Pledging to Financially Support an Individual

Last week Kyle and I were pitched by an acquaintance who is embarking on missions-related work.  The request to meet with us came through an introduction by a friend who is a current supporter of this missionary.  (I’m not quite sure missionary is the right word, but he’ll have an evangelistic ministry and he is seeking outside support, so I’ll use the term here.)  He attended to our church campus so we have met from time to time in the past and we have that solid and relevant connection.  We walked away from our meeting truly convinced that this missionary would do a great job based on his personality and past experience.


man with globeWhen I was reflecting on whether or not we would want to make an ongoing or one-time financial commitment to this missionary, I realized that we generally have avoided giving continual support to individuals.  In fact, the only type of giving that we have pledged for the long-term is our tithe to our local church – otherwise we always give one-time gifts.  I think what makes me nervous is not the financial outlay every month – after all, we keep a budget so these types of scheduled payments are normal to us – but the prospect of having to end the support at some point.


That we are considering giving to an individual rather than an organization makes the prospect of stopping the support even more nerve-wracking.  I mean, I don’t even pledge to support public radio monthly and no one would even notice if we stopped giving there.  The idea of having to tell a real person that our priorities have changed and we’re not going to support him financially any longer is really intimidating!


I confess that I have thought from time to time about starting to support a child through Compassion International or a similar organization but have chickened out of the ongoing support in favor of one-time gifts because of the idea that at some point we would want to stop and I don’t want to have to tell the kid that.  I do this even though I know that ongoing gifts are much more valuable for individuals and organizations than one-time gifts because it helps with budgeting.


It seems silly that we have let this far-off future fear limit the ways we give in the present.  After all, these types of gifts may even come to a natural end and we wouldn’t have to face the decision to stop support prematurely at all.  Plus, I really think that missions work and helping to the poor are worthwhile endeavors that we should be giving to!  It’s just a matter of getting past this fear and transitioning from a one-time giver to an ongoing giver.  Perhaps making a commitment to this particular missionary will help us through that transition as he is just an acquaintance moving to another part of the US and not a child depending on us for his sustenance and education.


Do you have any regular charitable giving that you have pledged to for the indefinite future?  Have you ever supported a missionary, either one-time or ongoing?  Are you ever so intimidated by the prospect of having to say ‘no’ later that you can’t say ‘yes’ now?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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47 Responses to "Pledging to Financially Support an Individual"

  1. All of our giving is set up as one time – even if in actuality it recurs every 6-months or year. A lot of the reason behind that is that we want to continually evaluate how much the program is worth to us and have the mental freedom to support something different (or increase or decrease our support) if we’re no longer on board in the same way.
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    1. Emily says:

      I guess what I’m talking about here is that mental freedom. I think the only reason we would stop after making this commitment would be unemployment or a better giving opportunity coming available to us. I’m not quite sure what I mean by “better,” though – this one’s pretty good! Maybe after we move on from our current church we’ll feel less connected to this person.

  2. CashRebel says:

    As you know, I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit recently. Why not give your whole year’s donation at once? Certainly you’d be giving up the potential earnings it would have if it was in your bank account, but it makes things easier. Then tell him to come back next year and ask again. Or you could post date 12 checks for him (if you can do that).
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    1. Emily says:

      1) We don’t have the cash to make a year’s contribution up front – our charitable giving account balance only amounts to 2-4 months of the range of the support we’re considering. 2) Making a one-time contribution doesn’t help this person meet the monthly support quota he needs to take the job.

  3. Brian says:

    We have never supported someone who is going on a mission trip so I can’t speak to that. We do have a cousin that is going on a year long trip to Africa as a missionary, but they have not asked for money from anyone (apparently they just saved up for the last 7 years so they wouldn’t “be a burden on friends/family”, their words not mine).

    I think I would be more likely to give an on going gift to a smaller oraganization than a larger one since most of them have much lower admin costs and more money would go to helping in their mission.

    1. Emily says:

      I don’t really care for supporting short-term missions trips, either. I generally think people should finance those trips themselves. What we’re considering isn’t a missions trip but rather placing a person in full-time ministry employment for several years in another US city.

