America’s major faiths put great emphasis on charitable giving. Christians are taught to look out for those with the least, to be good stewards, and to tithe (or donate ten percent of their income). Jews have the obligation of tzedakah, and Muslims the duty of zakat. In all cases the motivation is to improve the well-being of others, to share bounty with fellow creatures of God, to express devotion. Religious giving is a pillar of belief and conformity with divine intentions, and a means of expanding the community of faith and bringing enlightenment to new corners.
Religiously motivated generosity combines with American wealth and cultural norms to create potent charitable flows in the U.S., especially compared to other nations. In 2016 Americans donated $123 billion to religion-related causes. That was 32 percent of all charitable giving and more than twice as big as the next favorite cause, education. The deep religious convictions of Americans are a leading reason that we give at a rate two to ten times higher than other developed nations.
In addition to supporting good works at home, there is a 200-year tradition of U.S. Christians sending donations overseas. This is actually an original aspect of the faith: Christian witness has always moved restlessly toward the weak and unwanted—from ancient Jerusalem to forsaken Greece, then Italy and north Africa during their pagan centuries, next to Dark Ages Europe, eventually over to frontier America, and now across the developing world.
Interest among U.S. Christians in carrying good works and the Gospel to people in poor lands has clearly risen in recent years. Today’s developing world is thought to be where needs are most urgent, where people are most receptive, where opportunities for improving both external and internal life are most open. This migration of mission work is one reason the number of Christians in Latin America, Asia, and Africa is currently rising ten times faster than population growth. A milestone was passed within the last few years: the majority of the globe’s Christians now live in the less-developed world. As said by one evangelical we quote later in this section, poor countries “are where God is really working” right now.
God is also at work—in partnership with millions of faithful givers—in a great many communities across America, as documented below.
— Section research provided by Karl Zinsmeister, Connor Ewing, Evan Sparks, Liz Whyte
Rafat and Zoreen Ansari are not extraordinarily wealthy, but they are both physicians earning good salaries, and have lived modestly during full careers in a suburb of South Bend, Indiana. And they are grateful for the opportunities they have enjoyed in America after leaving Pakistan. “We came as immigrants, and this country has given us so much,” said Mrs. Ansari.
After mulling ways they could share their good fortune in lasting ways, the Muslim donors announced they would give $15 million to the Catholic university nearby, Notre Dame, to create an institute where the religious traditions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other faiths can be studied, with an eye toward their interactions and their influence on behavior, changes in culture, and world events. Notre Dame president John Jenkins says the institute will focus on the human effects of the religions, rather than viewing them through a political or social lens.
Mr. Ansari told the New York Times that this money would have gone to their children, but after explaining they wanted to leave a positive legacy to their adopted nation and to all people, their daughters and son were supportive. “It’s better to do something good with this. It’s better to give it,” said daughter Sarah Ansari.
In 2015, a $400 million construction project was launched by the Green family to create a highly visible, philanthropically created Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Located three blocks from the National Mall and U.S. Capitol, the building will house the Green Collection of Biblical Artifacts (see 2011 entry), attractions like specialized films and a reconstruction of first-century Nazareth, a 500-seat performing-arts theater, and a large scholarly wing with a reference library, artifact research labs, and academic conference center. A flight simulator will allow guests to soar over Washington, then swoop down and read the Biblical inscriptions that adorn so many of its landmarks. Textured bronze panels at the street entrance, custom stained-glass work, and a 200-foot LED-panel ceiling will display artistic interpretations of Biblical themes.
“The Bible has had a huge impact on our world today—from culture and politics, to social and moral justice, to literature, art and music, and more,” explains philanthropist Steve Green, chairman of the Museum of the Bible, and president of Hobby Lobby, which his family founded and owns privately. “Our family has a passion for the Bible and we are excited to be part of a museum dedicated to sharing its impact, history, and narrative with the world.” The museum opened in 2017.
Fieldstead and Company, the philanthropy operated by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, has a special interest in the intersection between religion and art, and often funds exhibitions, creation, research, and journalism on this topic. In 2016 the group made a two-year grant to the Religion Newswriters Foundation to encourage in-depth coverage of the ways that faith spurs artistic production. The money will fund new directories listing experts on religion and the arts, for free use by all journalists. And it will underwrite production of 30 news stories, with photo or video illustration, on “the ways art, both historic and contemporary, is inspired by sacred texts, the faith of artists, ritual practice, private devotion.” These stories, on a topic described by the Religion Newswriters Foundation as “underreported in the mainstream media,” will be distributed nationally through the Religion News Service, which was founded in 1934 and is located at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. This donation followed on two 2015 gifts to the journalism school at USC also aimed at improving religion reporting: a $1 million gift from the Lilly Endowment, and a smaller grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.
Hillel is a charity that provides services and instruction in Judaism to college students. With chapters on 550 campuses in the U.S. and Canada, and 56 more abroad, it is the largest such group in existence. As such, it is the largest employer of rabbis, faith instructors, and other religious professionals, many of whom go on to lead synagogues and other Jewish charities after their work at Hillel.
In 2016, Hillel received its largest gift ever: $38 million from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and his wife Billi. The grant launched a new effort to find, train, and retain excellent leaders for the group’s outreach to students. This followed on another large donation, of $16 million, made the year previous by the Jim Joseph Foundation, also aimed at deepening and expanding the group’s religious education for young Jews.
In September 2015, the Inner-city Scholarship Fund run by the Archdiocese of New York announced the largest-ever U.S. gift to Catholic schooling. Christine and Stephen Schwarzman gave a record $40 million to an endowment that will provide 2,900 New York City children per year with scholarships. The Schwarzmans started contributing money in 2001 to this cause. “We’ve met so many impressive young women and men who have benefited greatly from the values provided by a Catholic-school education,” stated Christine, who also serves as a trustee of the Inner-city Scholarship Fund. The fund combines contributions from New York business leaders and church donors, and provided tuition assistance to nearly 7,000 Catholic-school students in 2015, prior to the Schwarzman gift. The church has pledged to match the Schwarzman gift, and to raise an additional $45 million from other donors to increase the fund’s scholarship endowment by $125 million in total.
B. J. Cassin has taken the venture-capital model that made him wealthy and applied it to his Catholic-schooling philanthropy. He was a key funder in building Chicago’s acclaimed Cristo Rey Jesuit High School from a single site in 2000 to a network of 32 schools in 22 states today, with more on the way. These Catholic schools now serve 10,700 low-income students each year, with excellent educational results (90 percent of graduates go to college, compared to 61 percent of similar low-income students, and 86 percent of high income students), affordable tuition, an acclaimed program for placing every student in a work-study job at one of 2,525 partner businesses, and a sustainable economic model.
Now Cassin is seeking to amplify this success. He is part of a group of Catholics seeking new models for financing religious schools, whose enrollments as a proportion of the entire U.S. student body have declined by a third over the past half century. He and two colleagues have launched a philanthropic venture called the Drexel Fund that will invest in carefully selected academies, education entrepreneurs, and school networks with the intention of “transforming” and expanding faith-based schooling. The fund will raise $85 million from a variety of wealthy individuals and use it as venture capital to create tens of thousands of new seats in excellent, sustainable schools—most of them Catholic, but also including other religious orientations and some secular private schools.
“There are a lot of interesting new models in faith-based and especially Catholic schools, but we don’t have a platform to replicate the most successful ones,” Cassin says. “That’s where the idea of Drexel came from.” It seeks to do for religious schools what the NewSchools Venture Fund and the Charter School Growth Fund have done for charters: provide capital to scale up successful existing institutions and start promising new networks. Cassin gave $1 million in seed money and recruited several other donors, allowing the effort to launch in six states where tax credits or vouchers also help parents afford religious and private schools—Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
By 2024, Drexel’s funders aim to create 125 new schools, grow six to eight school networks, and cultivate 40 new school entrepreneurs. And if all goes according to plan, no more than 15 percent of a Drexel-supported network’s budget will come from philanthropy once it is fully functional.
There are facilities across the U.S. and the globe that remember the World War II genocide against Jews. But great museums celebrating the rich history and contemporary vigor of Jewish life are rare. A group of American donors led by San Francisco businessman Tad Taube and the Koret Foundation set out to remedy that.
The group focused their efforts on the country that had the largest Jewish community in the world at the onset of the twentieth century—Poland. They donated $30 million ($20 million of it committed by Taube) to create a series of exhibits that include a replication of a seventh-century synagogue, dozens of films, and a trove of historical documents and artifacts. The government of Poland erected an $80 million building to house the exhibition, which opened in late 2014.
The museum aims to undo some of the erasures of Jewish existence carried out during the Nazi period—when Jewish cemeteries were bulldozed, synagogues destroyed, and books and official records burned. "I want to improve the Jews' image of themselves. And I want to see the world abandon its attempt to make Jews the victims," says Taube in explaining his gifts that celebrate the strength and endurance of Jewish community traditions.
David Green founded Hobby Lobby and built it into a nationwide arts-and-crafts chain. From its Sunday closures to its debt-free policy, Hobby Lobby runs on consciously Biblical principles. This fascination with the Bible extends to the Green family’s philanthropy. Starting in 2009, the family began collecting what quickly became the world’s largest private collection of Biblical artifacts. The more than 40,000 items acquired by the Greens include an unpublished fragment of Genesis from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Codex Climaci Rescriptus (which contains the earliest known manuscript of the New Testament in Palestinian Aramaic), many rare cuneiform tablets, the Roseberry Rolle (a translation of Psalms into Middle English that predates John Wycliffe’s famous English Bible by 40 years), and more than 1,000 different versions of the Jewish Torah.
At the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible in 2011, the Greens launched their collection on a world tour, sending the artifacts to the Vatican, New York, and other cities until they settle into a permanent home at the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. That facility is being constructed by the Green family—see nearby 2015 entry.
The Saint John’s Bible, commissioned by the Benedictine fathers of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and funded by 1,500 donors, is a completely handwritten and hand-illuminated Bible. It is a glorious seven-volume work of art, each volume stretching two feet tall by three feet wide when open, and weighing 35 pounds. The text and images were inked with hand-ground pigments and platinum- and gold-leaf on pages made of calf-skin vellum.
Theologians selected passages for large-scale illustration. Computers scaled images and plotted line breaks. All calligraphy and illumination was crafted by hand in a scriptorium—Smithsonian magazine described the end product as “one of the extraordinary artistic undertakings of our time.” Goose, turkey, and swan quills were used for lettering. Mineral pigments were mixed with egg yolks and water to paint pages in vivid hues that will endure for centuries, as in medieval illuminated manuscripts.
Production extended over two decades and cost $8 million. To bring the Bible to a wide audience, trade books reproducing the seven volumes in a smaller format are being sold. The original work is touring churches, museums, and libraries around the world for in-person viewing of what Pope Benedict XVI called “a great work of art…a work for eternity.”
Minnesota businessman Jack Remick and his wife, Mary Ann, are long-time supporters of the Alliance for Catholic Education, an extraordinarily successful program created at the University of Notre Dame to train teachers for needy Catholic schools. (See 1993 item on companion list of Education achievements.) In 2008, a gift from the Remicks allowed the Alliance to create an additional program for training principals to lead Catholic schools. ACE founder Timothy Scully reports that his organization is going to particularly zero in over the next decade “on forming principals and superintendents. School leaders establish the culture of high expectations; they hire the teachers. That’s why we are going to focus on the principal.”
Scully argues that “thoughtful philanthropists can have their greatest leverage on Catholic education by investing in leadership programs,” and that this will in turn change American inner cities. “Evidence shows that Catholic schools form citizens who are two and a half times more likely to graduate from college, who have high expectations, who are more tolerant, who are more generous. Those are the kinds of schools we need.”
In 2014 the Remicks donated $10 million to double the endowment of the ACE principal-training program. By then, approximately 250 of the program’s graduates were already leading Catholic schools across 41 states.
Approximately a quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, and their faith’s zakat requirements enjoin them to share a portion of their annual income with the less fortunate. Much of this giving traditionally has been done in secret, spontaneously, or without any system. After years of giving to medical charities, victims of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and other causes, Chicago physician Tariq Cheema decided to form a group to make Muslim giving easier, more strategic, and more open. He also recognized that it is now important for donors to Islamic charities to make certain their gifts will not support advocates of violence.
Cheema and collaborators launched the first World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists in Istanbul in 2008. Wealthy Muslim donors, foundations, companies, and charities gathered to share best practices, create multi-donor pooled funds for battling poverty, and encourage others in their faith to become generous givers to causes that are accountable and effective.
About 6,900 languages are currently in use across the globe. Only a few hundred of these have a complete translation of the Christian Scripture; another 2,300 have a partial translation. There are 2,200 languages into which the Bible is currently being translated (often a laborious process—an alphabet or grammar sometimes has to first be created because the language is spoken but not written). That leaves more than 1,900 tongues for which no Bible translation has even been started; these have around 200 million native speakers.
Wycliffe Bible Translators was founded in 1942 by Cameron Townsend, who discovered while serving as a missionary in Guatemala that many of the people he was working with didn’t understand Spanish; they spoke Cakchiquel, in which no Bible text was available. Since then, Wycliffe and other nonprofits have made great progress in translations. University of Notre Dame professor Mark Noll describes the creation of Wycliffe Bible Translators as “one of the great Christian events of the century,” and “a turning point symbolizing the movement of Christianity from the northern hemisphere to the southern.” It has also been found that Bible literacy often becomes an entryway to multiple forms of progress for isolated peoples, not only in reading and writing but in bettering public health, agricultural improvements, human rights, and economic development.
However, it was a huge task that Wycliffe took on. By 1999 the group was launching Bible translations at the rate of 20 new languages per year; at that pace it would have required an additional century and a quarter to reach all remaining populations. So Wycliffe committed to a breakthrough: It promised to raise a billion dollars of donated money and use that to hire additional linguists and deploy new techniques to fast-track translations. Soon, the so-called Last Languages Campaign was launching 109 new versions of Scripture each year. The goal is to have a translation at least begun in every language under the sun within 17 years of the campaign’s 2008 commencement.
In short order the Last Languages Campaign had raised $235 million, including one anonymous $50 million gift. Today Wycliffe employs nearly 6,000 translators, linguists, aviators, and supporting humanitarian workers and teachers. Along with Biblical literacy, its teams now bring water purification systems, AIDs education, and other assistance to 90 poor countries.
Alan Barnhart is an evangelical Christian, and when he and his brother Eric decided to go into business together in 1986 (they were in their mid-20s), Alan studied the Bible to see what it said about moneymaking. Wherever he turned he found warnings that money can be dangerous. “I read all these verses and I thought, ‘I want to be good in business, and I’m competitive. But I don’t want to make a lot of money if doing so would damage my life. And I could see where it really could.” So the two young men did something very unusual. When they launched their new crane and rigging company, they vowed to cap their income at the level of the middle-class fellow members of their Sunday-school class in Memphis, Tennessee, and channel much of their company’s profits to charity. In their first year of business they donated $50,000—more than Alan’s salary.
Nearly 30 years later, the two men run a company with $250 million of annual revenue, but they have stuck to their decision on salaries and profits and have given away about $100 million. Half of the money made each year by Barnhart Crane & Rigging is reinvested in the company; the other half goes to charity. There is no corporate foundation or bureaucracy—committees of employees and their spouses meet regularly to decide where to donate. Currently most of the funds are sent to development projects and Christian ministries in poor countries in Africa, the Middle East, India, and southeast Asia. Employee Joye Allen says that’s where she and her co-workers see the largest needs. “That’s where God is really working.”
