We first met for afternoon tea in the Members’ Room of my central London club. He had spent his working life visiting Christian community charities and writing them cheques from his family’s foundation. He was in the habit of giving the charity a sealed envelope with the cheque in when he arrived, so that there was no sense that he was there to assess their work, simply to appreciate it.
Over the sandwiches, scones, cakes and tea we conspired for the kingdom a crazy idea, one that a number of well-respected Christian leaders later advised us not to do. We would launch a ‘Dragon’s Den’-style event for the benefit of small Christian community charities. The sort of charities that are so busy doing the work they have little time to raise money and that certainly don’t have the benefit of working with professional fundraisers let alone major donor fundraisers.
We selected five charities and invited them to an event where they were asked to pitch their project in six minutes and then take questions from an audience of Christian philanthropists. At the end of the evening I led the audience in prayer and invited them to pledge. Despite the naysayers, the format was a huge success. We did it several times over the next few years and would typically raise £50,000-£100,000 each time, a total of over £1million from a small group of donors.
God and his people are incredibly generous.
A couple of years later I started Cinnamon Network, with the goal of making it as easy as possible for local churches to work with civic organisations to serve people at need in their communities. We created a menu of 30 of the best church-based community mission projects so that local churches could take something ‘off the shelf’ rather than having to reinvent the wheel. Then we wanted to offer micro-grants of £2,000 to any Christian church towards the start-up costs of one of the Cinnamon Recognised Projects, but where would the funding come from?
At that time the Government launched the Social Action Fund. Making the case that we are faith based not faith biased – i.e. we do what we do because of Jesus Christ, but we serve people indiscriminately, regardless of their faith and background – we secured a grant of £500,000. This funded the early development of how we wanted to help local churches. Less than a year into the programme the Government explained they had a surplus of cash, and because we were exceeding all our targets they would like to give us a top-up grant! Another £500,000 followed. I should no longer be surprised but I confess I am… Government, businesses, police and many others value what the church does in the community and are willing to fund us to do more of it.
When Cinnamon Network first registered as a charity we were spending £20,000 a month, with anticipated first year costs of £240,000. I had no idea where the money was going to come from, so I went to see a friend who both encouraged and challenged me. He offered to donate £40,000 a year if I found five other people to do the same! I left the meeting both blessed and burdened. Within two months I found three people who wanted to give a full share of £40,000 and six people who wanted to give a half share of £20,000. Major gifts like this make a huge difference to the growth and impact of charities.
There are many universal questions that are only accentuated by great wealth: how much is enough? How well should we live? How much, if anything, should we leave our children? How do we make a difference with all that God has given us? One of the things I have learnt is that a life motivated by what you get is true poverty and a life defined by what you give is true wealth.
As Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”