      I would have thought the opposite about big. vs. small organizations regarding cost-effectiveness, though – aren’t there efficiencies and synergies that larger organizations can garner that small ones can’t?

  4. Moly says:

    I’m a second year grad student, and this is actually the first year I’ve actually decided to make a conscious attempt and budget for charity. So, definitely no ongoing contributions for me.

    That said, missionary-wise, the thing that I was most struck by was how inefficient it was. All of the long time missionaries that I have heard of spend several months in the states every year raising funds. Between flights and maintaining some sort of home base (especially if you have kids), it seems unoptimized at least. Not being active in the church community though, maybe I’m missing something?

    1. Emily says:

      Congrats on your decision to budget for charitable giving – and on being on top of your finances enough as a grad student to have a budget!

      I don’t know a lot of detail about international missions, but from what I’ve gathered from our family member who is a permanent missionary in another country is that she has to spend a certain range of time in the US every year for legal reasons – visas and taxes. Not too little time, not too much time. So she uses the time she has to be in the US for raising more funds. So I’m not sure if that’s really inefficient a priori.

      Anyway, we’re not dealing with that in this situation, I don’t think, because this person will be living in another US city. My guess would be that she’s raising support from her current network, mostly in NC, but with time she will expand her network to include people in that other US city so as her NC support drops off she can add in local support. That’s not something we discussed, though, so I’m not sure that’s the plan, it’s just what makes sense to me. That’s a bit different from international missions because the city she’s moving to is actually wealthier than the one she’s coming from.

  5. I am a one-time giver. I have some fears that you do, but most of my fear comes from the person or organization not using the money correctly. I always want to be vigilant that my donated money is being used correctly, so that is why I like being a one-time donor. I can evaluate my position and then can make the correct contribution.
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    1. Emily says:

      I don’t know how I would evaluate that this missionary is using my money “correctly,” though? We’re essentially talking about her salary and a little for work expenses. How do I tell if her salary is justified?? I don’t feel right about judging that!

  6. I’m also a one-time giver. That said it’s probably easier to stop giving to an individual than an organization, because the individual probably isn’t trained in loss prevention like larger organizations have.
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    1. Emily says:

      Haha, good point. Although I’d like to think that if I make up my mind to stop a gift, no one but Kyle will be able to talk me out of it!

  7. William says:

    My wife and I did this a few times, but every time we did, we said up front it would only be for one year. No promises on renewing.

    This way the dreaded good-bye is dealt with up front. Stopping when you said you will stop is expected of you if you are true to your word, so that negative thing is dealt with at the moment when the gratitude is at its highest.
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    1. Emily says:

      I like this solution and I also don’t like it. I guess the only thing that would change in a year is our situation. I don’t think a year is long enough to expect to see a lot of fruit from the missionary. He has committed to a longer term for that reason.

  8. Jennifer Hawk says:

    This is something that i do make space in my budget for. It started right after college when i started supporting the staff worker for the student ministry i was a part of in college. I knew both the organization (i was even on leadership for a while) and the individual who i am directly supporting. I guess I never thought ahead to that awkward moment when i wouldn’t want to support him any more. Here i am almost 7 years out and i’m still supporting him. I guess i actually fall on the other side of the coin – i’m looking forward to a “real” job with a bigger budget, so i can up my support for him. I do get quarterly/semesterly updates from him, so i get a feel for what’s going on in the ministry. As a side note, i also plan on supporting the staff worker from our grad ministry once i leave.

    1. Emily says:

      That is the attitude that we should embrace – looking forward to the capability to give even more support to a great cause in the future, not cutting it off! We will be getting regular updates and I really enjoyed hearing about the past stories.

  9. eemusings says:

    Nope, I always donate in one-offs. In the future we might do an ongoing thing (like supporting one particular child overseas) but we’re not at that stage yet.
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    1. Emily says:

      I’m glad to know we’re not the only ones who shy away from ongoing gifts – but I do want to overcome it!

  10. I’m a one gift/donation at a time person. I actually did do a monthly donation through Compassion for a child in Africa, but it was kind of stressful knowing I had to afford it each month and I didn’t know how many years I would have to do it! I’d suggest just doing a one time donation personally.
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    1. Emily says:

      How did your Compassion sponsorship conclude?