In 2007, the Barnharts decided to go even further: They moved the entire company into a charitable trust owned by the National Christian Foundation. NCF has developed a specialty at helping entrepreneurs donate still-operating businesses, and they set up a structure which allows Alan and Eric to continue to run the firm. This retains the for-profit power of the enterprise and its skilled managers, while guaranteeing that all of the wealth generated by the company, either in annual earnings or increased valuation, ultimately goes to charitable good. Alan’s wife, Katherine, says the donors get something out of the bargain too: “Giving feeds our soul. Giving has us looking outward…to serve the God that we love.”
Alan views it as a bonus that this arrangement prevents his children from growing up wealthy. “There are great benefits to a kid to hear the word ‘no,’ and the theology of the Rolling Stones: ‘You don’t always get what you want,’” he says. “I taught them the joy of giving early,” adds Katherine. “I taught them the joy of contentment.”
Religious donors have worked productively with churches over the past decade to get needy children adopted into permanent families, as the 2005 entry below catalogues. In addition, where children are not candidates for adoption, donors and believers have united in some remarkable ways to improve the availability and quality of foster care. Most children whose family lives become disrupted remain legally connected to their parents; they merely go temporarily into state care. On average, they spend about five months outside their natural home while authorities work to stabilize the parents. It is much better for most children if they pass this time with a foster family rather than in an institution. But in many places there are not enough foster families to go around, especially not enough good ones.
Social entrepreneur Bill Hancock and philanthropist Rick Jackson (both of whom are devoted Christians who grew up in disrupted families) went to work on this problem, starting in 2006. They knew that, historically, church members tended to be the most patient and effective foster parents, and reasoned that a church congregation could be a valuable support to any fosterer if volunteers were trained and organized to help. Jackson, who had created 25 companies as a health-care entrepreneur, provided strategic advice and offered to fund the effort single-handedly for five years.
Hancock researched where children in need of fostering in their home state of Georgia were coming from, then started visiting churches in those neighborhoods to see if couples in the congregations could be aided and encouraged to take on local children in need of sheltering. Organizing circles of church members who will help the families that volunteer to foster or adopt turned out to be crucial. Individuals who can’t commit to full-blown fostering can at least offer respite care, babysitting help, assistance with food and clothing, emotional support, and other backup that makes the church programs work.
The Jackson/Hancock nonprofit, now known as FaithBridge Foster Care, has been enormously successful. The foster families recruited from churches by FaithBridge methodically draw on support from their congregations, and 96 percent stay with fostering. These couples have already served hundreds of children across a growing number of Georgia counties. The nonprofit spends about $3,600 per case, which compares to an annual cost of $90,000 (and far worse social outcomes) for a child housed in an institution.
The organization now has satellite operations in two other Georgia cities, in Florida, in New York, and in Arkansas. FaithBridge estimates that its model of improved fostering can easily be duplicated in 17 metro areas where three quarters of the nation’s demand for foster care is currently located.
Among evangelical Christians, the adoption of unprotected youngsters, both domestic and foreign, has become a charitable passion in recent years. When Colorado pastor Robert Gelinas discovered in late 2004 that there were hundreds of children in his home state who were legally available for adoption but had no one willing to take them, he urged fellow Christians to “make sure there are no children waiting for homes.” He and other Coloradans launched Project 1.27 to train couples and congregation support teams to adopt or foster children languishing under state institutional supervision. Over the next few years, hundreds of children who had been waiting for adoption were scooped up by families guided by the program.
Taking its name from James 1:27 (“look after orphans and widows in their distress”), Project 1.27 is not an adoption agency, but rather educates parents on the legal, financial, and emotional issues involved in adoption and fostering. Participants pay a nominal $100 administrative fee; all other expenses of being trained and legally certified are covered by donors. It costs the organization an average of $5,000 to help a family adopt one child. That compares to $50,000 of annual cost to the government to maintain one child in the foster-care system.
Families recruited from affiliated churches are given 36 hours of training over a period of several weeks. Church leaders and members of the local community are also trained to help, because the organization believes families taking on needy children require the support of friends and neighbors. The organization shepherds volunteer families through the required paperwork, helps church leaders establish parent-support groups and adoption resources within their congregations, and advocates for parents throughout their engagement with the foster-care system.
Project 1.27 expanded beyond Colorado in 2014 and 2015 to Arizona, D.C., New York, Wisconsin, and Florida, and opened collaborations with eight similar organizations operating across the country. The group relies mostly on volunteers, and receives financial support from many small donors who give monthly, sponsor one child, or offer annual gifts. Pastor Gelinas, who has himself adopted five children with his wife, tells audiences that if “people of faith step up…it is possible that a foster-care system can be emptied.”
According to the latest census conducted by the AVI CHAI Foundation, total enrollments in U.S. Jewish day schools increased from 184,000 children in 1998 to 255,000 in 2013, as many parents sought to strengthen the Jewish identity of their children in the course of educating them. In Boston, three anonymous families plus the Ruderman Family Foundation gave $45 million in 2004 to improve the 14 Jewish day schools operating in that metro area. Over the previous 15 years, the number of day-school students in greater Boston had more than doubled, and this grant aimed to improve teaching, curriculum, and educational excellence.
Subsequent grants from Ruderman improved the quality of instruction and care for special-needs students at these same schools. This allowed placement of a dedicated staff of 12 special educators at 12 of the region’s Jewish day schools.
The successful Campus Crusade model for religious work on college campuses (see 1951 entry) asks missionaries to raise their own funds and moves them from institution to institution. The Christian Union is distinctive in raising funds tied to particular schools. When donors contribute to Christian outreach at a specific college, the funding stays there. Christian Union is also unusual in its focus on bringing the evangelical message to a particular type of setting—the predominantly secular world of the Ivy League. Founder Matt Bennett, a Cornell alumnus, recognized that graduates from these selective schools will end up as “leaders in so many places in society,” and “we need people who have the values of Jesus Christ” in those slots. So the Christian Union now operates on the campuses of Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania.
While the group seeks to find, create, and encourage believers, its primary focus is on Christian leadership development. Instructors take eight to ten students through a book of the Bible each semester, seeking lessons for living. They also provide two specialty courses: one for freshmen on sex and spirituality, another for seniors on vocations. The group offers one-on-one mentoring, a weekly lecture series, book giveaways, and conferences as well.
At Princeton, the Christian Union now attracts 500 students per year to at least one of its programs. That’s about 10 percent of undergraduates, making it one of the more successful student groups on campus. The Harvard chapter attracts 200 participants.
Though most of the students already are believers when they become involved with the Christian Union, students experience religious conversion through the group every year. Student demand on its campuses is outstripping fundraising, despite an annual budget of about $6 million. Many of the union’s hundreds of donors are Ivy League alums who wish they had had access to such a program when they were in school. Others simply agree with Bennett that “if we want to see the nation change for the better, people who are in leadership in culturally influential institutions have to have the right values. That’s why we do what we do.”
The Christian-led national reconciliation taking place in the east African nation of Rwanda after its horrendous genocide some years earlier has attracted many generous Christian donors, including Dale Dawson. A serial entrepreneur looking for his next challenge, Dawson was visited by an Anglican bishop from Rwanda raising donations for his war-torn country. The cleric challenged him. “Rwanda doesn’t have a vibrant economy,” said Bishop John Rucyahana, donations will help only fleetingly. “You’re a businessman. Why don’t you build businesses in Rwanda?”
Captivated by the bishop’s charge, Dawson investigated a Christian overseas-development nonprofit called Opportunity International. The investment banker in him was quickly impressed by Opportunity’s carefully developed microlending model. Soon Dawson was not only making his own multimillion dollar donations but also serving as a spokesman and fundraiser for the group. Among other projects, Dawson eventually spearheaded the creation of a popular bank that quickly became Rwanda’s most important financial institution (see 2007 entry in our companion list of Overseas achievements).
As his interest in faith-based solutions in Africa grew, Dawson first joined a few other donors in building schools in Rwanda for genocide orphans and other needy children. Their church-linked group Bridge2Rwanda kept creating schools. And then it established a scholars program that paid for promising Rwandans to attend colleges abroad. Soon, Dawson was spending half of his time in the country.
Dawson and colleagues subsequently expanded Bridge2Rwanda into economic development projects. These included a coffee exporter, an egg farm, a shoe distributor, a feed mill, and an entity providing financial services to foreign companies operating in the country. A think tank to educate people across Africa on the merits of market enterprise was launched by B2R in 2010.
From the Middle East to social issues, religion is a huge influence on current events and news today. In addition, faith is a big part of personal life for most Americans: According to the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of Americans say that religion is “very important” to them, while another 26 percent say it’s “somewhat important.”
Yet for many or most reporters, religion is a foreign land. “I was practically born and raised in the news business, and know firsthand that newsrooms are exceedingly secular places,” says veteran journalist Carl Cannon. Religion expert Michael Cromartie recounts how he once mentioned the Book of Ephesians while providing a reporter with information for a story that touched on faith; the reporter asked him for the name of the author and the publisher.
To help fill some of this unhealthy knowledge gap, Cromartie and Luis Lugo, who worked within the Pew Charitable Trusts, discussed how it might be possible to “educate the press on religion.” In 1999 they began staging lunchtime seminars in D.C., a common practice in
the nation’s capital. Cromartie eventually proposed getting the journalists out of Washington and “away from their deadlines, to actually have a reflective two days with serious scholars.”
Pew provided funding, and in 2002 a weekend conference, now hosted semiannually near Miami, was launched. It is known as the Faith Angle Forum, and features presenters like megachurch pastors Tim Keller and Rick Warren, Pakistani ambassador Husain Haqqani, National Institutes of Health director and Christian Francis Collins, and an expert on Mormonism during Mitt Romney’s Presidential run. Every invitation-only conference is limited to about 20 reporters, columnists, or producers, including some of the most influential correspondents in the country.
The gatherings cost about $150,000 each to produce. Pew footed most of the costs for the first ten years. Additional funders like the John Templeton Foundation, Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund, the Gloria Dei Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation have contributed in recent years.
The Perpetual Education Fund, created in 2001 to provide loans for schooling to needy Mormon students, is a 150-year echo of one of the very first efforts at mutual aid set up by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is modeled on an earlier LDS revolving charitable pool called the Perpetual Emigration Fund (see 1849 entry). While the Emigration Fund was established to help isolated Mormons move to the church’s new heartland in Utah, today’s Education Fund offers church members living in any part of the globe financial assistance to train and educate themselves.
Loans can be used for technical, vocational, or professional education, and can include tuition, training materials, books, and licensing fees. To qualify for a loan, students must go through a process similar to the selection process for missions service, including getting a bishop’s certification of church involvement. The fund is supported by donations from fellow Mormons and loan repayments from previous beneficiaries. The program now operates in 63 countries. Around 100,000 students, mostly young adults in poor nations, have so far financed their studies using the PEF.
The Maclellans of Chattanooga, Tennessee, have long been sacrificial givers to Christian causes, with family members having years ago increased their charitable “tithes” to as high as 70 percent of their annual income. The Maclellan Family Foundations make grants to more than 200 ministries and charities every year, with a special focus on faith-based solutions to serious social problems, in the U.S. and around the world. They methodically support Christian education within a 500-mile radius of their headquarters in Chattanooga. They have been generous funders of national and international groups, like Campus Crusade for Christ, that bring the evangelical message to young people and other seekers. Their grants have trained Christian and nonprofit leaders in China to grapple with local concerns in an effective way. And the Maclellans were crucial early backers of a pathbreaking program called First Things First, which strengthens marriage and parental bonds with children.
In 2000, the Maclellan Foundation launched a parallel organization called Generous Giving specifically to educate and inspire wealthy Christians to share more of their bounty. Noting that the fraction of household income donated to charity has not risen since the 1930s, despite the large jump in living standards since then, Generous Giving aims to help more people “experience the joy of generosity and excel in the grace of giving.” The group sponsors an annual two-day “Celebration of Generosity” attended by about 400 living religious donors who participate in teaching, storytelling, worship, and interaction with peers. Smaller “Journey of Generosity” retreats are intimate 24-hour gatherings hosted by a couple or individual or organization, where the small group explores how generosity can change one’s life. Generous Giving held more than 150 of these meetings in 2014.
There is no soliciting or agenda at GG meetings; the emphasis is on conversation with Christian peers about the satisfactions of sharing resources effectively. President Todd Harper reports that uncertain donors often come in with a mindset of “I ought to give,” and leave with the view that “I get to give!” The gatherings are credited with having a transformative effect on many wealthy participants.
Birthright Israel was founded in 1999 to send young Jews on a fully paid ten-day trip to Israel so they can explore Judaism and understand their personal connections to the Jewish homeland. It was the brainchild of philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, who put up $8 million apiece and recruited 15 other partners to contribute $5 million each to get things started. Today, the program has a broad base of 25,000 individual donors who make it possible for about 51,000 souls to travel to the Jewish homeland each year. (Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have been the single biggest donors, giving $250 million to the organization since 2007.)
To date, Birthright has brought to Israel over 400,000 young Jews from more than 66 countries, most of them for the first time. The organization is thus strengthening Jewish faith and identity. In a 2012 study of long-term effects, Brandeis University researchers found that 90 percent of Birthright participants reported feeling “closer to Israel,” and trip-goers were somewhat more likely to marry someone Jewish and to place importance on raising a family in Judaism.
Steinhardt warns that Birthright is just a starting point, not a panacea for lost religious identity. He cautions that “the ten days of Birthright Israel cannot fully offset the appallingly poor Jewish education most of its participants were subjected to.” Nonetheless, the philanthropic footprint of the program is impressive: A 2013 Pew Research study found that 44 percent of American Jews under 30 have now visited Israel, and about half of them did so courtesy of Birthright.
When he became Catholic bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, says Terry Steib, “I was shocked that our schools were closing. I thought, ‘That’s not the church’s way.’” In 1999 he announced that the slide would be reversed: Seven previously shuttered Catholic schools would be reopened and a new one would be created to serve children in the greatest need—those living in the poor urban neighborhoods of Memphis. They were to be called the Jubilee Schools, in honor of the forthcoming millennium of 2000, a year of mercy for the poor within Catholicism. Two anonymous Protestant donors called and offered $12 million to back the brave plan; from that point on the project was popularly known as the Miracle in Memphis. The diocese had the first school reopened, and 20 children registered, within three weeks. Today more than 1,500 students attend nine Jubilee schools. Tuition is on a sliding scale, and minimal for poor families—thanks to the $60 million Memphis residents and groups like the Poplar and Hyde Family foundations donated to reconstruct and endow the schools, and the fact that operating costs per pupil are held down (to half of what neighboring public schools cost). Fully 90 percent of the children attending Jubilee Schools live below the poverty level, and 81 percent are not Catholic. Yet the Catholic high schools of Memphis ultimately graduate nearly 100 percent of their students.
As the harvest of a century of religious persecution, only 2 percent of Russians now attend church weekly; 7 percent attend at least once a month. To help rebuild the faith, a group of American Christian philanthropists decided to launch an American-style Christian liberal-arts college. The Russian-American Christian University opened its doors in Moscow in 1996, offering business and social work as its first two majors. The mission, explains Howard Dahl, the owner of a North Dakota manufacturing firm who donates three quarters of his income to charity, and a founding member of the college’s board of directors, was to produce students who would come out of their education “bilingual, computer literate, with a deep sense of the value of a liberal-arts education, and a strong Christian faith.” An early slogan was “Character, Competence, and Christian Worldview.”
