A clergy friend asked me yesterday why I like denominational foundations so much. He noted that I seem to always be recommending them, and wondered if we were somehow connected. The quick answer was that my company has absolutely no say so with any foundation, and no foundation holds any equity stake, but we are both 100% committed to the growth and development of the church. Then he asked, “Aren’t they just like a bank or investment firm?” It was obvious that this minister really did not understand his foundation at all, or why his church needed the foundation.
So, why do I love foundations? It really comes down to four main things:
1. They are in the same business the church is in.
They are an arm of the church. Their highest allegiance is not to stockholders or to obtain a certain profit margin. Their highest allegiance is in seeing that the church is served. Your success and their success is intertwined. On many an occasion, I have witnessed foundations advise a church to take certain actions, not because they are trying to please the client, but because they are trying to be faithful to the mission of making disciples. A private business or bank by necessity has a different set of priorities.
2. They reinvest in you.
All foundations and investment firms manage money. This is important and you should demand appropriate returns on any investment they make on the church’s behalf. It is smart to compare apple to apple returns from foundation managers and bank managers. You will see that in almost all cases our foundations compete exceptionally well. The big difference is in how their income is then used. An investment firm will roll that profit back into the firm in higher salaries, benefits, or dividends to its stockholders. Nothing wrong with that. If I had stock in a bank, I would expect to reap a return on my investment. A denominational foundation, however, reinvests a significant portion of its profit back into the church. They offer scholarships, seminars, grants for building or missions, and a whole host of wonderful things that help the church do its mission.
3. They are a part of the church’s staff.
A for-profit institution must spend time with the clients that bring them the most financial benefit. That is good business. A foundation will work with anyone or any church that needs attention in fulfilling the mission of the church. Just yesterday, I was visiting with a foundation director who was helping a 50 member church with a program to teach members about planned giving opportunities. This little church was utilizing this highly trained person in the same way a 1,000 member church would. No difference. What a gift. This church cannot afford the music talent of the big church. They cannot get a highly skilled youth minister to meet with their youth on Sunday nights, but they can get the best available to teach and lead their church to develop an endowment and manage planned and estate gifts just like the big dog.
4. They are mission-driven.
Foundation leaders are a unique combination of highly skilled financial professionals and servant leaders. They fully understand that they will go out of business if either of two things happens: 1) They fail to produce adequate returns on the funds they have invested. They welcome comparisons with other investment managers and are willing to go head to head on pure business measurements. 2) It is determined that they were not serving the mission of their individual church clients or the denomination that they are chartered under. In other words, they must be excellent stewards of the resources that ultimately belong to the Lord. Every foundation I work with actively invites persons to look into how they give back.
Friends, it is not hard to see why I love working with denominational foundations and why I will continue to recommend that every church does so as well. They are in many ways, the best of who we are as the church.