What’s ‘Almsgiving’ all about?

By | June 9, 2017

When we first start talking about almsgiving, we need to ask ourselves, ‘What’s it all about?” As Socrates most famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” If we don’t understand the ‘why’ behind our activities, we’ll never really know if ‘what’ we’re doing is the right thing in the first place.

It’s not all about the money

A woman giving almsFirst off, it’s not all about the money. Giving alms is bigger than money. Money is just a medium of economic exchange. A means to accomplish an end. It drives me crazy when I hear stewardship campaign’s talk about giving our ‘treasure’. Money isn’t treasure, it’s pieces of paper or numbers in a computer that everyone has agreed has a certain value. My treasures are my faith, my family, and my friends.

That being said, your fundraising activities should generate enough income for you to accomplish your mission. To be a good steward, it is important that you track the effectiveness of your fundraising strategy, and how much money you raise is an important indication that your plans are working. (or not working)

You just have to be sure that you don’t let money be the ‘main thing.’ People can tell when you only care about the money, and they rightly resent feeling treated like your personal piggy bank. You might get one donation with this approach, but over the long-term it’s a dead-end.

Donor centric fundraising

A lot of development professionals talk about being ‘donor centric’. This means they try to put the donor’s experience at the heart of what they do. It means that you don’t view the person based on what you can get out of them, but rather what they get out of giving. You focus more on creating the relationship with a donor than on getting an individual donation.

This is a powerful way to think about fundraising, because it helps you connect to people and people to connect with your mission. You’re inspire them and get them involved in the mission of the organization. They become passionately involved in what you’re doing. Whether it’s a church, a food pantry, or a homeless shelter, you want your donor to feel connected and involved with the good that the donation makes possible.

This approach is great and should not be neglected, but still doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.

God at the center

Fundamentally, giving alms is about giving to God. When you give to the Church, you are giving to God in the mystical Body of Christ. When you give to the poor, you are giving to God, according to Jesus’s instruction, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do for Me.”

Almsgiving is supernatural. And it’s supernatural in a way that giving your local animal shelter or Orchestra will never be. Not that those things aren’t good and shouldn’t get donations. But they are a different kind of giving than a gift to the Church or to the poor.

Change of hearts

The almoner, then, has a privileged role of leading people into an encounter with God through their giving. This is a special way of inviting people to deeper conversion, one that has deep roots in the Gospel.

God doesn’t need our money. He already created everything out of nothing and holds it in being simply because He wants to. He is the perfect model of generosity. Rather, we NEED to give, because in doing so we begin to live according to the infinite generosity that He models for us.

So when you’re asking people to give alms, you are inviting them to live the Gospel more fully, to enter into the economy of the gift that forms the foundation of the Kingdom of God. God first gives us life, then gives us salvation through His Son, and we are called to respond in kind. Almsgiving is about inviting people who have received mercy to practice mercy. And when they practice mercy, they will again experience mercy.

Almsgiving is fundraising in the name of mercy.


Fundraising got your head spinning? Don’t know quite where to start? Check out Key Concepts and learn the basic ideas that will help you build and maintain a strong and growing donor base.

Image courtesy of Wilhelm Amandus Beer, via the Public Domain.