Reimagining MFM Charitable Giving

By Mike Soika

Is it time to completely rethink our Milwaukee Friends Meeting charitable donation strategy?

During the deliberations for both the 2020 and the 2021 budgets, we held robust discussion on how much we can and should provide to those organizations we support financially. For years, and sometimes even decades, we have provided charitable donations to wonderful nonprofit groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on National Legislation and approximately a dozen local nonprofit organizations.

But I write this essay asking a different question:  Is there something deeper and more meaningful we can do with our donation dollars?  This question was prompted when I read a New York Times article reporting on how religious congregations are raising funds to forgive the medical debts of families in their community. 

As noted in the article, the prospect of increased medical debt in most communities is escalating exponentially, along with the growth of the COVID pandemic.  For those who do have healthcare, the out of pocket cost for hospital treatment of COVID is about $1,300 and can increase dramatically if the illness is severe and the hospital stay extended.

But the situation is worse for those who have lost their jobs and consequently lost their health insurance as a result of the pandemic.  Consider this:  for the week of November 19th, Wisconsin had nearly 93,000 people receiving unemployment, which was four times more than during the same week a year prior.

Providing funds to nonprofit organizations doing good work is a noble effort.  Relieving a struggling family from crushing medical debt is not only noble, it rescues them from a downward spiral of debilitating choices between paying medical bills or being able to afford basic necessities.

But this question of how MFM spends its charitable dollars does not have to be limited between the two options of staying the course and continue supporting good nonprofit organizations or providing relief from medical debts to families in SE Wisconsin.  We could also explore the concept of relieving educational debt, or of paying for one year worth of rent/mortgage payments for families in danger of homelessness, or providing micro loans for small business startup, or…..  Once we begin to imagine a new way of giving, the options that open up are nearly endless. 

Are we being called to a new service in our community?  We won’t know until we each search our own hearts to hear the call of the Divine and discern if we are being asked to walk a new path.  A growing number of churches have heard such a call.  Will we be one more?