Jim Oedy, right, started the New Hope Christian Community Foundation to aid parachurch agencies such as The Mill youth center, represented by Melinda Schwerkoske, left, president of the board, and Bill Richmond, security director.
When businessman Jim Oedy was trying to raise money last year for The Mill, a Christian youth center in South Toledo, he found out his cause was a little too religious to suit the tastes of some potential donors.
“A couple of players said, `Well, this is a wonderful thing and we'd love to support it if you could just take out the spiritual stuff.'”
After approaching about 40 local charitable foundations and hearing similar concerns that the youth center might be construed as “evangelistic,” Mr. Oedy knew he had a problem.
But he also knew there were potential contributors out there who would support projects like The Mill if only they could direct their donations to an organization that funded them.
To find and harness those donors, he started the New Hope Christian Community Foundation, one of a growing number of such foundations springing up around the country to support community programs and projects that have a strong Christian identity and purpose.
Since the first Christian community foundation was started in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1992, the number has grown to 15. David Worland, founding president of the Chattanooga foundation, estimates that by the first quarter of next year, there will be about 32 such foundations in place. “I can easily see 200 set up in the next couple of years.”
Mr. Worland, who serves as president of the newly formed Association of Christian Foundations, traces interest in Christian community foundations to the early 1990s when a number of spiritual renewal movements, including the popular Promise Keepers for men, were born, raising up a new group of people who wanted to give.
“A natural manifestation of faith is the desire to give,” Mr. Worland explained.
But if Christian donors aren't linked with causes they can support, Mr. Oedy said, money that can be used by Christian organizations will probably go elsewhere. “There's a tremendous frustration in the Christian community with the fact that so much money winds up being used for what I would call non-Christian projects.
“Unless we have foundations like New Hope, almost all major gifts and big funds are going to slide out of the Christian community and go into what I call politically correct organizations and foundations. Christian ministries will be left to survive on the $15 and $20-a-month gifts they get from donors.
“What we have seen and what is common across the country is that Christian organizations are hanging on by their fingernails because they depend on these small gifts almost entirely. They can never get ahead of the game.”
Mr. Worland said the Chattanooga foundation raised $17 million last year and the newer foundations have been averaging $5 million to $6 million annually.
By starting New Hope a year ago, Mr. Oedy was able to raise more than $1 million in funds and donated services for The Mill and to begin collecting pledges for the funding of other ministries in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, including Campus Crusade for Christ, the Cherry Street Mission, Youth for Christ, Young Life, the Pregnancy Center, Christian TV station WLMB, and radio station YES-FM.
He expects the first checks to be handed out in January, following a year-end campaign.
Besides providing funds, New Hope plans to offer resources such as benefits packages and access to low-cost legal and accounting services to Christian ministries and programs in need of them.
In addition, because many of these organizations are too small to work on planned giving, New Hope will offer to act as a planned-giving arm for them, Mr. Oedy said.
To qualify for aid from New Hope, organizations will have to be registered as nonprofit groups, have a Christian identity, and demonstrate integrity and solid financial planning.
Like other foundations, New Hope, whose headquarters is at The Mill, accepts as donations cash, securities, real estate, business interests, insurance policies, trusts, artwork and collectibles, personal property, precious metals and stones, cars, and boats.
Mr. Worland said he doesn't see Christian community foundations as taking away from existing community foundations, but rather as helping increase overall giving to communities.
“This is an opportunity for organizations to be in concert instead of in opposition to each other.”
Pam Beach, director of the Toledo Community Foundation, agreed. “I think both institutions envision working together. In my view, it's more money for the community.”
Ms. Beach said the Toledo Community Foundation generally tries to give money only to neutral, nonsectarian causes, although donors can set up funds within the foundation to help support the general operating expenses of churches.
Tom Beutler, a Maumee accountant who serves as treasurer of the New Hope board, said he thinks the timing is right for starting a foundation for Christian causes in the Toledo area.
“I think today in our culture there are more givers than I anticipate there will be in the next generation or so. Baby Boomers and the next older generation have been giving a lot of money away, particularly in endowments and things. It's our hope we can provide some support for Christian work out into the future when giving may not be as great.”
Mr. Beutler said the Baby Boom generation also is beginning to make estate-planning decisions that could impact the future. “They'll want to do something, maybe not immediately, but they'll want it as part of their will. We want to have a vehicle to say here's something in the community that will give support to area organizations.”