The pleas are everywhere - on the subway, on the TV, on your Facebook ad sidebar, and in glossy flyers tumbling out of your morning paper: "Please give." Dozens of charitable organizations in Toronto are doing great work for hundreds of worthy causes in our city and around the world. These causes arrest us and concern us; the needs upset us and the solutions excite us. But then the reality check: I'm limited. I can't give to everything. I'm already giving to so many. Do I choose then to be calloused? Or depressed? Or guilted into cynicism in this age of charity fatigue? Whether you're a passionate Jesus-follower, a devout Muslim, a responsible citizen, or anyone else, you're haunted by the reality of a big heart and a limited bank account just like your neighbour in a world that desperately cries for help.
This week, Mark sits down with Eric Frans, CFRE and Director of Philanthropy with World Relief Canada; he helps us navigate this quandary. Sure, he's a guy who raises money for great causes. But just like you and I, he's faced with the same choices about how to give to what every day. And that intersection makes him just the person to ask. Eric and Mark talk Texas (where Eric originates), the work of World Relief Canada, the ethical standards of the Integral Alliance, and best and worst practices in fundraising. Then Eric shifts into how to help us connect with causes that excite us an impassion us - not only for our sake and those we support, but also so that new prospective supporters can share in efforts that resonate with them, too. Finally, Eric shares how he perceives God's heart for the world, how the way we are wired in the image of God compels us to give, and how theology and faith have shaped his journey and changed as that journey has progressed.
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Notable Quotes from Eric Frans:
"How can I make people care? At the end of the day, there's a lot of charities that work internationally that do good work. They may do it in different ways and in different places, but they do good work. And so as a donor, how do you decide who to give to? And trying to get your attention and say, 'This organization, they just do things differently.' So for me, it's, 'How do I figure out what it is you care about and help connect you to what it is you care about?'"
"Three organizations may be working in the same country all working on hunger and poverty, but the way they're doing it may differ as far as how you see the world. And so if you can connect with the one that does it the way that means the most to you, quite honestly that's the one you should give to. Whether that's mine or someone else's, find the one that connects with your heart."
"We always walk that balance of 'How do I tell the story in such a way that it engages you and makes you see the need on an emotional level without exploiting either the person I'm showing or you?' And it's a decision that has to be made."
"For me, part of being a CFRE and the ethical agreements that I make are that I don't use especially images that exploit someone who's hungry, who's impoverished, who's dealing with those sorts of things, because the ends don't justify the means. So here's a child who's been exploited because they were abducted, they were forced into war, they've been a child soldier, they've been a sex slave, they did any of these things - so they've been exploited their whole life. Now I'm going to take their picture and exploit them again 'for their own good?' That doesn't make us any better than anyone else. At the end of the day, how you do it matters."
"Exploiting a child so that you can save a child isn't right. And we just don't do it."
"Part of the professionalizing of [fundraising] is making sure the messaging is clear, but it's not exploitative, that it's not abusive, and yet that it's effective. Because at the end of the day, if you don't have the money, you can't do the ministry."
"It's simple: more money, more ministry. But you don't do that at the expense of your own ethics and morals."
"Anytime in the world we start categorizing people saying 'the poor,' 'the hungry,' what we're doing is saying, 'Not us.' And we have this saying: 'There but for the grace of God go I' - which is a great way of patting ourselves on the back and saying, 'Oh but we've got the grace of God.' Because what that means is, 'I've got the grace of God, and they don't.' I think sometimes we use words, we use phrases, and we don't realize the meanings behind them."
"Every time the government changes, how they do international aid changes. I mean, the fact that it just rolled from CIDA into the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development affected everything. Lots of agencies lose funding each year. There is no guarantee; it's a competitive process."
"What is it that you care about? And have you ever stopped and thought about what are the issues facing the world that actually matter to you? Because it's easy to get swept up watching TV - there is always something horrible happening in the world; there is no lack of it. And unfortunately we see it so much with 24 hour news channels and cycles that never end, that we just get calloused."
"It's easy to be calloused and just go, "You know what, it's just too much. And so my perspective is, I don't really want you to care about everything. I don't think we can. I don't think we have that kind of capacity. My belief is that we were created in the image of God. And if were created in the image of God, that means that we mirror a part of God's heart. And none of us has the capacity to care for everything like God does, but I think he created each of us to care about something as deeply as he does. Unfortunately, most of us don't ever spend the time figuring out what that is. Because that requires some introspection, and really looking at our lives. But if you do and you can figure what that is, the beauty of that is, you'll start to resonate with the issues that God created you to care about."