Along with Dahl and other individual donors, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation was a supporter. The college produced several hundred graduates before running into political and government opposition, a refusal of state accreditation, and heavy taxes which forced it to close its undergraduate program in 2010. The school of social work was spun off to the Russian Orthodox Church and a few programs continue under the rubric of the Russian-American Institute.
Howard Dahl also helped build up Lithuania Christian College, one of the only other private, faith-based liberal-arts colleges in the territories of the former Soviet Union. He and his wife have also funded social and fraternal groups working to re-establish Christian practice in former Soviet lands, including a thriving youth organization in south Russia connected to Young Life.
After graduating from college in 1949, Marvin Schwan went to work with the family dairy and dramatically expanded it over a period of decades into a huge food-service company. At the end of his life, Schwan created a nearly billion-dollar foundation by giving it two thirds of his company in 1993. The foundation, like Schwan himself, has maintained a low profile throughout its existence. But it has operated as a bulwark of traditional Lutheranism in America.
Schwan instructed his foundation trustees to support seven Lutheran organizations, including five evangelical organizations and two colleges. These groups have received hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from the foundation in the years since. The churches, missions, and schools of the conservative Lutheran faith have thus been strengthened and perpetuated into the future.
In the early 1990s, the Reverend Tim Scully and other leaders at the University of Notre Dame decided that if Catholic elementary and secondary schools were going to survive and prosper in the future they would need help from Catholic colleges. In 1993 Scully founded the Alliance for Catholic Education, which recruits and trains about 90 new top-ranked college graduates each year to serve as teachers for two years in an underresourced Catholic school. During summers, the 180 active ACE participants undergo intensive training and study on the Notre Dame campus, and at the end of their two-year teaching commitment more than 90 percent emerge with a no-cost master’s degree in education. During their two years as a classroom instructor they live with other ACE students in group houses provided by their local Catholic diocese—which allows sharing of work experience and knowledge, along with emotional support and spiritual growth. Fully 82 percent of ACE graduates continue to serve as educators after their two-year commitment is up, and 75 percent are still working in education five years out.
The Alliance for Catholic Education has been built on the support of the University of Notre Dame and myriad individual donors like Chicago investor John Jordan, who designated the program as one of the beneficiaries of the $150 million he has given the university in recent years. In the cities where it sends its teachers, ACE also encourages donors to support local schools. An example would be the $1 million Ralph and Trish Nagel donated to Catholic schools in their hometown of Denver, where in many of the classrooms 90 percent of the children live at the poverty level. The most enduring supporters of ACE have been Minnesota businessman Jack Remick and his wife, Mary Ann, whose latest gift of many was a 2014 donation of $10 million. (See 2008 entry.)
ACE has sent more than 1,300 teachers to serve in high-need schools throughout the United States. The group has recently added to its offerings professional and consulting services to help strengthen local Catholic schools. The Alliance’s success has inspired 12 other Catholic colleges to launch similar teacher-training programs, which under the umbrella of the University Consortium for Catholic Education annually instruct and send forth 400 much-needed teachers.
Zalman Bernstein served in the U.S. Navy, acquired an education in economics, and then brazened his way onto Wall Street—first talking his way into an entry-level job and eventually founding his own brokerage firm on boldly unconventional practices. He made a fortune, and later in life devoted himself to Orthodox Judaism. Bernstein eventually gave most of his money to three different foundations intended to help Jewish religious practice flourish in the modern age. The Tikvah Fund, created in 1992, was the smallest but perhaps the most influential because it focused, under the direction of Roger Hertog (a business associate of Bernstein and himself a savvy philanthropist), on advancing intellectual excellence within traditional Judaism and bringing this wisdom to Jewish leaders.
The Tikvah Center in Manhattan offers one- to three-week institutes on Jewish thought and history, two- to three-day workshops for busy professionals, and summer fellowships for college and high-school students. Tikvah also sponsors public lectures and events. And the fund subsidizes publications: the quarterly Jewish Review of Books, the monthly Mosaic, the Library of Jewish Ideas book series, and others. Tikvah was also important in the creation of Shalem College, Israel’s first Ivy League-style liberal arts college with a core curriculum.
After Catholic Archbishop of New York John O’Connor returned from a tour of the Dachau concentration camp, he penned an article for the archdiocese newspaper mulling how easily humans can lapse into disregard for life, and envisioning a new burst of pro-life activism. In June of 1991, eight women committed themselves to this mission, forming a new religious order called the Sisters of Life. To the three traditional vows of Catholic nuns, the sisters added a fourth: “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”
The Sisters of Life focus on caring for women with troubled pregnancies. At their mission house in Manhattan, they welcome women to live with them, providing a safe place offering sustenance, care, and counseling while they carry their children to term and get their upbringing well-launched. The nascent order relied on donations of funds and supplies—particularly from members of the Sisters of Life Guild, individuals who donate at least $1,000 a year. An outpouring of funding allowed the sisters to provide residential care for mothers and newborns for up to a year after birth.
Subsequently, additional convents where these services could be offered to mothers in distress were opened across New York City, and then outside the city. At a time when other Catholic orders were shrinking dramatically, the Sisters of Life have grown to 80 nuns. In 2007, the archbishop of Toronto invited the sisters to establish their first international mission in Canada. (See 1968 entry for information on the rise of other pro-life religious charities.)
Music plays an important part in nearly all religious traditions. But sacred music is not necessarily self-preserving. Dedication and foresight are sometimes needed to ensure that musical traditions will be around for future generations to experience. Inspired by his “own interest in music, and deep abiding commitment to synagogue life,” philanthropist Lowell Milken created the Milken Archive of Jewish Music to catalogue and preserve the diversity of sacred and secular music linked to “the American Jewish experience.”
Since its founding in 1990, Milken has committed more than $30 million to the archive, which now includes impressive collections of written and recorded music, oral history, and historical artifacts. In addition to saving existing works, the archive has commissioned new recordings, by artists ranging from Dave Brubeck to the Vienna Boys Choir. In partnership with the Naxos classical music label, the Milken Archive of Jewish Music has released a 50-disc series that documents the span of Jewish music.
Bursts of philanthropic support helped create important new centers of religious intellectual dynamism in the 1980s and 1990s. The venerable Jewish magazine Commentary expanded its circulation during the 1980s and became a prominent advocate for liberty abroad. Lutheran and then Catholic pastor Richard Neuhaus became an increasingly influential advocate for traditional religious understandings of social issues, and in 1990 founded the acclaimed ecumenical religious journal First Things. That same year, the Reverend Robert Sirico co-founded the Acton Institute, a new research organ promoting the complementarity of economic freedom and religious practice. Around the same time, Catholic intellectual George Weigel was publishing defenses of democratic capitalism and creating his definitive biography celebrating Pope John Paul II’s role in the collapse of communism. Along with Michael Novak’s work reconciling capitalism and religion (see 1978 entry), these energetic new scholars, groups, and journals—all donor-supported—generated fresh public understanding of the role of spiritual faith in maintaining the health of Western society.
Seven members of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia joined together in 1990 to provide meals for individuals and families afflicted by the new and scary AIDS epidemic. The goal was not only to help sustain those who were ill, but to help them feel less isolated from the church’s care. Soon scores of volunteers were involved and MANNA (the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance) was delivering thousands of meals and nutritional counseling from a commercial kitchen and a fleet of trucks.
After delivering more than 2 million meals, MANNA expanded its mission to help feed other area residents stressed by life-threatening illnesses like cancer, renal disease, cardiac disease, and diabetes. The average recipient is now 61 years old and has a household income of $10,188. All meals (65,000 per month) and counseling are delivered free of charge. MANNA annually receives donations of more than $1.6 million, and volunteer labor worth a half-million dollars. By its twenty-fifth anniversary, the group had delivered 8 million meals and was a good exemplar of hundreds of other church-initiated and -staffed feeding programs in existence across the U.S.
Ralph Beeson was legendarily cheap when it came to his own needs. Once, when given some new corduroys, the insurance executive turned them down on account of already owning a pair. At his modest house just south of Birmingham he often chose not to operate the air conditioning during brutal Alabama summers, saying it “costs a fortune to run that thing.” But just down the hill from his home, he had a view of Samford University—to which he was nothing but generous.
As a 29-year-old life-insurance salesman, Beeson had poured his savings into the stock of his company, Liberty National, just after the crash of 1929. The bet paid off handsomely, and he cashed in for $100 million in the 1980s. From that windfall, he gave $70 million to create a new divinity school at Samford as a tribute to his father. Knowing that its future clergy would mostly hold low-paying jobs after graduation, Ralph went to great lengths to ensure that the seminary would be affordable. As a result, tuition is held to just a fraction of what comparable schools charge, even though the student body is capped at 180 to maximize teaching quality.
Beeson aimed for much more than just affordability, though. He told the founding dean, “Now, Timothy, I want you to keep things orthodox down there.” Moreover, “I want you to train pastors who can preach.” Thanks to the donor’s clear guidance, a quarter-century after his death the school remains richly evangelical, and known for turning out excellent sermonizers.
Methodist by upbringing, Beeson was married to a Baptist and became Presbyterian—so his divinity school, though located at a Baptist university, welcomes all Christian faiths. That same eclecticism is on display in the school’s architectural centerpiece—the beautiful Hodges Chapel. It combines classical Palladian and colonial American designs, pairs the cruciform footprint of a Catholic cathedral with a traditionally placed Protestant pulpit, and employs Renaissance-inspired art to celebrate Christian historical figures. Only in America does one find this kind of generous religious mix.
Upon his death in 1990, Beeson also left $39 million to Asbury Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical graduate school in Kentucky. That gift doubled Asbury’s endowment and funded the creation of new academic programs and seminary buildings. Though the two recipients of Beeson’s beneficence have differences, they are united in their commitment to Christian theological education that is orthodox but ecumenical, and consistently excellent.
White Memorial Presbyterian in Raleigh, North Carolina wanted to help house families who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Eventually, that mission transformed into a jobs-training approach. The effort was initially funded by the church budget and the generosity of several congregation members. Soon the ministry was incorporated as a multi-denominational nonprofit supported by several churches, and eventually also by individuals, the John William Pope Foundation, and other donors.
A major 2004 grant from the White Memorial Community Fund laid the foundation for StepUp Ministry’s current two-pronged approach: life-skills training and job-skills workshops. The job-skills portion begins with a weeklong classroom-instruction period where students learn the ins and outs of finding and maintaining employment. The life-skills training extends over a full year and is designed to help participants stabilize their living patterns so they can hold jobs for the long haul.
Careful attention to practical details helps the programs succeed. For instance, the job-skills classes are held in a different location each day because the ministry found this reminds participants that getting to a job site can take time and requires planning and consulting maps or bus schedules in advance.
A more fundamental secret to StepUp’s success is that it reinforces family interdependence. When a father or mother requests assistance, StepUp requires that the children also be enrolled in complementary programs. The whole family is ministered to. “Four out of five African-American males are not living with their children and the birth mom. Dealing with that fracture and helping to restore families is critical,” says president Steve Swayne.
By using careful tracking mechanisms, StepUp is able to demonstrate impressive results. The ministry made 326 job placements in 2014, with 67 percent of the new workers being ex-offenders, 38 percent homeless, and 31 percent recovering substance abusers. This was accomplished on an operating budget of $1.6 million.
The ministry recently expanded to Greensboro, where it made 181 job placements in 2013. It next aims to replicate its programs in Durham and other parts of North Carolina. StepUp and programs like it created in other parts of the country—like Houston’s WorkFaith Connection which placed more than 3,500 graduates in jobs between 2007 and 2015—are emblematic of hundreds of local efforts by churches and faith-driven nonprofits to improve the economic status of the poor.
When Catholic schools serving poor children in New York City were in danger of shutting down for lack of tuition-paying capacity on the part of parents, banker and longtime donor Peter Flanigan sprang into action. He established a Patrons Program that encouraged contributions to financially stressed inner-city Catholic elementary schools. And he set up Student Sponsor Partners to connect donors directly with at-risk kids who needed mentors and financial sponsors in order to attend Catholic schools.
In the first year of Student Sponsor Partners, Flanigan and 44 other men and women backed 45 students. Within a few years the program was serving 1,000 students annually. In 2001, supporter David Dunn began giving $500,000 per year, then $750,000 per year to support students, and in 2008 SSP received its first million-dollar gifts.
In 2014, more than 1,400 children attended 25 Catholic schools around New York City thanks to Student Sponsor Partners. Fully 85 percent of SSP students graduate from high school, compared to 61 percent of their peers in public schools, and 93 percent of graduates go on to college (versus 50 percent of NYC public high school grads). The Student Sponsor Partners program has now been copied in nine other cities, including Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
Since its early days, the Mormon church has run highly effective relief societies and special programs to aid the needy within its fold. (See this list’s 1936 and 2001 entries for descriptions of some large-scale efforts that attend to the welfare and educational needs of fellow church members.) In 1985, LDS Charities was set up to methodically offer humanitarian services to people of other religions across the globe.
That year, the church collected a special “fast-offering” (where congregants skip meals and donate what they would have spent on themselves) and earmarked it to help famine victims in Ethiopia. When officials traveled to that country to decide how best to use the $6 million raised, they found staggering need. A second fast-offering of about the same size was collected later in the year, and that led to a gradual institutionalization of overseas humanitarian work.
Today, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may designate their gifts for developing-world aid in a variety of ways. The church covers all administration and overhead so that every penny given to LDS Charities goes to direct services and care. Since 1985, more than a billion and a half dollars have been donated, helping 30 million people in 179 countries without regard to religion or culture. In addition to disaster relief and emergency services, favored projects include long-term initiatives in clean water, food production, immunization, and vision care.
When Angelus Temple opened in Los Angeles in 1923 with seating for 5,300, the megachurch was born. An evangelical Christian congregation led by a charismatic pastor, committed to welcoming new believers, Bible-based but lacking conventional denominational boundaries, the new church drew huge crowds. Lakewood Church, founded in Houston in 1959, was another early example of the type. It was theologically conservative, racially inclusive, and popular from the start. By 1979 Lakewood was attracting more than 5,000 people to its services; today it is America’s largest church, with average weekly attendance of 43,000. (Megachurches are among the most integrated institutions in the U.S., averaging a 20-percent-minority mix of congregants, while Lakewood is 40 percent white, 30 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic.)
Megachurches are conventionally defined as those attended by at least 2,000 congregants per week. There are now 1,300 such churches in the U.S. (up from just 50 in 1970), housing about a tenth of all U.S. churchgoers, and they are continuing to expand in both size and influence. They include prominent institutions like the Willow Creek Church led by Bill Hybels, the Saddleback Church under Rick Warren, the McLean Bible Church founded by Lon Solomon, and the Potter’s House pastored by T. D. Jakes.
This vast expansion was driven not just by congregational donors but also by broader philanthropy. Bob Buford built a large network of cable television stations, but he was also a devoted Christian and in his mid-50s felt strongly drawn into the world of nonprofits and church-building. Buford had become close friends with famed management theorist Peter Drucker, who viewed America’s vigorous civil society of churches, charities, and helping organizations like the Salvation Army as secrets to the country’s success, and vital buffers between private interests and the state. Together they discussed what became the Leadership Network—a group devoted to helping the pastors of fast-growing churches thrive even more. Leaders of new churches with a thousand members or above would be brought together with similar peers so they could learn from each other, and be taught essentials of excellent management and oversight.
