 am

  13. If I were in the same boat as this couple (and I was this past fast sunday), I would stay the course with my fast offerings and try my best to sacrifice to make further donations at work. As long as my bishop keeps telling me that our fast offerings budget is in the red, I will contribute first to that. I wonder if many charities, including ward fast offerings, experience a dip in expected regular contributions when disasters such as this hit.

    Of course, it makes great sense to take advantage of the match. I’d just rather do it by taking money from my own budget rather than the money I had set aside for fast offerings. Who knows, maybe if this couple gave $50 to the Red Cross they would receive an unexpected rebate check for just that amount…

    Comment by Matt Jacobsen — September 7, 2005 @ 11:11 am

  14. No cheating Matt. The “dig deeper” answer is the traditional way out out of this dilemma. But in this thought experiment I am looking at a couple that has consistently digs as deep as they can without becoming financially irresponsible (and irresponsible stewards can’t help the poor in the long run.)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 7, 2005 @ 11:29 am

  15. Many members of my ward don’t use the internet much. They might have contributed extra to FO on Sunday not knowing about other avenues of giving (and none were advertised from the pulpit), and might be annoyed if they found out that that money didn’t go directly to Katrina.

    Comment by Ronan — September 7, 2005 @ 11:29 am

  16. Personally, I’d divert some of the FO to the office so that my company would match it.

    That said, if the couple really wanted to avoid that, they could choose a weekday this week to have a 24-hour fast that wasn’t spiritual per se, or live for a couple of days on their food storage alone. They could then donate the money they saved on their food budget through the office. The net outcome would be the same.

    Comment by Chad Too — September 7, 2005 @ 11:40 am

  17. Ronan,

    I’m not sure what there is to be annoyed about either. You said your bishop said over the pulpit that he did not know details about how to earmark donations specifically for Katrina relief. Therefore it seems highly unlikely that members of your ward would assume that fast offerings would somehow automatically bypass the local poor and needy and go to the poor and needy in the Gulf Coast. (Maybe I’m missing details though)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 7, 2005 @ 11:44 am

  18. Kim Siever’s link provides an article describing truckloads of supplies sent from the bishops’ storehouse (i.e., paid for by fast offerings). The employer’s matching offer seems irrelevent. The employer can donate what it will and organize its employees donations without blackmailing them.

    Comment by John Mansfield — September 7, 2005 @ 1:33 pm

  19. Very interesting point, John. Why does the company have to wait for the employee to donate through their prescribed channels in order to donate themselves? Why must it be through their program in order to do the matching program? If the corporation is in a charitable mood then they should give freely themselves.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 7, 2005 @ 1:45 pm

  20. Has anybody else felt a big disconnect when it comes to the Church’s Welfare system? I don’t know. With the recent disaster I’ve had this hunger to help, but in association with the Chruch. I mean, sure, we can give humannitarin aid or fast offerings, but giving money just isn’t enough for me. Donating money just seems to disconnect me from the reality of this whole thing. I give my money to the Church’s huge fund and I’ll never see how the money will be put to use. I live in Oklahoma, so there are TONS of chruchs, and many of them have opened up their doors to refugees,started clothing and food drives, etc. But in my ward here last Sunday nothing was said to how we can help our fellow Americans in the South. I ask myself “Why can’t we do what these other churches are doing?” I think it mainly has to do with correlation in the Church. Individual wards don’t have any antonomy. I guess I can volunteer with the Red Cross, but I’d rather do something that involves my ward. But I guess it will never happen because of all the policies that exist in regards to chruch welfare.

    Comment by Brett — September 7, 2005 @ 2:28 pm

  21. Brett,

    You could organise a ward activity to put hygiene kits together (see the link in my second comment).

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 7, 2005 @ 2:35 pm

  22. Brett and Kim -

    That’s exactly what my ward is doing. Members were asked to take fliers to their neighbors to solicit donations of supplies or money. Some of our neighbors had already given to other sources, which is great, but many felt like they wanted to do something more tangible. This is in the Seattle area where not everyone is a member, but there are at least enough members to make it possible to cover the ward boundaries.

    Geoff -

    It’s not cheating, it’s called faith :) Seriously, though, I would probably use the occassion to re-assess my charitable donations and from now on give $50 to fast offerings and $50 to non-LDS charities. It gets a little embarrassing to always turn down non-LDS charity requests with the line, “I can’t. I’m Mormon.”

    Comment by Matt Jacobsen — September 7, 2005 @ 4:37 pm

  23. I’m not embarrassed at all to turn down non-Mormon charities. I know who I can trust. I know the church will do all it can to help those people. I’m giving money to the humanitarian fun. When you donate to other charities, there is overhead and then they bug you for life.

    Comment by annegb — September 7, 2005 @ 11:20 pm

  24. Rusty: Anything put in Humanitarian Aid is currently going to Hurrican Katrina relief; so it isn’t more likely…it is certain (at least in the U.S.).

    Matt: Your response is lame (nothing personal). How about “I’ve already donated more than I can comfortably afford to another organization. Good luck.” Blaming your religion and making it public like that doesn’t build the Kingdom, IMO.

    I don’t think the “employer” match is a better answer either. Look, we already know that God doesn’t _need_ our money, tithing or otherwise. However, it does seem to serve a useful function for us personally and as a community of faith. Frankly, I’ll donate to the Church. I think God’s “matching funds” are far greater than my mortal employers’ could ever be.

    Comment by lyle — September 8, 2005 @ 7:31 pm

  25. If %2 is $1200 (and I’ve done my math correct) then that young couple is earning (and paying income tax on) $60,000. There are approximately 50 Million income tax paying families in American. Bush/Congress has ‘promised’ $50 Billion in relief. This will most likely go up to $100 Billion. Do the math. If you are a income tax paying family then you are already being forced to donate $1000 – $2000 to the relief effort.

    Comment by anon — September 9, 2005 @ 7:55 pm

  26. Red Cross? May as well flush your money down the drain. The correct answer is (drum roll) they have agency (aka free agency) and they should DO WHAT THEY FEEL LIKE DOING independant of any comments on this page. Party on, dudes! – Bubba

    Comment by Bubba — August 7, 2007 @ 7:36 am

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