While I may have different priorities that govern my own giving, I find Chuck Feeney’s example both inspiring and instructive. I remember many years ago as an offering was being received in a church camp-meeting, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper to me: “That which is given in life is more precious than that which is given in death.” Although charitable giving from your estate by means of your last will and testament is a good thing (I believe every Christian should at the very least tithe in death from their estate as they did in life!), giving while you are still alive positions you to personally ensure your gifts have the impact you desire. It also affords you the privilege of seeing their fruit with your own eyes.
Sadly, the American economic landscape is littered with examples of people who left fortunes to perpetual endowments in order to fund things dear to their hearts, including the preaching of the Gospel, that are today being redirected to causes antithetical to the original donor’s intent. As a case in point, I vividly remember leafing through a thick paperback book listing all of the scholarship funds available at one of America’s most elite universities. I was grieved as I saw page after page of entries detailing endowments that had been set up over a century prior in order to fund ongoing Christian missionary activity in specific parts of the world. In spite of the fact that the school in question was founded by Christian revivalists, today that same institution is renowned as one of the most socially liberal in the nation, one which whose leadership would likely be vehemently opposed to training and sending out Bible-believing missionaries. I am not privy to the details of how those funds are currently being dispersed, but I am quite confident it is for things that would grieve the hearts of the original donors.
Given the rather appalling track record of many Christian institutions at staying true over the centuries to their founding purposes, and the total absence of any biblical basis for perpetual giving arrangements, I urge you who are followers of Jesus Christ to only make outright gifts, whether in life or in death, or otherwise to arrange for the funds from your donation to be distributed over a finite and relatively short number of years instead of in perpetuity, i.e., by funding term endowments instead of perpetual endowments. I know full well the mathematical arguments regarding the power of compound interest set forth by financial advisors as to why we should make “gifts that keep on giving,” in other words to set up entities that only distribute gains and never principal, so that over the long-term we end up giving a larger amount. However, that perspective on philanthropy, I stress again, is utterly without any biblical foundation.
If ensuring the long-term survival of a ministry you hold dear is what motivates you to consider a “perpetual giving” approach to your stewardship, then please prayerfully consider the following: If after your passing, the institution you love today continues to further God’s purposes, carry His blessing, and attract the favor of His people, then the Lord will continue to provide for it and the hearts of His people will be continue to be moved to support it. On the other hand, if at some future point that entity changes to the extent that God withdraws His hand of blessing from it and withholds His provision to it, would you really want your money to be go on funding something God is displeased with? In such a case, it would actually be better for that institution to be forced to close its doors than to continue operating because of your historical largesse.
Be all of that as it may, in the final analysis, robbing future generations of future leaders of the necessity to seek God’s face for direction while also trusting Him for provision as they act in obedience to His revealed will, would more likely prove to be a curse than a blessing. Provision or the lack thereof is one of the clearest and kindest ways God has to train us, pace us, and direct us as we serve Him. That is true today and it will always be true tomorrow. As the biographical profile in this article vividly illustrates, when it comes to money, sometimes the “children of this world” are wiser than “the children of light.” (Luke 16:8) May God help us learn from their example!