Bill Hybels and Rick Warren were just two of many church founders who benefited from Leadership Network training and resources as they grew their congregations to over 20,000 members. Bob Buford also joined with philanthropist Phil Anschutz to finance the Burning Bush Fund, which concentrated on planting new churches and cultivating new leaders to open churches. Pastors like Tim Keller, Larry Osborne, and Greg Surratt were aided by the fund as they built thriving, multi-campus evangelical churches. In a 1998 Forbes interview, Peter Drucker characterized megachurches as “surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last 30 years.”
In 2014, the National Christian Foundation was the fifteenth largest charity in America. It handed out $859 million during the year, and received more charitable contributions than groups like the American Cancer Society, Harvard University, and Habitat for Humanity. The foundation continues to grow dramatically, as it has since its 1982 creation.
The brainchild of three evangelical financial professionals, NCF was established to “simplify the process of giving, multiply the results, and glorify the Lord.” The founders created one of the first donor-advised funds designed specifically for Christian givers. They also focused on making it easier to donate non-monetary gifts—like an operating business—which most philanthropic organizations find too complex to handle. They are now national leaders in this work.
By streamlining the philanthropic process, connecting Christian donors with the wisdom and charitable choices of other givers, providing up-to-the-minute advice on Christian nonprofits, and offering definitive handling of complicated donations, the National Christian Foundation has become not only one of the most important religious philanthropies in the U.S. but one of the most innovative philanthropic organizations of any sort. Its grants to religious charities now exceed a billion dollars a year, and in 2015 reached a total of $6 billion since the organization’s founding.
Around the time that the Cold War abroad and culture wars at home reached their peak after the election of Ronald Reagan, some worshippers in mainline denominations became distressed by politicization of church statements and policies. One flash point was open support among some church officials for Marxist causes, including undemocratic and illiberal rebel groups in Latin America. A drift into left-wing social policies and “liberation theology” was another trend that set off alarms. In response, some members of the United Methodist Church along with other concerned Christians raised funds, created a board of directors, and launched the Institute on Religion & Democracy as a membership organization in 1981.
As one of the group’s leaders put it, “We believe the church should be the church, proclaiming the Gospel, discipling believers, assisting the needy, and teaching broad principles for a better society without becoming narrowly political. Our unity as Christians is based on our faith in Jesus Christ, not positions on secular legislation.” In the words of founding board member and prominent theologian Thomas Oden, “we are not presuming to create new doctrine but hold firmly to apostolic teaching in ways pertinent to current circumstances.” Funding has come from membership dues, church contributions, individual donors, and grants from foundations like the John M. Olin Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
The IRD has promoted renewal of an energetic Christian orthodoxy—within the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches in particular. It has also closely monitored the National Council of Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, and other ecumenical groups, reinforcing theology that is “orthodox, reliable, stable, beautiful, familiar, and glorious.” Religious liberty in foreign lands has always been an important issue for the group, and continues to be today.
Hundreds of thousands of American families currently have no medical insurance yet know that their health-care needs are covered. They have joined one of the four major “health-care sharing ministries” now operating across the U.S., the earliest of which was formed in 1981.
These religious nonprofits allow their members to share the costs of each other’s medical needs, without the commercial mechanisms of insurance. Inspired by ancient Christian practices of burden sharing and mutual aid, each of these groups requires enrollees to make a profession of Christian faith, and to avoid smoking, alcohol abuse, and other practices they deem incompatible with faithful Christian living. These requirements cement the personal commitment, communal feeling, unity, and trust that have allowed these voluntary networks to thrive.
The lifestyle pledges also help contain expenses, as does the prudence with which members seek care, knowing that fellow believers will be asked to share all bills. The monthly costs of health-care sharing ministries tend to be half or less of what comparable commercial insurance would require. Each ministry operates differently, but all involve a considerable degree of personal contact and mutual support. People send notes and prayers along with the checks they mail to families in health crises, which participants cite as one of the great satisfactions of their voluntary pooling of medical needs.
These ministries have proven quite practical, flexible, and effective, with billions of dollars of reimbursements having taken place since their creation. When the Affordable Care Act was written in 2009, with penalties for parties lacking insurance, health-care sharing ministries were granted an exemption. The organizations have experienced record enrollments in the years since.
Michael Novak wrote a Vietnam protest book, worked for Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, George McGovern, and Sargent Shriver, nearly became a priest, and launched a new program for the Rockefeller Foundation supporting scholarship in the humanities. Then in 1976 he published, in Harper’s Magazine, an early story worrying over the deterioration of the family. Thus began a theological journey from left to right (Novak later defined a conservative as “a progressive with three teenage children”) that ultimately had national and international political consequences.
In 1978 Novak became a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, where he was supported year after year by the John M. Olin Foundation—in what subsequent AEI president Christopher DeMuth called “a pretty high-risk investment, a brilliant bet. At that time almost everybody, including its defenders, viewed capitalism as useful for fueling progress and high levels of material welfare, but essentially amoral and selfish at its root. Nobody did more to uncover the ethical attributes of the free-market system than Michael Novak, and he did this entirely on year-to-year philanthropic support.” In 1982, Novak’s book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism injected a new moral and spiritual dimension into our understanding of economics. The work was widely translated, and helped inspire rebellion against Marxist economics in Latin America and behind the Berlin Wall.
In 1983, Novak led a group of 100 influential Catholics through new thinking on the morality of nuclear weapons, and their publication of a lengthy letter bolstered the move toward missile defense. Novak made the case for moral pressure on the Soviet Union based on human-rights concerns, and he was eventually appointed as a human-rights ambassador of the U.S. government. In more than 45 books and other voluminous writing, he applied religious principles and moral arguments to scores of other public controversies: welfare reform, environmental conservation, liberation theology, and arms control. His analysis of the linkages between economic freedom and moral and political freedom influenced Pope John Paul II’s important encyclical on economics, Centesimus Annus, which defended private property rights and voluntary associations, and refuted state socialism.
In 1976, ministering to prisoners was “an unfashionable, underrated, underfunded, Christian activity with no national or international leadership,” observes a Chuck Colson biographer. Notorious as President Nixon’s “hatchet man,” Colson had a religious conversion shortly before entering prison for obstruction of justice, and after serving his time he founded Prison Fellowship to battle the reality that two thirds of all prisoners released back into society returned to committing crimes. His group, which combined a message of repentance and reconciliation under God with strong advocacy for prisoners’ interests, grew tremendously.
Colson himself donated $77,000 of the first-year budget of $85,000, and $240,000 of the second year’s $440,000. For the rest of his life he continued to donate all the speaking fees and book royalties he earned, plus his $1 million honorarium upon being awarded the Templeton Prize. Almost from the beginning Prison Fellowship also received significant funding from Art DeMoss, the evangelistic founder of the Liberty Life Insurance Company (who posted bail for ex-Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver after his conversion). Other significant donors have included Phil and Nancy Anschutz, Richard and Helen DeVos, and Thomas and Sandra Usher.
Prison Fellowship’s ministry now attracts 50,000 volunteers, and has expanded to include helping the families of prisoners, improving prison conditions, aiding crime victims in new ways, training volunteers to work in prisons, and reconciling victims and victimizers. One area of special effectiveness is efforts to help prisoners when they re-enter society and are most vulnerable. The ministry has been replicated in many other countries. Sociologists like Byron Johnson have documented the group’s effects in lowering recidivism, and in preventing crime by heading the children of criminals away from illegal activity.
When Daryl Richman arrived at the University of Virginia in 1968 he encountered students who had little experience of church but hungered to understand the intellectual traditions of Christianity. Some of these pursued studies at places like the L’Abri Fellowship that evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer created in Switzerland. Soon there was interest in having a somewhat similar gathering place at UVA where Christian intellectual life, lectures, and fellowship would be supported. In 1976, with financial help from townspeople and faculty, the Center for Christian Study bought a house on the edge of campus and began to host events.
The group expanded, and soon inspired similar entities on other campuses in California, Minnesota, Connecticut, and elsewhere. In 2009 an informal network of these groups formed themselves into the nonprofit Consortium of Christian Study Centers. By 2015 the consortium had 19 member centers at colleges across the country, where students wrestled to connect Christian beliefs with their classroom work and with challenges in the world around them. An annual budget of about $300,000 provided by donors allowed the organization to incubate new campus affiliates, advise their growth, and help them find staff and speakers. “This is a movement,” says director Drew Trotter.
Some of these study centers have become quite advanced in their offerings. For instance, the Chesterton House at Cornell now provides not only stimulating talks, study groups, and social events, but also opportunities to take classes in theology and Biblical studies and get Cornell credit. Thanks to dual million-dollar gifts from the parents of one student, Chesterton House is establishing residential units—jokingly referred to by the director as “crosses between a fraternity and a monastery”—for both men and women.
“What the poor need is not charity but capital, not caseworkers but co-workers.” So declared Millard and Linda Fuller in the letter that launched their new group Habitat for Humanity in 1976. Millard had become a millionaire by age 29, but his workaholism nearly destroyed their marriage. As part of their healing the couple joined Koinonia Farm, a small interracial Christian community outside Americus, Georgia, and there they conceived the idea for “partnership housing.” After a stint as overseas missionaries, the Fullers began to put their vision into practice.
Habitat for Humanity has grown to have more than 1,400 local affiliates across America and the globe. Its housing program uses volunteer labor and donations (large and small) of money and material to build and rehabilitate homes with “partner families” who are in need. Local affiliates select the families, who then invest hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” in their own home. The families also provide a down payment and monthly mortgage payment. These family contributions make the house “their own,” but the volunteer labor, donated materials, no-interest mortgages, and no-profit sale combine to bring ownership within reach of people who would otherwise have no chance of possessing their own residence.
Many of the families Habitat works with need some counseling and nurturing as well, which the organization provides. The result is a very low default rate, and families tend to increase their education and incomes after earning their home, while their children tend to become healthier and do better in school. “We are openly and unashamedly a Christian program,” Fuller proclaimed in the early years, and the program retains its Christian roots today. It refuses any government funds that would limit its ability to proclaim its faith-based mission. At the same time, it is thoroughly ecumenical in the persons it helps and the volunteers it recruits.
And Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just help the poor: as Fuller told Philanthropy magazine, wealthy people “can have a poverty of spirit…and when we put them out on a Habitat work site they literally weep, because they feel like their lives are meaning something.” By 2012, Habitat had placed over 4 million people in more than 800,000 families into homes of their own.
The growth of America’s Muslim population (which rose from less than a million a generation ago to 3.5 million in 2015) has created demand for many more mosques and Islamic schools in the U.S. To help meet this need, a donor-funded endowment known as the North American Islamic Trust was created in 1973 to finance mosque construction for new congregations. A 2000 study found that over a quarter of all U.S. mosques had by then been funded by NAIT, and many more have been financed since. To ensure their perpetual use for Islamic purposes, NAIT now holds title to more than 300 Islamic centers in 42 states.
The trust also established a publishing arm to produce the texts needed for Islamic worship. In addition, NAIT created sharia-compliant mutual funds and business investments where congregations can build endowments to support Muslim religious and community life in the future.
There is controversy around NAIT. Some of the founders of the trust were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned or watched closely by police in many countries due to a history of militancy. With extensive funding from Saudi Arabia, the trust sometimes supports Wahhabist strains of Islam that can become extremist. During the past decade, leaders of NAIT-owned mosques in Florida and New York have been convicted of supporting terrorist activity.
“How little we know, how eager to learn.” That was the motto that guided John Templeton through much of his success as an investor, and that animated much of his philanthropy. Religion is one of the areas where Templeton believed man has the most to discover. Concerned that modern intellectual life often neglects metaphysical wisdom, and particularly the role of religion in undergirding human advancement, he created the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1972, with a purse (currently around $1.6 million) engineered to be larger than the Nobel awards.
The Templeton Prize honors a living person who “has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” It aims to identify “entrepreneurs of the spirit” who expand our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality. The prize celebrates no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather many diverse manifestations of the divine. Templeton stipulated that there would be at least one judge from each of the five major religions “so that no child of God would feel excluded.”
The first recipient was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who six years later would win the Nobel Peace Prize. Other Templeton laureates have included religious leaders like Billy Graham, Baba Amte, Charles Colson, and the Dalai Lama, philosophers and theologians such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Michael Novak, and Charles Taylor, and scientists including Freeman Dyson, Stanley Jaki, and Martin Rees.
Bob Pierce was an evangelist in China when he met some Christian women who were living as missionaries among lepers. In 1970, their devotion inspired him to create a new nondenominational ministry that would support evangelical Christians providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. He called the group Samaritan’s Purse, echoing the Biblical example of the Good Samaritan. It soon developed a specialty in getting assistance to victims of war, poverty, natural disaster, disease, and famine in some of the neediest corners of the globe. (Pierce had previously founded the Christian overseas charity World Vision—see 1950 entry.)
Billy Graham’s son Franklin was a bit of a prodigal, but during a period when he was drifting abroad he connected with Bob Pierce and his group. Franklin Graham was powerfully moved by their mission, and after Pierce died of leukemia, Graham became president of Samaritan’s Purse in 1979. He proved to be a formidable fundraiser, and led the charity through a period of explosive growth.
Today, Samaritan’s Purse raises more than $500 million every year to feed African children, provide medical care to cyclone victims, offer HIV treatment in countries like Peru, donate Christmas gift boxes to the dispossessed, and otherwise deliver physical aid and spiritual hope. The group has a particular reputation for operating without bureaucracy or corruption, and for eschewing red tape in ways that allow its planes and aid workers to arrive first and get things done when poor people are hurting. It has been named many times as one of today’s most efficient religious charities.
Religious charities like the Salvation Army, Jewish Maternity Homes, Catholic Charities, and others have long offered assistance to women facing unexpected pregnancies. As sexual experimentation and abortion rates soared during the 1960s, concerned Christians and churches established a new wave of modern centers to help individuals facing pregnancy crises. The first examples opened in California in 1968, and in 1971 many of these nonprofits organized themselves into the first national network of such groups, now known as Heartbeat International (which publishes an online directory of pregnancy resource centers that is searchable by zip code and service needed). Three other large associations currently help local PRCs improve and coordinate their offerings: Care Net, Birthright, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.
Today there are about 2,500 pregnancy resource centers in operation, offering various levels of services including pregnancy testing, sonograms, obstetrical care, counseling, financial assistance, clothing and food banks, nutrition guidance, childbirth classes, midwife services, lactation consultation, child psychology classes, and other social work. All aim to offer alternatives to abortion, and adoption assistance is available for mothers who seek it. More than 70,000 volunteers, including volunteer physicians and nurses, plus $200 million of annual donated funding, allow PRCs to serve about 2.3 million clients every year. Most services are free to the users. More than 20 states provide some funding for the centers, as has the federal government sporadically, but 80 percent of all centers are completely reliant on private support, and more than 90 percent of the total annual revenue of the nation’s pregnancy resource centers comes from individual donations, often raised through churches.
Special philanthropic campaigns have been launched to equip pregnancy resource centers with ultrasound machines that can be used to confirm pregnancies, detect dangerous ectopic conceptions, and determine if the fetus is viable and how far along it is in development. The Knights of Columbus, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Focus on the Family, and the Southern Baptist Convention have donated substantial funding to purchase hundreds of ultrasound machines for centers, and fund training and personnel that will allow more centers to add higher-level medical services to their counseling and social work offerings. As of 2010, a majority of PRCs (54 percent) were offering ultrasound services.
