My local Christian radio station was asking for money yesterday.
There are two ways to look at that. The first would be to say: “Stop asking. You just had your share-a-ton two months ago. You’ve received enough from the people of this city, and if it wasn’t not enough to make your budget, deal with it.”
This way looks at society as doing the radio station a favor to let it be on the air. Sure, we’ll help you a little bit when it’s convenient, but please don’t ask for too much. We have other things going on.
Looking at things in this way would be wrong. Very, very wrong.
The second way to look at this says: “This station is worthy of being supported. Giving to this cause is not simply a discretionary act; the station deserves it’s support. It ought to be the case that many people give.”
This second way to look at things is the right way. For it realizes that we are not the ones who are doing the radio station a favor by “letting it exist if we give,” but rather the radio station is doing us a favor.
It is doing us a favor in two senses. First, it is doing us a favor simply by operating and proclaiming it’s message — even if we ourselves are not the primary listeners. It’s existence serves the public good. Second, it is doing us a favor by not insisting on its rights.
It is not insisting on its rights because it doesn’t require payment, but instead humbly asks for support, without creating a sense of obligation. I realize that there wouldn’t be a practical way to require payment to listen to a radio station. But to focus on that would be to miss my point.
What I mean is this: If you go to Target, you have to pay for what you get. So also if you go to Applebee’s or Amazon. They have a right to charge, and they do.
But when you benefit from a non-profit (either directly, in the case of a radio station, or indirectly, because it is an avenue through which we can help make the world a better place), you often don’t have to pay for what you get. This can have the side effect of making it look like what they do is not as worthy of payment as what Target or Amazon or Applebee’s does. It makes it look like they exist simply by virtue of the sheer grace of our society and a few generous donors, whereas for-profits deserve to exist (assuming people are willing to purchase their goods at a profit).
But, as is often the case, the appearances here are upside down.
It is not that “payment optional” means “less worthy to exist” and “payment required” means “we are the greatest thing since sliced bread — people pay for what we offer.”
“Payment optional” may in fact be a humble indication, in God’s design, that says: “The work this organization is doing is so important that people aren’t charged for it. The fact that the organization has to depend upon gifts is not a sign that it is less important, but is actually an indication that what they are doing is even more worthy of existing than many of the things that you pay for every day.”
This is not to diminish the great work that business accomplishes. Business serves society and is a high calling. It is a fundamental component not only of how society operates, but also for how we need to address many long-term societal problems (such as poverty in the developing world).
My point here is simply this: don’t conclude from the humble, simple requests that so many non-profits are making this time of year into thinking that non-profits are merely “nice-to-haves” that we do the favor of keeping in existence. Instead, realize that the fact that they are dependent upon gifts is, perhaps, precisely the mark that they are doing great work, perhaps some of the most important in the world.
Which means: your opportunity to give is an opportunity to be a part of something great. Take this opportunity at the end of the year to give.
And, since it’s also the end of the decade, maybe even give a little more.