IN THE shadow of the cost-of-living crisis, Christian givers have not stinted. Instead, the amount given to the donor-advised fund Stewardship has risen by ten per cent to nearly £110 million over the past financial year.
More than 30,000 Christians are being what the fund calls “actively generous” and making regular use of its giving platform. Through it, they are supporting more than 4000 churches, 2300 Christian workers, and 6000 charities.
The causes listed on Stewardship’s site are diverse, from helping Dr Krish Kandiah to launch the Sanctuary Foundation for refugees last year to staging the UK’s first-ever mainstream gospel-music festival, earlier this month, in Liverpool.
Grant money enabled Spring Harvest to go online during the pandemic. Grant funds also paid for a van that became the supply line for 30 foodbanks in Northern Ireland.
Donors use Stewardship like a bank. They open an account and use it to control their donations. One direct-debit payment can support as many causes as donors want to. They do not need to share their data every time they respond to an appeal.
Donors build up a “giving portfolio”, and organise it all from their account. They can view transaction reports, and even give anonymously.
One donor said: “It changed my way of thinking. I’m giving, I’m behind them — not just with my prayers, not just with my emotions, but with my finances as well.”
In addition, Stewardship’s “Instant Gift Aid” boosts givers’ support by 25 per cent at the point of donation. Stewardship underwrites the value of the Gift Aid claims that it expects to receive from HMRC at a later date, meaning that the charities that it supports do not have to claim it from the taxman.
The organisation also helps new charities to get started, issues loans to churches, and, through its partner account for individuals, assists Christian workers and Bible-college students in raising and managing support.
For those who have larger amounts to give — more than £25,000 a year — Stewardship offers a range of philanthropy services, such as social-impact investing, legacy and estate giving, international grant-making, and research services. If you want to help others with a windfall, Stewardship offer the benefits of a charitable trust. You don’t have to go to the bother of starting one.
This work started in 1906. A small group of philanthropists and church workers sought to establish a better way to support Christian ministries in the UK and overseas. Originally the East of England Evangelization Trust, and formed at first to hold the freehold of Brethren property, Stewardship is now a professional company based near the Barbican, in London. Its website has an up-to-the-minute look and content. At the time of writing, the site was alerting visitors to Moroccan-earthquake appeals (News, 15 September).
The chief executive officer is Stewart McCulloch. As this article was being prepared, it was announced that he was leaving at the end of this year to take over at Christians Against Poverty. But he talks warmly about the work at Stewardship.
CAPStewart McCulloch, Stewardship’s outgoing CEO
He attends an Anglican church, and says that the Church of England is well represented in Stewardship’s work, though it sits alongside other giving platforms, such as the Parish Giving Scheme, or the ChurchSuite management system.
“You’ve got a whole variety of choices that churches have for how they manage their giving,” he said. “What makes Stewardship distinctive is that we partner with both givers and the causes they support; we are very much focused on administering the gifts in a way pleasing to God and man, as in Corinthians 8.21. We’re also focused on making the cake bigger, by helping more Christians into the joy of giving.
“How do you foster church giving; and then, also, how does that then stretch out into missional giving from the Church as a community, and then out into personal giving? So, we have a slightly different perspective to others.”
The website allows for one-off gifts to charities, but works best for regular giving. Mr McCulloch says: “All the time, we’re working on customer journeys that welcome people in, that help them as they go, spot if they have a problem, and guide them through a process, but also give them opportunities to realise what they’re getting involved in. It’s all very transparent.”
Stewardship not only creates an account for Christians to manage their giving, but also creates opportunities for them to give. That included helping the Good Faith Foundation to launch the “Warm Welcome” initiative last winter (News, 9 December 2022), by which a coalition of charities invited churches and community centres to open their doors to people struggling to heat their homes.
Besides encouraging donors to give directly, Stewardship prepared a fund-raising toolkit and accompanying resources. It also set up a Cost of Living Response Fund to facilitate donations to charities dealing with people in the greatest need, such as a foodbank that had to cope with increased demand, or a church having to deal with a broken boiler.
Stewardship monitors trends, such as how much of an impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on households. “We’ve seen a lot of trends towards people giving to the foodbank charities,” Mr McCulloch explained. “It used to be you didn’t donate money, you donated food. But now, the demand is so high, that they need money as much as they need food; so we are able to follow those structural trends. What we’re doing is, we’re informing donors of their opportunities.”
A Stewardship grant funded this van for Lisburn Foodbank to take food around Northern Ireland
Stewardship funds itself by taking a percentage from donations. As a not-for-profit organisation, services are charged for at cost: there are no account-opening or monthly subscription fees; instead, it takes a 3.5-per-cent fee from amounts given, including Gift Aid (when it applies).
“It’s all in the balance of dealing with large numbers, and then taking tiny amounts from them. It’s a very standard approach, and we’re among the cheapest solutions to that — very much so.”
Mr McCulloch believes that there are “lots of small incremental benefits” to opening an account with Stewardship. “But the big one, I think, is being in Christian community, being in fellowship. There’s something theologically sound about never doing anything quite on your own.
“You get a real sense of, ‘Right, I can be very satisfied with what I’m doing, and I’ll be able to see what else I might be interested in.’ I think that’s where the real difference is.”
Clive Price is Communications Manager for the Methodist Ministers’ Housing Society, and runs his own media consultancy.