The holiday season is here once again, and with the festivities come multiple invitations to give to worthwhile missional causes.

Determining which ones to give to can be painstaking and time consuming. Because of the multiple opportunities and solicitations that come our way, it is important that we are generous and smart in our giving.

Many businesses and foundations have predetermined guidelines for determining the charitable causes to which they will make contributions.

I believe it is possible for individuals and families to make both wise and generous decisions about charitable holiday giving as well, but you need a plan.

At our house, we employ the following guidelines to help us filter through the requests and determine which charities, missions and ministries will go on our Christmas list:

1. Our first gift goes to the mission offering of our church.

Throughout the year, our tithe (the first 10 percent of our income) goes to support the ministries of our church. Primarily, this is an act of obedience in response to what we believe the Bible teaches.

Through the years, however, we have observed that the cumulative projects of a local church make a significant impact on improving individual lives.

So, at Christmas we give an additional gift to the missions offering to support the work of missionaries around the globe.

2. We tend to give to organizations that are faith-based and focused on assisting the “least of these,” those who are disconnected, disadvantaged or disenfranchised.

3. We aim to give to organizations that have low overhead and administrative costs.

We don’t want to give to an organization that exists to sustain itself. We want to give to organizations that provide a monumental service to people in need or that serve as conduits to get funds and resources to people in need.

4. We give to organizations that have demonstrated accountability, those who have a reputable board of advisers and a reporting mechanism to let us know where previous gifts have been used.

5. We determine not to do “guilt giving” or to respond to “arm-twisting requests.”

We are motivated more by the missional pulse of a group or project than by the emotional plea of the one making the request.

6. We do not give directly to persons on the street, at intersections or interstate ramps.

Our experience is that people are most effectively helped through missional organizations and relationships.

We do offer to help get persons on the street to our mission center for assistance or offer to buy them a meal, but we do not give money, simply because of the high rate of manipulation and addiction among regular panhandlers.

7. We recognize that some good organizations will be left out of our giving plan.

There are thousands of organizations, ministries and causes that are trustworthy, accountable and effective, but we cannot support all of them. There are hundreds we would like to support, but our resources are limited.

So, we choose a few of those organizations or projects that fit our criteria and we give to them cheerfully.

8. We give ourselves a matching challenge that helps us to give generously and according to how we have been blessed.

We try to give an amount equal to the total of what we spend on gifts for family and friends. For example, if we spend $1,200 on gifts, we will also give a matching $1,200 to missions or charitable causes.

Other friends of ours gift an amount equal to their season tickets for college football or an amount equivalent to their annual dues at the country club.

9. We have transitioned to electronic giving if the recipient organization provides a secure web portal for contributions.

E-giving transfers our gift to the organization more quickly and it gives us an immediate receipt of the contribution.

10. We re-evaluate who we are giving to each year and do not automatically give this year to the same groups as last year.

As we grow and learn better stewardship practices, we realize that we are not liable for supporting every worthy cause. However, we are accountable to God for the resources placed within our care.

We have the privilege, especially during the holidays, of generously discerning from among many worthwhile causes those projects and organizations we will support.

As you plot and plan your holiday giving, don’t be overwhelmed with guilt for not supporting every single cause.

Be generous and smart. Give to those causes that have a proven track record of ministering to spiritual, physical and emotional needs.

Barry Howard serves as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Florida, a leadership coach with the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) and a board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Barry’s Notes. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @BarrysNotes.

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