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Posts tagged stewardship

from "Going Green to Be Seen: Status, Reputation, and Conspicuous Conservation," by Vladas Griskevicius, Joshua M. Tybur, and Bram Van der Bergh, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010, Vol. 98, No. 3, 392-404 :: via Kyle Van Houtan

Our findings suggest that marketers of green products are well-advised to clearly link such products to status (e.g., celebrity endorsers, prestigious events), especially when a green product is relatively expensive (e.g., when such products have high development costs and cannot be sold at a loss). As indicated by Study 2, however, a key component of harnessing the power of status motives to benefit social welfare necessitates that the prosocial acts be visible to others, whereby such acts can clearly influence the well-doer’s reputation. For example, nonprofit organizations are well-advised to give their benefactors visible signs, tags, or badges (e.g., the highly visible yellow Livestrong armband signifying cancer donations), so that benefactors can clearly display their self-sacrificing and status-enhancing acts.

A costly signaling framework also suggests that it would be a mistake to link green products to status when such products are relatively cheap because inexpensive products can undermine the signaling of wealth by its owner. Indeed, a key counterintuitive aspect of this framework is that attempts to make green products cheaper, easier to buy, or more time-saving can actually undercut their utility as a signal of environmentalist/altruist dedication. For example, in contrast to standard economic models, a costly signaling framework suggests that electric cars might be seen as more prestigious and more desirable if recharging stations are harder to find and take longer to recharge the batteries, rather than being ubiquitous, fast, and efficient.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

When you start seriously studying the ways American give money, as Christian Smith and his colleagues did for his recent book Passing the Plate, one of the first things you realize is that they give very little.

One of the next things you realize is that they give money mostly to people like themselves, who lead organizations that benefit people like themselves, for causes that matter to people like themselves. And when they do escape from such self-referential giving, it is largely in response to crisis and sentimentality rather than an intentional approach to lasting investment.

Catherine and I have tried over the years to make sure that our giving doesn’t just end up being a tax-deductible subsidy of organizations that serve people like us. We think of it very much like investing. We want to have a “balanced portfolio” in three important dimensions.

1. We want to balance our giving between organizations based in the United States and those based outside (mostly in the developing world, where a dollar often goes incredibly far).

2. We want to give equally to organizations that have non-white-Westerners in major leadership roles and to organizations that are led by people who look like us.

3. And we want to support some organizations where the gift we can afford to make is greater than 1% of their budget (so that we’re making a noticeable impact on their total need) and others where our gift is a smaller portion (but is likely to be used efficiently).

As this snapshot shows, we missed our target this year on domestic versus international giving, but did well on the other two categories. We’ll try to make up the difference in 2009.

Having disciplines like this in place helps us to make good choices among the many opportunities we have to give. And it’s fun to make the little pie charts, too.

excerpt Goat, $75

The early-morning bleating of a dairy goat is a happy sound for children in countries like Haiti and Kenya — they know it’s ready to be milked. A goat nourishes a family with protein-rich milk, cheese, and yogurt, and can offer a much-needed income boost by providing offspring and extra dairy products for sale at the market. It even provides fertilizer that can dramatically increase crop yields!

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Every three months—in March, June, September, and December—the Crouches do something absolutely essential to our spiritual health as a family. We give away a substantial amount of money.

I am not reticent about disclosing the exact amounts that we make, save, spend, and give. In fact I believe that no church or Christian community can be healthy without talking about real dollars rather than the absurdly vague hand-waving that often passes for discussion of financial stewardship. Several times over the past few years I have handed out a complete Crouch family income and expense statement to fellow members of our church. Not so much because we are models of stewardship—we are by many standards absurdly wealthy and absurdly stingy—but because I am convinced that our spiritual health requires transparency and vulnerability in this area. And believe me, distributing a complete statement of how you have handled your money (or, more precisely, the money God has entrusted to you) is transparent and vulnerable!