In 1968, two Catholic priests, Bruce Ritter and James Fitzgibbon, resigned from comfortable professional college work and moved into a tenement building in New York City’s East Village to establish a ministry for helping runaway teenagers and other troubled youths. They called their home Covenant House, and their effectiveness in providing a mix of counseling and practical shelter, food, and safety services to vulnerable youngsters drew many clients and volunteers. The organization was incorporated in 1972 and set out to acquire additional properties, first in midtown New York, and then across the country. The group developed a specialty in rescuing sexually exploited teenagers, and added to its homelessness services drug counseling, physical and mental-health programs, foster-care transitions, and other assistance.
Originally, much of the group’s funding came from contracts with New York City agencies, but disagreements with city officials over how facilities should be run led Covenant House to decide most of its funding should come from private donations instead of government. Catholic philanthropists like Peter Grace and Bill Simon became loyal donors. Simon started volunteering in the group’s homes, often with his children, starting in the 1970s. When grown, his children later became important donors and volunteers at Covenant House chapters.
In 1990, charismatic founder Bruce Ritter became embroiled in a sexual scandal and resigned. Donations collapsed and the organization was in peril. Aggressive intervention by the board of directors, with help from Cardinal O’Connor, resulted in a thorough investigation and airing of all findings, changes in staff and internal governance, and a stern new director in the person of Sister Mary Rose McGeady. The organization stabilized, and donations recovered. Today Covenant House shelters and otherwise serves 62,000 youths per year, in 21 locations, relying on $100 million of annual contributions.
Growing up as a poor Mexican-American, Freddie Garcia despised Anglo society, joined a gang, and ended up a heroin addict with a live-in girlfriend and two children. After numerous federal- and state-funded rehab programs failed to change his life, he tried Teen Challenge, a religious program, even though he couldn’t imagine how “Jesus, whom I can’t see, feel, or touch” could succeed where so many credentialed experts had failed. But the program dramatically altered Garcia’s life in 1965. He married his children’s mother, and together they felt called to minister to street addicts. They opened their tiny San Antonio home to anyone in bad straits, and soon it was overflowing with desperate cases. Garcia then opened a church focused on helping addicts receiving treatment, along with graduates of rehab who needed continuing support. The ministry used the recovering addicts to help current ones.
The couple spread their ministry throughout Texas and far beyond. Garcia died in 2009, and his son Jubal now runs the fellowship, which has helped more than 14,000 men and women leave drugs and alcohol behind. More than 70 satellite centers operate in New Mexico, Texas, California, Colorado, Puerto Rico, and some Latin American countries.
A major step in the ministry’s growth occurred in 2005, when the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise helped Garcia raise funds for a multibuilding home campus in San Antonio. An anonymous donor provided $1 million and challenged the group to raise the rest. Local San Antonio businessmen led by Jack Willome and Bill Lyons pulled together pledges for the needed funds, and the new Victory Home was completely paid for when it opened.
Victory Fellowship is also known for being pressured by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, which demanded in 1992 that the ministry employ medical specialists or close. After a media outcry, the commission backed down, but in 1995 it attacked another faith-based rehab program in San Antonio. That led newly elected Governor George W. Bush to introduce legislation that changed regulations to allow faith-based programs—an innovation he later continued as President.
Longtime Sun Oil president and Pennsylvania philanthropist Howard Pew had a multipronged approach to his religious philanthropy. He served as president of the board of trustees and chair of the National Lay Committee of the Presbyterian Church (of which he was a lifelong member), using both his time and his contributions to bolster its traditional theology. But Pew also funded the then-emerging “parachurch” institutions of the evangelical movement. He contributed $150,000 to launch Carl Henry’s Christianity Today magazine in 1956. He gave millions to merge two seminaries into Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which remains evangelical and is the largest facility training pastors in the northeast. He supported the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the International Congress on World Evangelization. Pew sought to keep left-wing politics out of Christian ministry, and encouraged church leaders to focus on mission and new disciples.
Pew helped to build Spiritual Mobilization, a group which involved business executives in church leadership. He later was instrumental in the Christian Freedom Foundation, which sent a “Christian Economics” newsletter twice a month to 180,000 ministers. Pew did not achieve to his own satisfaction his goal of saving his church from loss of relevance and public support. As it drifted to the left during the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, the Presbyterian Church (USA) shrunk from 3.1 million members to 1.9 million. In his other giving, however, Pew helped to create an evangelical infrastructure that now supports many fast-growing churches in the U.S.
Don McClanen was a 29-year-old basketball coach at a small Oklahoma college nursing a big idea. It would be good for young athletes and good for America if some of today’s obsession with sports was redirected into higher purposes. To turn his idea into reality, he sent out letters to pro athletes whom he knew to be Christian and got a few to sign on. His challenge was funding.
In 1954, McClanen met with Branch Rickey, the legendary baseball manager who drafted Jackie Robinson, invented the minor-league farm system, and won four World Series. Rickey was also a devout Methodist who had never played on a Sunday. After a five-hour meeting, Rickey pledged to raise $10,000. “This thing has the potential for changing the youth scene in America in a decade,” he said. Among the early supporters Rickey recruited was Pittsburgh oilman Paul Benedum. From those beginnings, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes grew rapidly, offering national camps, programs for youth and adults, and ministries and Bible studies (called “huddles”) on campuses. In 2014, FCA reached nearly 10,000 coaches and 450,000 student-athletes at nearly 12,000 sites nationwide. The group raised $101 million in donations that year for its missions.
At the very same time Johannes Gutenberg was creating his historic first printed Bible, and perhaps in the very same town, one of the last great handwritten and illustrated Bibles was being inked near Mainz, Germany. It is even possible, say experts, that this written Bible was a direct influence on the size, shape, and design of Gutenberg’s initial edition. In any case, the Giant Mainz Bible represents a culmination of centuries of Christian tradition that kept Biblical knowledge alive only through laborious scribe work. Penning and illustrating the Mainz Bible took its artist 15 months of intensive labor, ending in 1453.
One of America’s major book collectors—Lessing Rosenwald, son of the great philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and an important donor is his own right—acquired this beautiful and historic copy of the Scriptures. In 1952, he gave it, along with other important books, to the Library of Congress. The Giant Mainz Bible is considered one of the prizes of the Library’s collection, and is on constant display in the original Library building, just outside the entrance to its main reading room.
Campus Crusade for Christ (more recently known as Cru) is one of the largest evangelical organizations in the world, ministering not only to 64,000 college students but also to members of the military, sports teams, politicians, and others via offshoot organizations. Similar groups like the Navigators and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship also minister to college students with opportunities for Christian learning, small-group intimacy, Bible study, fellowship, and social fun. These nonprofits are all supported entirely by philanthropy, and collectively they touch hundreds of thousands of young Americans every year.
The older evangelical Protestant groups have more recently inspired other faith branches to create campus networks of their own. FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, is modeled on Campus Crusade, using recent college graduates as two-year missionaries who help students wrestle with questions of faith. From its first branch formed at Benedictine College in Kansas in 1998, the FOCUS network exploded to 99 chapters in 35 states by 2014. Some of these chapters constitute the largest student group on their campus.
Judaism has had its own growth spurt on campuses. Most colleges have for years had a branch of Hillel, the organization for Jewish students founded in 1923. But the rapid growth of the last generation has been driven by the group Chabad on Campus, which teaches Jewish orthodoxy, pride in Judaism, and “active goodness and kindness,” as its president puts it. Private-equity founder and philanthropist George Rohr provided seed funding which helped Chabad mushroom from about 30 centers in the mid-1990s to 250 now. British donor David Slager helped fund the creation of 26 new centers across Europe in recent years. Mark Gottlieb of the Tikvah Fund, another donor, describes Chabad as “a bulwark” against the encroachments on religion “that many college campuses foster.”
Bob Pierce was a Baptist minister helping the group Youth for Christ hold evangelical rallies in China, where the depth of misery he witnessed among the poor had a powerful effect on him. When a Western missionary teacher brought a battered and abandoned child to him and challenged him to care for the youngster, he gave the woman, Tena Hoelkedoer, his last five dollars and promised to send the same amount each month for the child’s care. This was the seed of the child sponsorship model that became the heart of the charitable efforts of World Vision—the group Pierce founded in 1950 to relieve child poverty in Asia.
The original emphasis was on buying food and protection for children in orphanages in China. The effort spread to Indonesia, Thailand, India, and eventually to almost 100 countries. (And two decades later, Pierce founded another important Christian overseas charity, Samaritan’s Purse—see 1970 entry.)
Pierce filmed short movies to help Americans understand the penury of children abroad. His films also helped evangelicals understand how the communist revolution in China was causing problems in that country. He is considered a pathbreaker in popularizing the social-action movie. World Vision still relies on short videos of children it aids to connect them to small donors.
Today, World Vision describes itself as “a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide…as a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all people.” The organization retains a focus on individual child sponsorship, while offering aid in many forms. In 2014, the group raised $600 million in private contributions.
Billy Graham was one of the most influential men of the twentieth century, but in his early years Graham owed his success to two wealthy newsmen: William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce. In 1947, Hearst instructed his newpapers to promote the Los Angeles rallies held by the 29-year-old evangelist. Hearst’s favorable coverage led to positive support from Time and Life publisher Luce, who had grown up as a Presbyterian “missionary kid” in Taiwan.
Financially, Graham’s ministry was built on grassroots giving. Offerings received at the rallies would be used to support local evangelistic groups and to organize future editions of the popular crusades. Throughout his career Graham depended on everyday giving from Christians rather than big philanthropy.
In his memoir Just As I Am, Graham recounts a story from early in his career, when he was approached by a man who at the time was among the richest in the country. The man offered to underwrite the evangelist’s crusades. Graham thanked the donor but told him, “We are getting about fifteen to twenty thousand letters a week. Most of those letters will have a little money in them, maybe $1, maybe $5. But every one of those letters is saying, ‘We’re praying for you.’ If they know there’s a rich man underwriting my work, they’ll stop praying, and my work will take a nosedive. So I can’t accept it.”
Dave Weyerhaeuser, an executive of Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, created a family trust in 1947 to “contribute to the propagation of the Christian Gospel by evangelical and missionary work.” With it, he supported the growth of numerous evangelical organizations, including Young Life, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Moody Bible Institute, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Fuller Theological Seminary. He also gave generously to overseas work: Mission Aviation Fellowship, Wycliffe Bible Translators, the China Inland Mission, Food for the Hungry, and World Vision.
Weyerhaeuser considered it Biblically sound to do his giving anonymously, and declined all offers to have his name attached to any projects. He focused on making general operating grants. He also gave generously of his time, serving on more than 60 boards of Christian organizations. By the time of his death in 1999, Dave Weyerhaeuser had given more than $100 million to religious causes, making him one of the century’s most significant Christian donors.
The Second World War reduced much of Europe to a shadow of its former glory. Cities and villages across the continent were destroyed, churches lay in ruins, millions of people were uprooted from their homes. While the U.S. government would eventually take the lead in rebuilding Europe with the Marshall Plan, that would not commence until 1947. America’s Catholic bishops were ahead of their government in the relief business. In 1943 they formed War Relief Services to address the widespread devastation and aid in the resettlement of refugees. By 1955 that organization had become Catholic Relief Services and expanded its reach into Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
In the early years, support for CRS work came from grassroots giving via parish offerings. As the organization grew, Catholic philanthropists began to offer larger gifts as well. John and Helena Raskob, for instance, became early and strong supporters. John had made a fortune handling finance at DuPont and then General Motors, and later used his earnings to build the Empire State Building. The Raskob Foundation today involves more than 100 family members and has given more than $150 million to Catholic entities working at home and abroad. A typical CRS project funded recently by Raskob trained Afghan women in embroidery skills so they can support themselves while living in refugee camps.
When he was in seminary, a local minister challenged Jim Rayburn to consider the local high school his parish and figure out ways of connecting with kids who had no interest in church. In 1941, Rayburn and four other recently minted pastors created a new organization, Young Life, to run clubs where students could learn that faith in God can be both fun and life-changing. The idea spread across Texas, and then the U.S., and eventually to 95 countries.
Special ministries to children with disabilities, middle-schoolers, rural students, military children, and multicultural urban students were added to the original formula. Energetic summer camps were also established. Today, about 60,000 adult volunteers lead close to 7,000 local Young Life chapters that are funded by hundreds of thousands of donors. The organization had $311 million of revenue in 2014.
Young Life is on a path to reach 2 million children annually by the year 2016.
With the need for financial aid to European Jews becoming urgent in the late 1930s, three of the most prominent Jewish charities came together to form the United Jewish Appeal for Refugees and Overseas Needs (UJA). By joining forces, the three groups were able to raise nearly $2 billion between UJA’s founding in 1939 and 1967.
Right after World War II, UJA focused its efforts on evacuating Holocaust survivors; in 1947 alone, 25,000 refugees were resettled in the United States. With the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, endangered Jews were more often brought to Israel, along with funding to strengthen the fledgling nation. When the Six Day War threatened Israel, UJA raised $308 million for relief. Six years later, with the onset of the Yom Kippur War, the organization mustered $100 million before the first week of hostilities concluded. And when the Soviet Union crumbled in the late 1980s, the group removed Russian Jews to Israel, raising $900 million in 1990 alone to provide 800,000 Jews with safe passage.
In 1999 another merger of Jewish charities folded the UJA into what is now the Jewish Federations of North America. The JFNA provides money and organizational assistance to the more than 150 local Jewish Federation chapters spread across the United States and Canada. These local federations have raised and disbursed funds since 1895, when the first chapter was organized in Boston. Collectively, these partners raise more than $3 billion every year and distribute it for social welfare, education, and religious services.
John Rockefeller Jr. started the Sealantic Fund in 1938 to provide additional support to some of the causes he was funding personally, especially in support of liberal Protestantism. It began with an initial endowment of $23 million. Protestant theological education was its main emphasis.
Among other places, Sealantic grants went to Harvard Divinity School, New York City’s Interchurch Center, Union Theological Seminary, and the Interdenominational Theological Center. Sealantic partnered with the American Theological Library Association to develop religious libraries. To strengthen liberal seminaries and divinity schools, the fund promised them gifts if they would raise matching dollars.
In 1973, 13 years after the death of “Junior” Rockefeller, the Sealantic Fund was merged into the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
With assets of $10 billion and annual giving of around $350 million, the Lilly Endowment is one of the largest foundations in America. It was founded in 1937 when three members of the Lilly family donated stock in the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company. Along with education, and development of its home city of Indianapolis and home state of Indiana, “deepening and enriching the religious lives of American Christians” is the other major charge of the endowment.
Enhancing the quality of ministry in the U.S. is a primary focus of its grantmaking. This involves recruiting and training top candidates, and stimulating existing ministers in pursuit of “pastoral excellence.” Strengthening religious education, congregational life, faith formation, and public understanding of religion are also interests of Lilly’s.
From the time of their baptism at age eight, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to tithe. The church also asks the able-bodied to fast for two consecutive meals on one Sunday every month and donate what would have been spent to help the needy. These disciplines have made Mormons America’s biggest givers.
Among other effects, this giving has allowed their church hierarchy to build the most robust welfare system in the country. From its nineteenth-century beginnings, the LDS church has had a tradition of creating storehouses that provide food for the hungry. This system was expanded and refined amidst the hardships of the Great Depression, when it proved highly effective in rescuing people from want.
Wherever the church has congregations there is a facility where groceries, clothing, furniture, and other staples are available to any person who receives a slip from his or her bishop certifying need. The church has developed a network of its own farms, ranches, dairies, canneries, and other food processing and storage facilities to produce goods, and a central storehouse of roughly 600,000 square feet now serves five regional storehouses which redistribute to more than 200 smaller local storehouses. The church also operates 40 thrift stores.
