Faith and Philanthropy

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.  Hebrews 13:16

Many communities of faith* and funders in Greenville County have in common their gifts of time and money to support local nonprofit organizations.  Motives for giving may be in religious scripture, IRS regulations, sponsorship and naming opportunities, or a desire to see a better Greenville County, but the end result is that “charities” – both secular and faith-based – are receiving funds from a potentially wide array of donors.

The November 2016 Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy meeting brought GPP members – organizational funders – together with representatives from Greenville County faith communities to discuss their commonalities and differences.  Eleanor Dunlap and Laura Caligan-Gilliam with the Graham Foundation, Pastor Sean Dogan with Long Branch Baptist Church, Susan McClarty with Westminster Presbyterian Church, Frances Poe with Christ Church Episcopal, and Laura Stout with First Baptist Greenville helped organize the meeting.

Prior to the meeting, twenty churches participated in a survey about their giving.  The churches were varied in size of membership (ranging from less than 100 active members to more than 1,000) and annual giving budgets (less than $10,000 to more than $300,000 annually).  In total, the respondents gave somewhere between $1.3 and $2.6 million last year.

Almost all of the churches gave funds to emergency relief – through both secular and faith-based organizations – and made in-kind donations of food.  Many gave specifically to United Ministries, GAIHN, Triune Mercy Center, and Habitat for Humanity.  Volunteer work was also important to the majority of respondents, who offered programs for the community at their church and who also provided services at partner organizations.

Most of the respondents said that their financial giving to local mission work was driven by a congregational committee with guidance from a staff person.  This has advantages of bringing different perspectives to the process and engaging the member-donors in the work.  But it also presents a challenge of maintaining continuity of relationships and knowledge if the committee changes from year to year and requires the support of strong staff who are able to connect with and be knowledgeable of local nonprofits.

The faith communities that responded were allowed to pose questions about the practice of philanthropy, and these echoed themes that GPP members have discussed in previous meetings:

Does it make sense for us to focus – perhaps to give more money to fewer organizations or to give to only one issue area? Can we be more impactful if we focus? If we do, what happens to the issues and organizations we no longer fund?

How do we appropriately engage our members in hands-on work? It can be helpful to give members the opportunity to witness first hand community needs and ways to help, but are we doing it in a way that is truly helpful to both the nonprofit and the “beneficiary” individual?

How can we coordinate with other funders and bigger community efforts? If, for example, a community initiative around affordable housing is underway, how does a faith community plug in? Its members’ voices and opinions can be even more valuable than the church’s funds.  But engaging at this level can be difficult if the church is small and doesn’t have staff to participate in these conversations or if the church is large and has members used to “leading” or being experts.

Are the nonprofits we fund effective? How can we tell if we don’t know how to evaluate or have the staff to do so?

Are we making a difference? Can we make a bigger difference together?

Faith community representatives and GPP members briefly discussed some of these themes in small groups.  Church representatives acknowledged their challenges in giving, which include their members giving to local charities on their own rather than through the church, which puts a strain on the church’s ability to fund nonprofits.  Still, churches are beginning to look at “upstream” causes of social problems, rather than just responding to emergency situations.  There are just as many differences in giving among communities of faith as there are among GPP funders; some churches accomplish their work by giving to organizations while others give to individuals in need or for business or educational pursuits, for instance.

Participants at several tables felt it would be helpful to identify a community-wide agenda – four or five initiatives of community-wide importance – and to list ways the churches and other groups could be supportive.  They were particularly interested in being engaged in the affordable housing issue, for example.

Participants from the faith community were eager to learn more about how to be effective with their gifts of time and money and how to be a part of making Greenville a great place for all of God’s people.  We look forward to continuing the conversation!

Click here for the full presentation from the meeting.

*While representatives from a range of faith traditions were invited to the meeting, because of schedules and/or interest, only Christian churches attended the session, so the terms “communities of faith” and “churches” are used interchangeably.  We recognize, though, that Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and other religious communities are an active and growing part of the fabric of Greenville.   

Participating in the session and/or the survey:

  • Advent United Methodist Church
  • Aldersgate United Methodist Church
  • Augusta Heights Baptist Church
  • Augusta Road Baptist Church
  • Bethlehem Baptist Church
  • Buncombe Street United Methodist Church
  • Cedar Grove Baptist Church
  • Christ Church Episcopal
  • Earle Street Baptist Church
  • Eastminster Presbyterian Church
  • First Presbyterian Church Greer
  • Grace Church
  • Greenville First Baptist
  • Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
  • Lee Road United Methodist Church
  • Long Branch Baptist Church
  • Mountain View Baptist Church
  • Nicholtown Missionary Baptist Church
  • Our Eyes Were Opened
  • Our Savior Lutheran Church
  • Pelham Road Baptist Church
  • Soteria Christian Fellowship
  • Matthew Baptist Church
  • Travelers Rest United Methodist Church
  • Triune Mercy Center
  • United Ministries
  • Westminster Presbyterian Church



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