Disclosing these details online is a different matter. Somehow our culture has gotten things exactly upside down. We are vulnerable and transparent online in ways we never would be in person. This is cheap transparency, based on virtual intimacy, and I won’t indulge in it here.

But at this time when the whole world is reeling from the effects of an economic crisis brought on, among other things, by a series of extraordinary conspiracies of silence about the truth of money—including millions of Americans taking on debts they could not reasonably expect to repay, thousands of companies taking risks they could not calculate using financial instruments no one could understand, and most recently hundreds of investors entrusting their wealth to a man who refused to tell them what he did to make it grow—it seems worth saying that by far the best thing Catherine and I have done with our money, in fat years and lean years, was to give some of it away, and to try to order our lives so that we could give away more and more.

So during these last days of the year, I want to celebrate the cultural goods created by the amazing non-profit organizations Catherine and I have the privilege of supporting. I’ll also post a few thoughts about how we give, and why—in the hope that as all of us prepare for whatever 2009 may bring, we will enter it with the joy of people who have entrusted everything to the one who gave everything for us. Merry Christmas.

from "A Lot of Lattés," by Ron Sider, Books & Culture, November/December 2008

[According to the new book Passing the Plate,] twenty percent of American Christians (19 percent of Protestants; 28 percent of Catholics) give nothing to the church. Among Protestants, 10 percent of evangelicals, 28 percent of mainline folk, 33 percent of fundamentalists, and 40 percent of liberal Protestants give nothing. The vast majority of American Christians give very little—the mean average is 2.9 percent. Only 12 percent of Protestants and 4 percent of Catholics tithe.

A small minority of American Christians give most of the total donated. Twenty percent of all Christians give 86.4 percent of the total. The most generous five percent give well over half (59.6 percent) of all contributions. But higher-income American Christians give less as a percentage of household income than poorer American Christians. In the course of the 20th century, as our personal disposable income quadrupled, the percentage donated by American Christians actually declined.

In Chapter 3, the authors evaluate nine frequently offered hypotheses to explain this modest giving. They conclude that five have substantial validity: 1) many Christians have not seriously wrestled with their own tradition’s theological teaching on giving; 2) many churches simply accept low expectations for giving and therefore provide little communal support for generosity; 3) some Christians question the reliability of the churches and organizations requesting funds; 4) because of near total privatization and lack of accountability in the area of charitable giving, there are no real consequences for stinginess; 5) most Christians give on an occasional basis when they feel like it, rather than in a disciplined, planned, structured way.

from "The End of Service Trips?," by Tim Ogden, Philanthropy Action, 15 October 2008

[Some doubt] whether it’s even possible to achieve the goals of a real encounter with poverty in a week to 10 days. According to Crouch it is—if the trips are radically different. He suggests three ingredients for trips to have an impact:

1. Make trips a part of a lasting, organization-level partnership: Many youth groups feel they have to go someplace new each year to interest participants. Visiting the same place year after year allows the Americans to begin building more of an understanding of local context and needs, and increases the likelihood that the “help” they offer is actually helpful.

2. Properly set expectations: The more a trip is described as a learning experience rather than an opportunity for an unskilled teenager to “help”, the more likely the trip is to have an impact.

3. Small is beautiful: if personal contact is the sine qua non of such trips, they have to be small enough to allow actual personal contact between Americans and their counterparts.

Still, Crouch doubts that one trip can make a difference:

“The trips only make sense if they are part of a comprehensive program of changing people’s attitudes and behaviors. Evidence is shockingly clear that a single trip has no impact. No matter how well you do a trip, especially when you’re talking about teenagers, they are at such a high-velocity developmental stage that I don’t think any single experience is going to have an ‘impact.’ . . . The organizations that have thought about this the most and are doing the best job are making these trips part of a much longer engagement with the issues. For instance, there’s one organization that requires a year-long commitment and the trip occurs in the middle—they meet just as often after the trip as they do preparing for it. . . . The grooves in our culture are too deep for us to escape without that level of commitment.”