Church officials broker employment between those who need jobs and those who have work to offer. And counseling and help navigating service providers is available to those with marital or health problems. The church focuses on its members, but also assists others outside of its congregations, including large numbers overseas.
The principle of mutual aid governs all interventions. “The real long-term objective of the welfare plan is the building of character in the members of the church—givers and receivers,” explains an official. “The aim of the church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our church membership.”
As a current LDS leader told Philanthropy, when serving the needy today, there is a growing tendency to “wait for experts with specialized knowledge to solve specific problems. When we do this, we deprive our neighbor of the service we could render. And we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to serve.”
Dorothy Day was working as a reporter for socialist publications in New York City when the faith and commitment of her three Catholic roommates made an impression on her. In 1927 she converted to Roman Catholicism herself. After reporting on a Hunger March in 1932, Day went to Washington’s Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to pray. She later wrote that she “offered up a special prayer…which came with tears and anguish, that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed…for the poor.”
The next morning, she met Peter Maurin, a Franciscan who encouraged her to bring attention to Catholic social thought and offer uniquely Catholic solutions to social ills. Captivated by the suggestion, Day financed the production and publication of a newspaper she called the Catholic Worker, whose first edition appeared in 1933. In the pages of the Worker, Day offered her unique synthesis of Catholic social thought. Her religious-political vision resonated in that era, and the paper was an instant success.
Soon Day was not just describing but acting. She opened two houses in New York for the destitute and the difficult, where those offering assistance and those needing assistance lived together in simple circumstances as equals. These establishments were partially funded by the wages of those who lived there, plus financial and in-kind donations from donors across the city.
Today there are 217 Catholic Worker communities located throughout North America and Europe. Each serves a particular neighborhood in its own way. More than three decades after Day’s death, her vision is still alive as a Christian social movement.
Capuchin friars first came to Detroit to work among the poor in 1883. With the arrival of the Great Depression they established a feeding program that was avidly received. Generations later, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen still operates, offering more than 2,000 free nutritious hot meals every day at two sites to anyone desiring to eat. The city’s Capuchins also operate a house that offers substance-abuse treatment to indigent men, a bakery that employs recovering addicts and the formerly incarcerated, a children’s program, an emergency shelter, and services that distribute 30,000 articles of clothing and 300,000 pounds of groceries to poor families every month. The Capuchin Soup Kitchen receives no government funds, relying as it has for 85 years on donations, plus earnings from the bakery.
The construction of Washington National Cathedral atop the highest point in the District of Columbia was a grand epic. Located on land set apart by Pierre L’Enfant for a “great church for national purposes,” its creation stretched from a congressional charter in 1893 to the placement of the final carved stone in 1990. The nation’s second-largest cathedral, it was described by George Will in 1978 as “the last pure Gothic work the world will see built.”
The building was erected as donated funds became available. The foundation was laid in the 1900s, the nave was completed in the 1970s, and the west towers were finished in 1990. The work was supported by thousands of Episcopalians and other Christians from across the country.
A big financial impetus to the project was the intervention of retired World War I hero General John Pershing, when he became president of the National Cathedral Association during the 1920s. Pershing raised funds tirelessly, squiring donors around the in-progress facilities and even taping a nationwide movie-reel appeal in 1930. At a 1928 fundraiser he argued that “the capital of the nation is the strategic point at which to make a demonstration of our common Christianity. To try to build a worthy nation without God is impossible. I welcome you tonight, therefore, not only as friends, but as co-workers in an enterprise which seems to me of vital importance to the future of our country—the hastening of the day when it can no longer be said that in…the capital of the United States, there is no adequate expression of the religious faith of the people.”
The National Cathedral has hosted many services of national significance. These have included the national prayer service following the 9/11 attacks, and funerals for former Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford. It is a popular site in Washington, and often a symbol of national unity in times of trouble.
“I am going to give a good part of what I make to the Lord,” said tobacco and hydroelectricity entrepreneur James Duke, “but I can make better interest for Him by keeping it while I live.” Duke exaggerated a bit—he was involved in philanthropy during his lifetime—but he did labor to build up a large private fortune that could be entrusted to religious and other social purposes after his passing. In 1924, less than a year before he died, Duke created the Duke Endowment and dedicated it to supporting Carolina hospitals, Carolina orphans, four Carolina universities (especially the future Duke University), and the Methodist church.
“If I amount to anything in this world,” he would say, “I owe it to my daddy and the Methodist church.” Duke instructed the endowment to give 12 percent of its annual payout to Methodist causes—10 percent for the construction and maintenance of rural Methodist churches in North Carolina, and 2 percent for the support of “worn-out” Methodist clergymen and their widows (a common enough risk in the days of Methodist circuit ministry). Duke’s funding allowed Methodist churches to invest in upgraded facilities to meet their communities’ needs, and it provided security in retirement for ministers and their family members who had often known privation during their careers.
Since 1924, the Duke Endowment has distributed nearly $150 million to Methodist causes in North Carolina and the result has been the steady growth of Methodism in the state. Today, North Carolina’s two United Methodist regional groups rank third and eighth in membership size among the nation’s 60 counterparts, with a total of approximately 1,900 churches and 530,000 members in the state.
In the early twentieth century, orthodox and liberal forms of Protestantism were competing for public favor. At the helm of the liberal ship was Harry Fosdick, whose views included denial of the divinity of Jesus. His 1922 sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” was a stinging critique of traditional Christian theology.
John Rockefeller Jr. had long been supportive of liberal religious causes, and as early as 1912 he was trying to recruit Fosdick away from his post at New York City’s First Presbyterian Church. When “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” was published, Junior provided the funds to distribute copies to every Protestant clergyman in the country, solidifying Fosdick as a leader among theological progressives. Then Junior made a big offer: he would build a great new interdenominational church on New York City’s upper west side if Fosdick would preside. The pastor accepted, and Junior donated $10 million to erect a grand Gothic cathedral in Morningside Heights that became known as the Riverside Church. The first services were held in 1930, and Riverside became what its donor intended: a bastion of modern liberal Protestantism.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the prospect of a military draft troubled American Quakers who were religiously principled pacifists. To support conscientious objectors and find alternative ways that they could serve the nation amidst the national mobilization, they formed the American Friends Service Committee. Quakers drove ambulances, did medical duty, and served stateside.
Long known for their philanthropy, the Quaker churches also sent volunteers to Europe to aid civilians disrupted by the fighting. And at the conclusion of the war Herbert Hoover asked the AFSC to help distribute food in Germany. The Friends took similar roles during World War II, and the Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 in recognition of AFSC’s service and donations across Europe during the three decades of warring.
The group has become extensively involved in “peace and social justice” advocacy over the decades. Private contributions and bequests have always fueled the organization, and continued to make up 99 percent of its 2014 budget of $32 million.
When many Jews were endangered amid the turmoil of World War I, a committee was formed with the goal of raising $5 million. The American Jewish Relief Committee for Sufferers of the War announced that four anonymous donors had each pledged $100,000 to launch the campaign, if another $600,000 could be raised in New York in a single event. Requests for tickets to the December 1915 gathering at Carnegie Hall soon tripled the number of available seats, and more than 3,000 people congregated outside the hall in the hope of being admitted at the last minute. There were addresses by the Episcopal bishop of New York, the president of the Central Conference of Rabbis, and speakers describing the plight of Jews caught between war and pogroms abroad.
Then people began walking to the stage one by one to drop off donations. In addition to cash there were slips of paper pledging one-time or monthly gifts. Others, the New York Times reported, left rings, necklaces, and earrings. When the event ended well after midnight the gifts exceeded $1 million, and the campaign was off to a roaring start. Julius Rosenwald, head of Sears, Roebuck & Company, subsequently donated a million dollars, and others like Jacob Schiff, Nathan Straus, and Felix Warburg made similar large gifts. Most remarkable was the breadth of giving. An estimated 3 million Americans made a donation to this cause at some time during the war.
The funds were used to aid to Jewish refugees, and to finance relocation of families to safer countries. This campaign demonstrated the commitment of American Jews to their brethren abroad. It was a tie that would be tested repeatedly over the course of the twentieth century.
In twenty-first-century America, orphanages might seem like relics of the past. Because research in human attachment has taught us that children need close and lasting human connections, when those with disrupted lives need new homes, every effort is now made to place them in families rather than institutions. Sometimes, however, this isn’t feasible—due to shortages of foster or adoptive parents, or behavioral issues and special needs beyond what most substitute parents are equipped to handle.
The default option is to send such youngsters to state-run group homes. Many of these are miserable places. Thanks to private philanthropy, though, a number of high-quality residential homes and schools exist across the country as alternatives for children with severe challenges. One of the most iconic is a Christian residential school called Crossnore.
Crossnore was founded by Mary Sloop and her husband, Eustace, two young physicians anxious to serve as medical missionaries. In 1911 they moved to an impoverished mountain county in North Carolina and began offering medical, educational, and economic aid to local children. Their project gradually evolved into a boarding school for orphans and other needy children. Adjoining the school, the Sloops set up a weaving workshop and a working farm where the children could learn skills and personal disciplines. This, along with resources donated and raised by the Sloops, allowed the school to be largely self-supporting.
Crossnore currently houses about 100 kids at any one time, ages one to 21, who have been severely neglected or abused, and whose needs aren’t met by the foster-care system or public schools. They live in cottages, supervised by couples, and attend classes and intensive activities that promote healing, faith, and self-improvement. The school has its own K-12 charter school that is also open to children from the surrounding community, a special program to help residents ages 17 to 21 transition gradually to independent living, and a scholarship program that pays tuition of alumni who go to college. There is also a special effort to assist the adoption of Crossnore kids into families.
Impressed by the good results achieved with difficult children at this facility, a loyal cadre of Christian donors has provided financial support over more than a century. A recent capital campaign raised $20 million for the school’s private endowment. Similar facilities in other states include the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries; Hope Village for Children in Meridian, Mississippi; Safe Harbor Boys Home of Jacksonville, Florida; the Hendrick Home for Children in Abilene, Texas; and 11 homes operated across the country by Youth Villages.
The president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., invited Catholic clergy and laity to gather on his campus in 1910 to launch Catholic Charities. Local parishes had been doing charitable work right from their beginnings—there were more than 800 Catholic social services organizations nationwide around the turn of the twentieth century. Some Catholics, however, felt there needed to be a more centralized anti-poverty effort.
Today about 170 social service efforts across the U.S. are supported by Catholic Charities, serving several million people each year. The 501(c)(3) coordinating body, Catholic Charities USA, raised $24 million in contributions and grants in 2013. Linked to its origins in the nation’s capital, and its continued headquartering there, Catholic Charities has also involved itself extensively in political debates right from its beginning. It organized letter-writing campaigns on behalf of New Deal legislation, for instance, and led pushes for various forms of public housing. In the 1960s, the group tilted further toward advocacy of government activism. Today, about two thirds of Catholic Charities’ annual spending comes from government sources (more than half a billion dollars of federal grants alone).
In 1898, two traveling businessmen found themselves sharing a room in an overbooked Wisconsin hotel. On discovering that they were both Christians, they studied the Bible together and knelt in prayer. Encouraged by their fellowship, a year later these businessmen met with another friend in Janesville, Wisconsin, and formed a ministry for travelling businessmen. Calling themselves the Gideons—after the Old Testament judge who did whatever God called him to—they came up with an additional strategy for reaching their fellow travellers: placing a Bible in every hotel room in America. With the philanthropic support of their members and members’ home churches, the Bible project launched in 1908 became the Gideons’ signature outreach. Today, with 290,000 members in 190 countries, the Gideons have distributed 1.7 billion Bibles, stocking most hotels in the U.S. and many other countries.
Edgar Helms was a Cornell grad and ordained Methodist minister hunkered down in a South Boston outpost in 1902 fighting some of the city’s worst poverty. His building was collapsing, the nation was in a depression, and his church lacked funds. A staff member suggested they repair and sell the used clothes often received as donations. Helms realized clothes donations were easier to collect than monetary ones and that a market existed for cleaned and repaired clothes. But he was even more attracted by the fact that the process would provide what his congregation most needed: employment.
In 1905, Helms incorporated the first branch of what became Goodwill Industries. Helms differed from many poverty-fighters of his day. Some focused on single problems like drunkenness among the poor. Others bypassed direct service to poor persons in favor of lobbying government for reforms of housing, medical care, and wages. Helms insisted that what the poor most needed was work that would make them self-reliant and self-respecting. “You can’t help a man by doubting him. When he tells us he wants work, we assume that he does,” Helms explained, stressing that the poor need “a chance, not a charity.”
In 1915, Helms’s innovative program spread to Brooklyn. Then, in 1919, the Methodist church provided several hundred thousand dollars of seed money that helped Goodwill expand across America, Canada, and abroad. By the mid-1930s Goodwill Industries had 100 branches in the U.S., and others in foreign countries. During the Great Depression Goodwill narrowed its focus to employment of men and women with disabilities, a specialty it has preserved to this day.
The founder’s most important legacy may be the decentralized structure of his organization. The 165 local Goodwill branches can assist each other and request advice and aid from the world headquarters, but each is autonomous in policy and funding—a stark contrast to centralized nonprofits like the Red Cross and Catholic Charities. The central office’s budget is dwarfed by those of branches in cities like Milwaukee and Houston. Yet the movement is vast: nearly $5 billion in worldwide revenues; over 3,000 stores in the U.S., Canada, and 13 other countries; and workforce training provided to 26 million persons in a great variety of fields. The central office’s current CEO, Jim Gibbons, echoes Helms’s original principle: “We believe work is the mechanism by which people gain financial and personal independence.”
By the beginning of the twentieth century the organ had become an important animator of worship in American churches. Andrew Carnegie turned up the volume by donating nearly 7,700 organs to churches worldwide (4,100 of those in the U.S.), starting in 1902. Carnegie, only a sporadic churchgoer himself, considered fine music a devotional experience, and quoted Confucius’ line: “O Music, sacred tongue of God, I hear thee calling, and I come.” His organ-funding program was very methodical. Churches applying to his foundation had to contribute half of the funds, and they had to select an organ that was suited to the size of their worship hall. It was an ecumenical program—Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational, Lutheran, and Episcopal congregations alike received instruments. This highly personal initiative by one of America’s seminal donors transformed American church life.
While working as a truant officer in Milwaukee in the 1890s, Lizzie Kander discovered that the home conditions of Russian immigrant families were “deplorable…threatening the moral and physical health of the people.” Believing that women were the keys to household success and acculturation, she devoted herself to a variety of self-funded initiatives to teach cleanliness, child education, good nutrition, household skills, and economically useful trades like sewing to Russian women. By 1900 she was deeply involved in running a settlement house that assimilated Jewish immigrants using funds donated by Milwaukee businessmen. When additional money was needed, Kander compiled a 174-page cookbook-cum-housekeeping-guide to sell as a fundraiser. The board of directors would not pay the $18 needed to print the book, so she paid for production by selling ads. It became known as the Settlement Cook Book and eventually sold two million copies—thereby funding the mainstreaming of Jewish immigrants in the upper Midwest, and many other charitable causes, for 75 years.
Wall Street banker J. P. Morgan was a devoted Episcopalian. He was an officer of his local church. He served on a national committee charged with revising the Book of Common Prayer (much of which he knew by heart). As an adult, he set aside three full weeks every third year to meet with theologians and discuss faith. And he quietly underwrote the salaries of scores of Manhattan clergy.