"And then, once you do that, then engaging in it - whether that's being more educated, whether that's volunteering, whether that's giving money, whatever that looks like – becomes a part of who you are. It's not separate. It's who you are, because that's how God created you. And if you can find that and really engage with it, then you'll really feel God reaching down and touching your heart and saying, 'Yeah, that's it. That's who you were created to be. That's what you were created to care about.' And so most of my time is helping people figure out what that is."
"If it ever becomes about just getting money from somebody, then I'm already wrong. It can't be about that. It's got to be about connecting people to what they care about. Even if it's not me. Because that shows you that I care about you. I don't want your money; I want your heart. And I want your heart to be in the right place with the right organization for the right cause."
"I think everybody should be giving; make no mistake. There is to me - I don't want to say a moral imperative, because that implies that there is this obligation; I don't think it's an obligation - I think it's an opportunity. And a great one. And if you can figure out, again, what that cause is, it doesn't hurt to give. There is a joyfulness because it resonates with you and you feel the connection with God when you do it."
"There are people who legitimately say, 'No, there's issues here [locally].' And so I go, 'Fantastic, then engage with those issues here.' Because if the people who truly cared about the issues here engaged with them, it frees up the people who care about issues elsewhere to engage with them. But when people aren't engaging here, these charities are hurting for finances and then people for whom it may not be their cause are giving to them anyways and they're doing sort of the shotgun approach to charity: I'm just going to give a little bit everywhere and hope it helps. Whereas, if everybody really focused on the issue that they cared about, and gave really to it, they could give more and they could make a bigger impact. But it takes everybody doing that."
"God's not broke. God doesn't need our money. He wants us to use it to engage. I don't think he ever gives anyone resources – whether it's a little resources or a lot of resources – so they can be the solution. That's never his point. He gives us resources so that we can realize: no matter how much we have, it's not enough. We can't solve it, and so that's when we go to God."
"I think that's a freeing thing for people. It's not my responsibility to fix these problems. It's my responsibility to trust God. It's my responsibility to engage with it in the places he's called me to engage. And then allow God the freedom to do it."
"The Bible is clear, the poor will always be with us. That doesn't mean we're not supposed to care about the poor. That doesn't mean we'll stop giving to homeless shelters because the poor will always be with us – 'that's a never-ending black hole.' That's not what God was saying. What God was saying is, 'You will have an opportunity to engage forever. There will never be a time that you will have solved everything. Because that's my job. And solving it will look different.'"
"I know the people that have the closest relationships with God and care about others the most are people that I've met in refugee camps and internally displaced people's camps. Who have nothing. Literally nothing. And lost children as they ran and have seen death and have seen starvation and have seen disease take family members and friends, and yet their relationship with God and their understanding of God's grace is so much deeper than those of us who sit over here and have never lost anyone to starvation."
"God was always a part of my life, and I understood him very well. I had constructed quite the elaborate box that he fit really well into. I 'got' God. I knew him. I could explain him. Clearly. 'Cause the Bible was very clear on issues. And then I grew up. And I realized that most of what I knew was wrong, or at least my understanding of it was wrong. And that the Bible is a living book and that there is no one interpretation of it."
"My theology once drove what I do, but now what I do kind of drives my theology in the sense that I understand that God isn't a God of black and white answers. That's not what he's looking for. What he's looking for is for us to embrace the questions."
"When you see people who have what we would call 'nothing' love God with a love that's deeper than anything I can aspire to much less say that I've ever accomplished, you realize that it's not about having the answers. God exists in the in-between. That's where he thrives is in the liminal space, the between – the betwixt and between – where we don't understand and we don't have all the answers. That's where God wants us to live. That's what he wants us to be because that's where we really have no choice but to depend on him."
"When you work in the industry where children die, where people get shot for no reason, where children are sold into slavery or into sex trade and you have no answers, that's where you find God. And it's not that, 'Well if God exists why are those things happening?' I always say, 'Well if we exist, why are we letting them happen?' I think God can ask us the same question: 'Why are you letting it happen?' And I think there's a both/and there. I think we have, if it's not a responsibility, we have an opportunity to get involved to make those things stop. To engage on whatever level we can with whatever resources we can, and then to just say, 'Okay, God, you've got this.'"
"Figure it out. Even if you don't believe that it's God who created you, just figure out why you're here then. Use whatever terminology you use. Why did the universe put you here? And what can I do to make a difference? And do I want to make a difference? And if I do, what's the one area that I want to make a difference in?"
Next Week, Episode 12 >
Guest: Sarah Patterson, D.Min, Spiritual Director