  11. Come to think of it I’m not sure I’ve ever committed to a donation like this either. That’s really too bad because its not like we couldn’t afford not to. I unfortunately get so caught up in my own personal saving goals (not just for me, but my family as well) that I sometimes foresake the needs of others.
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    1. Emily says:

      Maybe this year you could challenge yourself to start up one of these recurring donations. 🙂

  12. Suz McA says:

    I understand your angst… but I will say that beyond the financial considerations, monthly giving really helps us to remember the individuals/missions we’ve chosen to support and to be in regular communication and prayer for them.

    I’ve sponsored children (2 so far) through Compassion since I was probably 13 years old and I have never felt a desire to end that support (we just started sponsoring a new child after the one my sister and I started sponsoring when we were teenagers graduated!). Beyond financial assistance – you have the opportunity to develop a relationship! After 15+ years of sponsoring, I can say that it has begun to feel like a tithe… something I wouldn’t/couldn’t imagine stopping.

    In terms of supporting missionaries or those in full-time ministry, my perspective has always been that because I have not been called to ministry as a vocation, I have a responsibility to support those who have taken that big leap of faith. I could never imagine having to raise my salary, and from what I’ve learned from friends of ours who are in full-time ministry, having monthly donors (even if you can only spare a small amount each month – and make a 1 year commitment) is really important. We have “moved on” from 1 or 2 of those commitments (typically to support someone else – often who we were actively involved in ministry with), and it probably was more uncomfortable for US than it is for them.

    I would say “go for it! It’s an opportunity to be really invested in the lives and work of someone across the country… or the world! You won’t regret it…
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    1. Emily says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and perspective. I’m glad for the encouragement and you are right that we should support people who are in full-time ministry since we are not called to it. We are going to make this an ongoing commitment – we are just trying to figure out the amount.

  13. We are one time, but repeat (if that makes sense) givers. We give the first time in an amount we feel comfortable giving, then assess how our money is being put to work and give again if we agree with the way the agency or person is managing the money (sometimes it’s hard to tell so we use annual reports, first hand accounts, stories from those who have been served etc.). I have no problem saying, “no” to charities or not giving again to agencies who I feel haven’t managed our money well.
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    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for the details regarding how you assess how your money has been used. I will think over more how we might implement that.

  14. I guess I am a bit indecisive about long term giving. I have set up monthly contributions for up to a year at a time, but have always found some other cause that I wanted to support. Kind of like spreading it around a bit, maybe. The only thing I see as always ongoing as long as we can possibly afford it is a small scholarship fund at my former high school for the highest GPA in the most difficult science classes. I received many scholarships, and I want to donate as much as possible to that type of endeavor. Eventually, I’d love to increase this or expand to the high school in our current community.

    I think if you truly believe in this project, go for it. If your mind or situation changes, it does. People in this type field have to know that donations are not a given. Congrats on finding something you are passionate about.
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    1. Emily says:

      That’s awesome that you are supporting a scholarship fund! As a B-student myself, though, I don’t like that it’s GPA-determined!! 😉 We have given to a scholarship fund at our college but only sporadically.

  15. Kate says:

    I only support places that have a 501c3 so I can get a tax write off. Whenever I give, I check out the charity on to make sure the expenses are in line with the amount the organization gives. I don’t give to individuals, I don’t give to the charity muggers on the street (they give very little back to the organization that they’re fronting for) and I don’t give to phone solicitations.
    The only exception is that I did give $25,000 to my goddaughter over four years so she could go to college. I did not get a tax write off, it has a financial sacrifice, but after her father died suddenly, it was the only she could go. I will be finally done with that obligation next month-she’s graduating with 3.8 average and will have a job lined up in her chosen field. So in that respect, it was a very good decision.

    1. Emily says:

      We are fairly selective about the organizations we give to as well, but I like giving to local food banks and homeless shelters so I don’t check up on their ratings. Since we don’t itemize our deductions we aren’t concerned about whether a gift is a tax write-off, but we will be much more vigilant about that when we start itemizing!