God did not want us to leave as few footprints as possible, leaving the earth alone as much as we can. He commanded us instead to spread out, over the whole globe, and bring it all under our influence, to subdue it for its own good, to make it even more fruitful, beautiful, and sustainable, under God’s guidance and by the power he invested in it. We dare not be cowed into relinquishing this role out of shame that we have performed it badly heretofore. We must take it up afresh, do the best we can, and look forward to the shalom that our administration will bring, in concert with Christ’s rule, in the world to come.

from "Completing Adam’s Task," by Stephen H. Webb, FIRST THINGS: On the Square, 27 August 2008 :: via Alan Jacobs

Far from being an ancient myth with no contemporary relevance, the story of Adam’s task has inspired and shaped human endeavor throughout the centuries. Modern science got its start in the golden age of exploration, when collectors began cataloging exotic plants and animals in the hope of restoring Adam’s complete knowledge of the world. Some sixteenth-century scholars, like Benito Montano (1527–1598), gave Hebrew names to the places Columbus discovered, because they assumed that the Bible must contain all the words we need to understand the New World. Others realized that there were more things to know and to be named than they ever imagined. Francis Bacon exhorted gentlemen of means to build gardens “with rooms to stable in all rare beasts and to cage in all rare birds . . . so you may have in small compass a model of the universal nature made private.” Adam’s sin, Christians believed, not only expelled the first couple from the Garden. Plants and animals too had been dispersed, but now scholars could imagine a return to paradise by achieving universal knowledge.

If God were to bring all the animals before man today, the line would be too long. This scene could only take place on the computer, which is exactly what the new Encyclopedia of Life proposes. This remarkable project aims to gather descriptions of every species known to science on a single website. Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson has been the driving force behind the Encyclopedia, and his enthusiasm for it is unbounded. “It’s going to have everything known on it,” he said, “and everything new is going to be added as we go along.” Nearly two million species are known, but scientists estimate that ten times that many are yet to be discovered. Most of these unknown species are bacteria, fungi, and insects. We can name them because we know, or want to know, everything about them.


By 5 p.m. Curtis had made his first two purchases: frozen chicken wings and a can of beans ($4.75); a T-shirt and pair of socks from a vendor on the street ($2.00).

Meanwhile, Michael drove his rental car around the neighborhood. When he returned to meet us he was exasperated. “The food here is awful! No fruit, vegetables are moldy. Only meat, canned food, and soda. What do kids eat? The guy at the store told me no one would eat fruit unless it’s in a can. Is that true?”

Curtis shook his head. I told Michael, “When we get back to New York, I will talk with you about diet and quality of food availability in poor neighborhoods.”

But Michael was growing upset. “All I see are liquor stores and dollar stores and fast food. There was one guy who said he’d buy my food stamps — 50 cents for a dollar in stamps? How can people live like this?”

Curtis laughed. He asked Michael if he’d like some chicken and beans. Michael said, “No thank you,” and sat on the cold linoleum floor. He was silent.

“How much does a banana cost,” Curtis asked Michael. Michael looked embarrassed, unable to answer.

“You don’t know, do you!” Curtis laughed. “See fruit is expensive; raw food is too much for low income people. And we don’t always have a fridge, so you got to keep things in cans. That way it can move with you. And one thing you need to know: low income people always are on the move — not just squatters, all low income folks.”

from The Culture of Debt, by David Brooks,, 22 July 2008

Individuals don’t build their lives from scratch. They absorb the patterns and norms of the world around them.

Decision-making — whether it’s taking out a loan or deciding whom to marry — isn’t a coldly rational, self-conscious act. Instead, decision-making is a long chain of processes, most of which happen beneath the level of awareness. We absorb a way of perceiving the world from parents and neighbors. We mimic the behavior around us. Only at the end of the process is there self-conscious oversight.

According to this view, what happened to McLeod, and the nation’s financial system, is part of a larger social story. America once had a culture of thrift. But over the past decades, that unspoken code has been silently eroded.