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How to Have Hard Benevolence Conversations

Written by Christine Bove on Jun 25, 2020 in Finance Management

To say that there is so much going on in the world now would be an understatement. We know that families are under stress. We know that church communities are struggling now more than ever to keep everyone engaged in community. We know many individuals are at their lowest physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Everyone in some way has felt the effects of the current events going on all around us. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, financial needs have greatly increased. While the government’s subsidized check provided short-term relief, people are still struggling during these times of crisis.

As a ministry leader, how do you handle the increased needs of your community?

You use your benevolence program and rely on other organizations around you to help.

You can helpbut not everyone.

The Bible addresses what benevolence is in 1 John 3:17-18 (NIV).

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

This is a powerful description of the calling of the church: serving one another in love. The Body of Christ is called to care.

It’s hard to tell someone “no” when they are desperately hurting or are needing help—especially when we are called to care for people and take care of them.

The biggest issue is that benevolence programs have their limits. Not only are there financial qualifications that need to be met, but also giving limitations placed by the IRS. 

The IRS has strict guidelines governing what is considered taxable and non-taxable income. Benevolence given by a nonprofit organization is completely tax-free to the recipient. Whoever receives the donation from the nonprofit must be truly impoverished or in dire need of financial assistance.

For a clear understanding of who is eligible for financial benevolence assistance, refer to the Internal Revenue Service regulations and tax codes: Treasury Regulation 1.170A-4A(b)(2)(ii)(D). This document defines who is considered “needy” and provides guidelines to determine if a benevolence contribution is non-taxable to the donor and recipient.

It states: "A needy person is a person who lacks the necessities of life, involving physical, mental, or emotional well-being, as a result of poverty or temporary distress.”

So while you will come into contact with many truly “needy” people, you have to understand that you are not able to help everyone.

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How to have the hard conversation.

There are good reasons to say “no” to someone. Maybe there are not enough finances within your budget. Perhaps you don’t offer assistance in their area of need. Either way, your “no” is valid and can still be honoring.

When denying someone benevolence assistance, you want to give the person as much honor as possible.

We recommend using the “grace sandwich” method. This means you begin with empathy, say “no” in the middle, and give hope at the end. 

Let's break this down a little further.

Lead with empathy.

Everyone wants to be heard and truly listened to. When you are going to tell someone “no”, let them know you empathize with their situation. 

Empathy is different than sympathy. Sympathy acknowledges and justifies, but it does not progress toward a helpful change. Empathy, on the other hand, acknowledges the pain and reality of the situation but does not entertain staying stuck in the same issues. The goal is to always keep progressing further toward a solution. 

Acknowledge their reality and their current pain. Validate what they are going through. Offer compassion and understanding. 

An example of leading with empathy is: 

“Dear Pat, 

Thank you for applying to our benevolence program. We are truly sorry your son is going through a difficult time riddled with strife and addiction. 

We have reviewed your benevolence application requesting two months’ worth of housing for your son.”

Set the expectations.

You are not able to accept everyone’s requests for benevolence. You will want to have made it clear from the beginning that not all requests will be accepted.

When explaining “no,” go into details of why. 

    • Why did they not receive the request? 
    • Was it because they are at their limit for the year? 
    • Is it because it goes against the organization’s beliefs? 
    • Is it because they are not a member? 
    • Is it because there was not enough information provided? 
    • Is it because the amount requested is too high? 

And the list of questions continues.

You want to be very sincere when explaining your denial. It is easier to accept a “no” when one can understand the reasoning behind the decision.

To continue from our earlier example, an example of saying “no” is: 

“After careful consideration, we are unable to fulfill your request at this time. This is due to a couple of reasons:

    • Your son does not want to change his lifestyle of continued use of alcohol and drugs.
    • We do not offer financial assistance for residential care for those suffering with addiction.”

Give them hope.

While you may not assist them through your benevolence program, you can offer them other resources or referrals to other organizations to help them. 

It is best to not leave someone empty-handed after a denial. The best way to give someone hope is to give them practical next steps on where they can go or what they can do.

Do you have a list of other organizations that specialize in what they need? Do you have financial counseling resources to send to them? Do you have a curriculum you can give them?

An example of giving hope:

“While our benevolence program does not offer housing for addiction struggles, we have partnered with several other organizations within the state who are far better able to serve your son. 

Please refer to this list of recommended organizations who help with addiction recovery:

Addiction Recovery Directory 

As we reviewed your application, we prayed specifically for you and your son by name. 

While our program is not able to help, we serve a God that can help and open doors and opportunities for you. We pray God will provide for you and your son.

If you have more questions regarding our decision or our references we provided, please feel free to call or email our church office.”

You can close the letter or the conversation after the referral list and prayer.

When you can’t help, pray.

The best tool for giving someone hope is through prayer. You can use the example as a written letter or to format a conversation. 

It is important to close the conversation with a prayer. God is the best source of hope. 

Offering prayer to someone shows you truly care, even though you were not able to provide for their immediate needs. Prayer is also truly transformational. God provides in extraordinary ways; we just need to ask for it.

Whether you are giving a letter of denial or telling a person directly from across a table, the “grace sandwich” is an excellent method for honoring someone you are denying.

Living in a state of dependence upon others is a humbling experience. You can edify and encourage those whom you serve not only by what you give but how you give it.

Pray for them and guide them to alternative resources. You may not be able to take care of someone, but that doesn’t mean another organization or ministry isn’t able to. 

A resource to establish your benevolence program

As the Body of Christ, we are called to meet the needs of those not only in our churches, but also those within our communities. While generosity and benevolent acts are a part of the Church’s DNA, it is common for many churches to give benevolence without a comprehensive plan. 

That's why we created the Called to Care Suite for ministry leaders and pastors. With this new resource, you'll have the guidance and tools you need to establish your benevolence program. Throughout the Called to Care Suite, you will explore the keys to creating a program that helps your church fulfill its mission of honoring God through serving the physical needs of those in distress.

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Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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