He was also the principal funder behind the construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan, one of the largest stone churches in the world. In 1892 alone, the year construction began, Morgan donated the current equivalent of $13 million to underwrite construction of an Episcopal edifice that could compare with the Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral begun a dozen years earlier in midtown. The massive church—covering much of a city block, with interior ceiling heights of 124 feet—is constructed in traditional stone-on-stone style without steel or modern supports, in a riotous Gothic/Byzantine/Romanesque style. Its rose window is made of 10,000 pieces of glass assembled in traditional medieval fashion. Ellis Island opened the year construction began, so the cathedral includes seven chapels designed in seven distinct national styles to represent the seven largest immigrant groups then flooding into the U.S.
In the 1920s, Franklin Roosevelt headed a campaign to raise $10 million in private donations (the equivalent of $134 million today) for the next stage of construction. This allowed building to continue even through the Depression. Work was stopped by World War II, however, and the cathedral, though heavily used, remains incomplete in many of its elements—sparking its nickname, St. John the Unfinished.
Among many remarkable elements of Christian iconography on the building are a series of stone carvings reflecting apocalyptic scenes from the Book of Revelation, which was authored by the cathedral’s namesake, the apostle John. Interpretations by the modern stonecarvers include scenes of New York City being engulfed by a tidal wave, the Brooklyn Bridge cracking in two, and the World Trade Center towers and Chrysler building teetering. Even as a work in progress, this wholly donor-funded cathedral represents one of the most monumental Christian edifices in the world.
Katharine Drexel was born in 1858 into one of America’s wealthiest families—the namesake founders of Drexel University and the Drexel Burnham Lambert investment firm. Her parents were of French Catholic extraction, and devout and deeply charitable. The family opened its grand home to hundreds of poor Philadelphians twice a week, providing food, clothing, and rent money. This was only part of the family’s annual giving, which was roughly equivalent to $11 million today.
Katharine felt a calling to religious life as early as 14, and it intensified during a trip through the American West, where she was troubled by the poverty of Native Americans. After her father died in 1885, the young woman took her multimillion-dollar inheritance and began funding schools and missions for New Mexican Indians. During an audience in 1887 with Pope Leo XIII she urged that more missionaries be sent to help Native Americans. The Pope replied, “Why not, my child, become a missionary yourself?” In 1889 Katharine bade farewell to Philadelphia high society and became a nun with the Sisters of Mercy.
Two years later, Drexel founded her own order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and made a special vow not to “undertake any work which would lead to the neglect or abandonment of the Indian or Colored races.” She converted her family estate into a home for African-American orphans, using it also to train young novices before they departed as missionaries to the western U.S. Drexel developed a network of 145 missions, 12 schools for Native Americans, and 50 schools for African Americans throughout the South and West. Staffed by laypersons and often attached to a local church, the schools offered religious instruction and vocational training. Students did not have to be Catholic to enroll.
In 1915, Drexel provided a $750,000 grant that allowed the sisters to found Xavier University in New Orleans—the only historically black Catholic college in the United States (and one that, among other educational contributions, has produced a quarter of the black pharmacists in America over the last century). Katharine led the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament until 1938. During her lifetime she is estimated to have given away half a billion dollars in present-day funds to support her order. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of important farm machinery, was a generous religious philanthropist, giving away at least $550,000 in the second half of the nineteenth century to religious organizations—mostly the Presbyterian church, seminaries, and other schools. His wife, Nettie, raised in a devout Methodist and devotedly philanthropic home, outlived her husband by 39 years and became an even more prolific giver to religious causes on her own, starting in 1889. She felt strongly that she was accountable to God for how she used the money entrusted to her, and sought gifts that had a crisp moral purpose, a spiritual or educational benefit, and a chance of helping recipients better themselves.
Nettie gave away millions of dollars. Orphanages, schools, colleges, hospitals, and relief agencies all benefited from her endowments. She took a strong interest in schools like Tusculum College, the Moody Bible Institute, and Princeton University in the U.S. And her large gifts made several Christian colleges and hospitals possible overseas, including Alborz College in Tehran, and a theological seminary in Korea. It has been estimated that McCormick was the lead funder of at least 46 schools, and possibly more.
The first Catholic school in America was opened in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1606. In New Orleans, the Ursuline Academy opened in 1727 and is still operating today as the oldest Catholic school in the U.S. Other U.S. faith-based schools have roots nearly as deep. The first Jewish day school opened in New York City four decades before the American Revolution. The oldest Quaker school in the world, currently known as the William Penn Charter School, was established in Philadelphia in 1689.
But Catholic schools are the largest element in faith-based schooling today—representing about one out of every three religious schools operating in the U.S. They grew up primarily after the Civil War, as immigration from Catholic countries created demand for facilities where education could coexist with spiritual training and Catholic culture. After several efforts to secure government funding for religious education failed, the American Catholic bishops met in Baltimore in 1884 and decided that all parishes should establish schools themselves for the children of congregants. (The same council passed the resolution that led to the creation of the Catholic University of America.) Thus began many decades of grassroots philanthropy to establish, construct, and maintain parochial schools.
Financed by religious subsidies plus modest tuition payments from parents, Catholic schools exploded from only about 200 in the first half of the 1800s to 5,000 by the year 1900, and 13,500 schools educating 5.6 million children at their peak in 1965. Catholic schools have since receded to 6,600 and an enrollment of 2 million, but philanthropists are working to maintain and revive them, particularly in poor urban neighborhoods where they offer the only decent education to local children (now mostly minorities, and not Catholic).
With backing from donors, new networks, economic models, management structures, and funding methods are now being energetically experimented with, all aiming to secure Catholic education as an option for families in future generations. New York City’s Catholic schools currently receive as much in large philanthropic donations as they do in aid from the archdiocese.
Jacob Schiff was born in Germany in 1847, the son of a prominent rabbinical family. Over the objections of his father, he traveled to New York City in 1865 to work a brief stint as a broker. Eventually he settled in the U.S. and took a position at the prominent banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb, and Company. By the close of the nineteenth century Schiff was one of the richest and most prominent men in the country. He channeled much of his wealth into Jewish causes like Hebrew Union College, Jewish Theological Seminary, and the American Jewish Relief Committee.
Indeed, Schiff supported nearly every major Jewish charity of his day. He was a major lifelong funder of the Henry Street Settlement that did so much to reduce immigrant squalor in New York City’s Lower East Side. Amid rising pogroms in Russia and elsewhere he financed Zionist organizations and efforts to relocate European Jews to safety in Palestine. He also aided many non-Jewish causes. He funded the Montefiore Hospital in New York for decades, served as its president, and visited the hospital weekly. Throughout his philanthropic career Jacob Schiff resisted public recognition. When he saw plans for a plaque on the Jewish Theological Seminary building he immediately crossed out his name.
Methodist minister William Booth and his wife, Catherine, founded the Salvation Army in London in 1865 to help prostitutes, drunks and drug addicts, and the poor—using his “three S’s” approach: “first, soup; second, soap; and finally, salvation.” Some observers were put off by the flamboyance of the “Sallies,” with their brass bands and bright uniforms and their direct engagement with the lower classes. But they achieved great success, and then strong support from the public in dollars and volunteer hours.
In 1880, the Salvation Army arrived in the U.S. with its flags flying (emblazoned “Blood and Fire”). Fascinated reporters were told that the arriving officers were part of an “army of men and women mostly belonging to the working class” who had been saved from immorality and wasted human potential. They immediately strode into saloons, brothels, and slums, engaging the most desperate residents, and established what became one of America’s largest and best-run charities.
In less than a decade this combination church and social movement created a citywide service network. By 1900, reports historian Marvin Olasky, the Army had 20,000 American volunteers, its employment bureaus placed 4,800 persons a month into jobs, and it operated 141 relief operations including 52 shelters, 14 homes for women facing crisis pregnancies, and two children’s homes. The Army’s massive disaster relief after the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake further enhanced its reputation. Disaster relief continues to be offered—Army workers and volunteers gave more than 900,000 hours of service after Hurricane Katrina.
Today, the Salvation Army’s several thousand uniformed officers oversee 7,600 centers and a multibillion-dollar budget serving tens of millions of Americans. Its lean, decentralized management system pays officers the minimum wage and raises and spends all money locally. Management expert Peter Drucker called it “by far the most effective organization in the U.S.”—nonprofit or for-profit. “No one even comes close with respect to clarity of mission, ability to innovate, measurable results, dedication, and putting money to maximum use,” he concluded. Forbes calculated that if the Army’s employees and volunteers in 126 countries were paid market wages, it would be one of the world’s largest companies.
In 2003, McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc left more than $1.5 billion to the Army, the largest philanthropic gift ever given to one charity. A recent National Commander in the U.S. explained its unchanging view on helping the needy: “You can’t divorce individual responsibility from the societal ills that create poverty. Low-income persons begin to see their own self-worth as they take responsibility for themselves.”
During the nineteenth century there was much experimentation in the U.S. at combining religious observance with new dietary practices. Seventh-day Adventism had a significant effect in this area through its Battle Creek Sanitarium. The church follows the food codes prescribed in Leviticus, and recommends vegetarianism to adherents, while banning alcohol and tobacco. Seventh-day Adventists put these principles into practice at their Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, funded by the donations of congregants.
Under the direction of physician John Kellogg, the Adventist church created what amounted to an early health spa, where a low-fat diet rich in whole grains, fiber, and nuts was served, along with something new: flaked cereals. Both Kellogg’s younger brother, W. K., and sanitarium visitor C. W. Post picked up on this innovation and created companies offering the convenience and nutrition of flaked cereals to the general public—ventures which created a large industry.
In addition to controlled diet and lots of exercise, John Kellogg offered many exotic health treatments like cold-air exercise, hydrotherapy, water-and-yogurt enemas, and odd sexual regimens. The sanitarium became a popular spot, generating national interest in health and wellness and attracting famous patients like Mary Lincoln, William Taft, Henry Ford, and Amelia Earhart. It went into decline during the Depression.
The Chautauqua Institution is a quintessentially American organization where citizens have been trooping for a century and a half to fire their spirits and refine their souls. Founded in 1874 by a Methodist minister and an inventor/philanthropist named Lewis Miller,
Chautauqua’s original purpose was to educate and train Sunday-school teachers from around the nation so they could more effectively instruct and minister to their charges back home. The original assemblies were in tents pitched thickly along Chautauqua Lake in western New York. Over time, the grounds grew into a seasonal village of beautiful little cottages, outdoor lecture spaces, numerous chapels, several theaters, and recreation areas. The grounds are now listed as a National Historic Landmark.
A century and a half after its start, Americans continue to flock to Chautauqua for religious inspiration, opportunities to improve their minds, and chances to develop their creative talents. All day long, there are lectures, Bible studies, art classes, concerts, dance performances, sports activities, singalongs, and study groups of all sorts. Every evening there is lively conversation around dinner tables and on packed front porches.
The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, which was founded to promote independent learning, particularly among those unable to attend formal schools, is the oldest book club in the United States. The institution has had its own permanent summer orchestra, theater, opera, ballet, and fine-arts programs for decades. Many religious denominations operate houses on the grounds where learning, conversation, fraternity, and daily worship are shared. Much of the instruction at Chautauqua is self-guided, and the animating purpose behind spending a week or a summer at Chautauqua has always been to improve oneself. This earnest do-it-yourself learning caused Teddy Roosevelt to describe the Chautauqua gatherings as “the most American thing in America.”
By the turn of the twentieth century, this upstate New York phenomenon had became so popular and influential it spawned several hundred other “daughter Chautauquas” in locales across the country. The word thus entered the American lexicon to describe any assembly where Americans come together with the goal of re-forming themselves into better people.
The anti-alcohol movement, which was rooted in America’s Protestant churches, powered by philanthropy and female volunteers, and ultimately a powerful political force, was an organic response to a real problem. During the first half of the 1800s, the average American over age 15 drank almost seven gallons of pure alcohol per year. That’s three times modern U.S. consumption levels.
It was primarily men who abused alcohol. The effects included vicious fighting (eye gouging was popular), the dissipation of wages, and domestic violence. It was often women and children who were particularly victimized by drinking.
So not surprisingly, the temperance movement was primarily driven by women, specifically religious women. It sought, first, to moderate alcohol use. Then came an emphasis on helping drinkers lean on each other to resist the temptation to drink. Finally, the temperance movement sought local, state, and national laws prohibiting alcohol.
Amid even greater horrors, temperance became less visible and urgent during the Civil War. But after the war, the arrival of waves of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and Italy brought spikes in alcohol consumption and production that reinflamed many Americans, led by Methodist and Baptist clergy. Starting in upstate New York in 1873, thousands of distraught wives and mothers organized themselves into the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and became a potent social force. Local laws began to regulate and restrict alcohol consumption, and nearly every school in America used a WCTU anti-alcohol educational curriculum. Concomitant drives to clean up slums, protect children, and secure women’s rights often led to overlapping support for controls on alcohol.
The WCTU was joined in its anti-alcohol work by the Anti-Saloon League. The ASL also worked very closely with churches, and enjoyed many small funders, but in addition it attracted funding from major philanthropists like Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and John Rockefeller (who donated the current equivalent of $13 million to the League). When the creation of the income tax in 1913 made the federal government less dependent upon liquor taxes, the campaign for prohibition shifted into high gear. In 1920, production and consumption of alcohol became illegal nationwide.
Enforcing the ban would prove chimerical. Philanthropy’s long-running persuasive campaign against heavy boozing, however, had permanent results. Alcohol consumption has never since even approached its nineteenth-century levels. And some modern philanthropists (like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is also a leader of America’s anti-smoking effort) continue to support efforts to moderate alcohol consumption.
From childhood, John Rockefeller was a devout Baptist. Even before he made his fortune with Standard Oil he consistently tithed 10 percent of his income to religious causes. Starting around 1864 he exhibited a particular interest in supporting Baptist colleges.
He began by giving $5 to a school in Gambier, Ohio. That was followed by a $500 donation to another Ohio Baptist facility, Denison University. Denison had received $22,000 more from Rockefeller by 1882.
In 1884, Rockefeller covered the nearly $5,000 debt of the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, which out of gratitude took the maiden name of its donor’s wife and renamed itself Spelman Seminary. That same year, he gave $25,000 to the African-American Baptist seminary in Richmond, Virginia. And when Northern Baptist officials created a separate society to support higher education, Rockefeller pledged $100,000 to launch it in 1888.
The American Baptist Education Society ultimately received more than $800,000 from John Rockefeller between 1890 and 1914. Among other causes, Rockefeller and the Society partnered to create a flagship Baptist university for the country: the University of Chicago. In today’s dollars, Rockefeller’s giving to the University of Chicago during its first 20 years comes to about $35 million.
The carnage at the First Battle of Bull Run (just a preview of the destruction to come in our Civil War) stirred the hearts of many Americans. Among those summoned to action were members of the Young Men’s Christian Association. At their 1861 convention they created the United States Christian Commission to provide war relief. Unlike the U.S. Sanitary Commission, another private aid organization that raised $25 million to succor war victims (see 1861 entry on Prosperity list), the USCC would not separate physical from spiritual assistance.
The USCC organized 5,000 volunteers to serve in military camps and on battlefields. It also collected $6 million worth of goods and supplies, which it distributed to those in need. The group brought Christian love and comfort to many thousands of soldiers, spurring spiritual revivals in numerous encampments.