      That is wonderful that you gave so much money so freely to that young lady and I’m so glad to hear that she has succeeded in her endeavors!

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  18. Lucas says:

    Been on travel, so bit late with comment but I thought I would share.

    We give monthly and the majority of our giving is to our Church, but we also support 3 reputable organizations, as well as 5 individual missionaries that we know personally. The organizations and individuals have largely been the same for the past 8 years (we added one individual, removed one who was transitioning to comercial job), but we have adjusted the amounts up and down over time depending on what where we felt God directing us to give. I understand the desire not to want to disapoint or remove support from anyone, but you have to realize that God is bigger than your monthly support amount. It is our responsibility to give back, chearfully, and with the wisdom and direction that God has given us. I can’t guarentee that everyone would respond this way, but everyone we have supported has been increadibly understanding as we have had to adjust the numbers.

    Practically speaking we have given a couple months notice when we have had to decrease amounts, but havn’t bothered to notify when we are increasing.

    Over all I would encourage supporting individuals not only becuase early church history has tons of examples of that (in addition to supporting the church itself) but also as a great way to “diversify” your giving. I know it sounds a little “wordly”, but I like having eternal return from multiple sources and being involved in some of the most productive ministries (people and organizations) that I know. Again maybe this sounds terrible, but I actually track a rough “eternal investment” number that includes cumulative giving and a 7% APR in addition to my debt (morgage), networth, and investable assets. My plan is for that number to surpase my networth, and it helps me remember that I get eternal return on giving, but no guarentee on other investments.

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for adding your perspective! You are so right that the Gospel will go forward with our without our financial contribution – but we want to be part of it!! I’m glad to hear that decreasing your support hasn’t been an issue. You are supporting a lot of people/organizations! Is your extra-church giving all above the tithe or do you consider it part of the tithe?

      I like the idea of the eternal investment, and it’s actually a concept that this person brought into his pitch to us. I’m not sure I understand how you are calculating your return, though?? It sounds interesting and I’d like to understand!

      1. Lucas says:

        I have thought about it the tithe breakdown in the past, and had people try to convince me that the tithe needed to be only to the church and then other giving was beyond that. So far I havn’t found their arguments or scriptural teaching to sway me from just including it all together. But i am open to being convinced otherwise 🙂 We have swung around on the giving amounts as well, but always stayed above 10% (as high as 17%, and currently around 11%). My wife is naturally more generous than I 🙂 Which leads to why i started trying to track eternal investments.

        For ethernal investment return, I am not really doing anything complicated or extensivly thought out. I wanted to track my giving as a way to encourage more giving and to help me think about eternal impact on a regular basis. I started by just tracking cumulative giving and comparing that to my net invested assets. However the comparison didn’t really work over time due to return coming into the invested assets. So I decided to pick a APR to apply to my cumulative giving that was close to my average return on investments (i picked 7% vs average investment return of close to 8%). There is obviously a return on my giving, but I wouldn’t know how to actually quantify it. At minimum you could use a APR equal to inflation so that you are at least tracking a net present value of cumulative giving.

  19. renee says:

    We’re considering supporting two people right now too, and we have the same fears. The main reason I can see for ending the support is, as you mention in the first comment, someone enters our life in the future that we feel more “connected” to and would like to transfer support at that point. I have to think that “missionaries” are prepared to deal with this situation and to not feel it personally. On the other hand we just may support them for the rest of our lives… more than likely the amount we’re giving now will be a trivial amount in 10 years (if we don’t “up” our support), and also, with our income increase, we’ll be capable of supporting more individuals anyway.

    1. Emily says:

      We took the plunge last night! Like you said, I think they are prepared to handle some flux in their support.

      1. lucas says:

        Good for you!

  20. […] savings expenditures.  But we still had lot of good times!  We went to California for five days, met with a missionary, saw Smash Mouth, saw Kyle’s band play their spring concert, had another couple over for dinner, […]

  21. […] Our giving: For this figure I used our current monthly giving to our church and the missionary we support, the amount we set aside in our charitable giving targeted savings account, and $13 to approximate […]

  22. […] budgeting line items – only our restaurant eating (and maybe a bit of the grocery allocation) and the missionary we support are fully […]

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