Among the USCC’s most dedicated supporters was inventor Matthias Baldwin, owner of the Baldwin Locomotive Company. Baldwin was already providing crucial support to the Union cause by supplying the army with trains—for which he ultimately lost nearly all of his Southern customers. In addition, he donated 10 percent of his company’s profits to the USCC during the war. Support from Baldwin, Philadelphia merchant George Stuart, and other contributors enabled the USCC to construct permanent chapels alongside army forts, to offer reading rooms and literature, to provide medical care to the wounded and dying, and to turn its attention late in the war to literacy training among black soldiers.
In 1854, the first Hebrew Young Men’s Literary Association opened its doors in Baltimore to serve Jewish immigrants. Other branches soon opened in additional cities, serving as libraries, cultural centers, settlement houses, and social hubs. Amidst heavy Jewish immigration around the end of the century, the HYMLAs became important in acculturating new arrivals, teaching them English, and coaching them in American civic responsibilities.
When World War I broke out, the group raised money, established rules, and recruited rabbis to serve Jewish soldiers. Contributions of more than $6 million from Jewish philanthropists like Jacob Schiff and many others allowed distribution of prayer shawls, mezuzahs, calendars, and scrolls. The group had to work to overcome divisions among Judaism’s orthodox, conservative, and reform factions, and even produced a prayer book that could be shared by soldiers from different branches.
Credibility earned in this process allowed the association to absorb other Jewish fraternal organizations and take responsibility for building community centers, children’s camps, and other communal facilities for Jews across the country. Jewish community centers became rallying points for Hebrew education, cultural and sports events, and Jewish celebrations. Today, the JCC Association is the successor organization, with responsibility for more than 350 community centers and camps.
New England merchant Judah Touro set up shop in New Orleans in 1801, and he profited handsomely from the growth of the Crescent City and eventual addition of Louisiana to the United States. This allowed him to become one of the most prolific religious philanthropists of his day.
Although he was without a synagogue for most of his life, Touro remained a devout Jew. When he arrived in New Orleans, his co-religionists in the city could be counted on two hands, and as late as 1826 there were no more than a few hundred Jews in all of Louisiana. In 1828, Touro financed the founding of New Orleans’ first synagogue. When it divided into separate Ashkenazi and Sephardic congregations after some years, he gave generously to both groups, while attending the Sephardic gathering. (In 1881 the synagogues merged back together, and today the combined congregation is named for its benefactor.)
Touro also created and funded numerous Jewish relief agencies and Hebrew schools in New Orleans. He gave liberally to Christians, too. At one point he purchased an imperiled Christian church building and assumed its debts, allowing the congregation to use the building rent-free in perpetuity. When a colleague suggested the property might be valuable if sold for commercial purposes, Touro responded, “I am a friend to religion and I will not pull down the church to increase my means!”)
Touro died in 1854. In his will, he bequeathed $500,000 to institutions around the country—more than half of them non-Jewish. (As a percentage of GDP, those gifts would approximate billions of dollars today.) His last testament included crucial support for the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport (see 1763 entry) and the Touro Infirmary in New Orleans. He also bequeathed to various benevolent societies, hospitals, orphanages, almshouses, asylums, libraries, schools, and relief efforts for Jews and Christians overseas, especially in Palestine. Touro’s gifts of thousands of dollars each to 23 Jewish congregations in 14 states made him one of his era’s greatest benefactors of his faith.
With the massive influx of poor immigrants to New York in the mid-nineteenth century came an unprecedented number of homeless and orphaned children in need of care. Unsatisfied with the scant resources available to the abandoned children, a coalition of churchmen and social reformers gathered in 1853 to found the New York Children’s Aid Society. The first director was Congregationalist minister Charles Loring Brace. The society provided lodging and education in various crafts and trades to the children in its care. It later created “orphan trains” that sent children to live with new families in less crowded areas (see 1853 entry on companion list of Achievements in Economic and Social Prosperity). The society’s annual reports show steady financial support from many of New York City’s leading families—the Astors, Dodges, and Roosevelts all made regular and generous donations—but there was also a wide and faithful base of small-scale supporters who sustained the society’s work with gifts of money, clothing, supplies, and volunteer time.
In the late 1840s, Thomas Sullivan had retired after a long career as a sea captain, but he continued to sail as a marine missionary. While in London, he admired a place called the Young Men’s Christian Association where men and boys, far from home, could get a clean and safe place to stay, find fellowship, and be taught the Christian gospel. Inspired to provide a “home away from home” for young American seamen on leave, Sullivan brought the YMCA to Boston, opening the first U.S. branch of the organization in 1851 at the Old South Church. As it grew, the Y added educational programs and a gymnasium to its original offerings of overnight lodging, socializing, and prayer and Bible-study meetings.
Prominent evangelist Dwight Moody worked for the YMCA for many years in the later 1800s and expanded its missions work. Evangelist John Mott did likewise in the first half of the 1900s, steering the Y into war relief and assistance to foreign needy as a supplement to its domestic mission. Mott was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946 for leading the YMCA’s international humanitarian efforts.
With the growth of additional branches across the country, the YMCA became a haven for young people arriving in cities looking for work after leaving rural farms, and later for travelers during the tumultuous decades of the world wars and Great Depression. The Y also helped make basketball and volleyball popular sports, and YMCA summer camps introduced many children to the great outdoors. The organization eventually became a cultural touchstone for suburban Americans. In the process, however, the Y lost its explicitly Christian orientation. Today, YMCA chapters serve 21 million Americans per year at 2,700 sites.
Established in 1849 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Perpetual Emigration Fund distributed loans that enabled more than 30,000 Mormons to settle in the American West. Supported by church donations, private contributions, and repayments that were then distributed again on a revolving basis, the loans made it possible for converts from across the world to relocate themselves into the company of fellow believers in the burgeoning LDS heartland in Utah. Many of these immigrants came from the Midwest, the previous center of the Mormon diaspora, while others arrived from overseas, with transportation for many being organized out of Liverpool, England.
Once relocated, those assisted by the PEF would begin paying back their loans, thus enabling the settlement of yet more church members. In this way, a nascent church was able to consolidate and expand its embryonic and oft-threatened community despite very limited finances. In 1880, on the occasion of the LDS Church’s fiftieth anniversary, a Jubilee Year was declared and half of all debts to the PEF, totaling $337,000, were forgiven.
Throughout much of America’s early history, Catholic philanthropy was characterized by its decentralization. Nearly all giving originated in and was disbursed by individual parishes, often through religious orders supported by the congregation. One of the first efforts to provide services on a wider level than the parish began when the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was imported to St. Louis, Missouri, to provide relief for the poor, 12 years after it had been founded in Paris. The group has provided many charitable services during its history, from running homeless shelters to prison ministry to providing emergency aid after disasters. The emphasis has always been on person-to-person care, modeled on the interactions of Christ with his followers. As one of the organization’s later presidents put it, “the Society has two aims: to do a great deal of spiritual good to its members through the exercise of charity, and to do a little spiritual good to a few poor families in the name of Jesus.”
A majority of America’s private colleges and universities were founded with a distinct religious affiliation and aim. Yale was created by Puritan clergymen. Harvard was named for a Christian minister. Baptists launched Colgate and the University of Chicago. Duke and Syracuse University grew out of Methodism. Princeton was a Presbyterian project. Georgetown was started by Jesuits. Many institutions of higher education like these, however, have now surrendered or lost their religious foundation. (Andrew Carnegie actually accelerated this by insisting that only secular institutions could participate in the important fund he set up to pay for pensions to professors, which became today’s TIAA-CREF company.)
Yet other colleges have maintained a coherent faith angle, keeping religious orientation as a countercultural centerpiece of their teaching, their wider mission, and their campus identity. Notre Dame has proclaimed a clear Catholic mission since its founding in 1842. Baylor University has clung to its Baptist heritage since its birth in 1845. Wheaton College in Illinois and Calvin College in Michigan have built strong orthodox Protestant identities over a century and a half. Brigham Young University, created in 1876, remains a citadel of Mormonism. Yeshiva University fills a similar role for orthodox Jews, dating back to 1886.
Universities with unabashed religious identities continue to be formed in the U.S. Some of them have grown rapidly into established educational institutions, thanks to powerful philanthropic backing. Oral Roberts (1963), Liberty (1971), and Ave Maria (1998) universities are examples in the last generation.
Peter Parker grew up in a family of poor but pious Massachusetts farmers, felt a religious calling as a teenager, earned both theology and medical degrees from Yale, then was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. He volunteered to become an overseas missionary supported by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (see 1810 item in this section), and arrived in China in 1834.
Parker opened a hospital in Canton, where he pioneered medical mission work. He was tender and selfless, and a skilled surgeon and ophthalmologist, and as patients began to flock to him, he removed cataracts and cured other eye diseases, then excised tumors, treated infections, and operated on internal organs. His ability to relieve suffering soon made him spectacularly popular and in demand among the Chinese, and he treated 2,000 people in his first year.
Local medicine was then in a crude state—Parker described seeing air blown into the rectum of a drowned child in an attempt at resuscitation, and patients with infected fingers inserting them into a live frog as a cure. Parker quickly took Chinese students under his wing to train them in Western medical techniques and expand his hospital’s services. This launched medical education in the country.
Over two decades Parker treated more than 52,000 patients. He introduced anesthesia to China, pioneered many surgical techniques, and in 1838 formed a Medical Missionary Society (the first medical society in the world) to encourage and support other religious workers bringing health care to Asian trading ports. In its first 50 years, Society members treated one million sick people, trained numerous local residents as doctors and nurses, translated important books, and otherwise brought modern medicine to the world’s most populous region.
Peter Parker not only relieved human suffering, but dissolved much Chinese prejudice against Christians. Indeed, he personally came to be revered, opening doors for many other Westerners. And the model he established for combining relief of physical suffering with Christian witness came to be a central strand of missions work.
Arthur and Lewis Tappan first imbibed their evangelical Protestant beliefs at the Northampton, Massachusetts, church where Jonathan Edwards had preached. They were apprenticed to Boston merchants and soon began a lifetime of keen business dealings, but never lost their religious fervor. Lewis dabbled in Unitarianism for a while, but in 1827 Arthur drew him back to orthodox Christianity.
As they made money, the brothers poured large sums into a wide range of religious and social causes. Most famously these included their brave leadership in the movement to abolish slavery and improve the lot of freedmen. (See 1833, 1841, and 1846 entries on the list of achievements in Public Policy.)
But, sparked by their Christian convictions, the Tappans were also active in many other causes. They subsidized the Sunday School movement, supplied Bibles and other resources for new churches in the West, and funded religiously infused colleges. They defended Christian Cherokees against forced removal by the federal government. Before the Civil War they shipped Bibles to slaves, and after the war they backed schools and colleges charged with increasing literacy and prosperity among African Americans. And the Tappan brothers subsidized many missionaries who brought the Gospel, education, and health care to poor countries abroad.
In the early nineteenth century, American philanthropists desperately sought peaceful solutions to the horrid dilemmas of slavery. One proposal involved buying the freedom of slaves and repatriating them to western Africa. The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 to promote this idea. It was presented as having dual benefits: restoring blacks to their rightful freedom, while introducing Christianity, the beginnings of literacy, and economic improvements to desperately poor countries as the liberated returned to the lands of their ancestry.
The ACS became a mass movement, with numerous local auxiliaries. It was collecting annual membership revenues of $15,000 by its tenth year. The society attracted support from American leaders like John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, James Madison, and Henry Clay, for a variety of motives.
The ACS drew criticism from African-American civil-society organizations like the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was also opposed by slave owners, and by some abolitionists. Yet under President James Monroe the ACS became an official partner of the U.S. government in establishing the colony that is now the nation of Liberia—where 13,000 black freedmen were ultimately settled, using a mix of privately donated and federal funds.
Early American Christian philanthropists placed great importance on sharing the Bible through various associations—preeminent among them the New York Bible Society and the American Bible Society. The founders of the NYBS in 1809 included Henry Rutgers (namesake of Rutgers University), William Colgate (founder of what became Colgate-Palmolive), and Thomas Eddy (the first commissioner of the Erie Canal). Their ambitions quickly grew beyond New York—they funded a translation of the Bible into Bengali by missionary William Carey. By 1815, the NYBS had distributed 10,000 Bibles; by 1909, 4.9 million; and by 1990, 300 million in over 400 languages. Today known as Biblica, the society also holds the copyright on the New International Version, today’s bestselling English translation of the Bible.
With help from the NYBS, another group of Christian donors launched the American Bible Society in 1816. This second collaborative undertook four national surveys to ascertain where Bibles were most in need. It also created translations—its first being a Delaware Indian version of the epistles of John, another being the first Bible in braille. The ABS began the country’s long and continuing tradition of distributing Scripture to members of the armed services when it supplied Bibles to the crew of the USS John Adams. Almost 450,000 Bibles were distributed by the American Bible Society in its first decade, a remarkable figure given the difficulties of manufacturing and the state of roads and trade in the early 1800s.
Generations of American philanthropists have supported both of these organizations. Sometimes they have done so on a very large scale, like the Russell Sage Foundation’s $500,000 gift to the ABS in 1908.
Elizabeth Seton was raised an observant Episcopalian in New York, but after she was widowed at age 29, with five young children while living in Italy, she was exposed to a tender Roman Catholicism that had an effect on her. She returned to the U.S. and converted two years later, then became a nun in 1809. Soon Seton and a few other nuns started America’s first sisterhood, the Sisters of Charity.
A wealthy Catholic donor named Samuel Cooper gave the church $10,000 and 269 acres near Emmitsburg, Maryland, to establish a home for the order. He continued to support its work for many years. A school for girls was launched—one of the first in the U.S. catering to needy children, and the foundation from which a vast network of American Catholic schools would soon grow. Seton taught, trained teachers, wrote textbooks, and later pioneered a new business model: admit some students whose parents could pay in order to subsidize students whose parents could not.
A whole string of other charitable entities developed simultaneously, including projects to aid the elderly and to help the poor find work. After assuming control of a Philadelphia orphanage in 1814, the Sisters of Charity began opening other orphanages. Then came hospitals, old-age homes, and settlement houses, all across the rapidly growing country.
Today the order has 1,246 sisters working in charitable establishments across the U.S. and South America. They run schools, nurseries, medical facilities, homes for the aged, and services for visiting the poor in their homes. In 1975, a century and a half after she died, Elizabeth Seton became the first native-born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church.
The oldest graduate school of theology in the U.S. (and oldest graduate school of any sort, for that matter) is the Andover Theological Seminary. It was Boston merchant Samuel Abbot who provided most of the initial financing for the new institution. The widow and son of the founder of Phillips Academy, Phoebe and John Phillips, also made important contributions when they constructed two buildings on the campus of Phillips Academy to house the theological students and administrators and get the seminary launched. Many prominent American pastors, scholars, and theologians came out of Andover, including leaders of numerous other seminaries and colleges.
As Unitarianism started to become fashionable in New England, a group of Boston Congregationalist parishioners joined together in 1804 to form a “Religious Improvement Society” that would reinforce traditional Christian understandings of the Bible, prayer, and the trinitarian God. This grew into an energetic and fast-growing congregation, whose members soon contributed $100,000 to build a meetinghouse: the Park Street Church. Over the next two centuries the church would pioneer many new elements of Christian outreach, and build and then keep alive an evangelical spirit in the oldest part of America.
Park Street became a hub of the abolitionist movement. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother Edward was pastor there in the 1820s, and William Lloyd Garrison gave his first major anti-slavery address in the sanctuary in 1829. He rejected the idea of African colonization, and urged emancipation instead, saying, “I call upon the churches of the living God to lead in this great enterprise.”
Park Street Church was also a hub for the religious arts. Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society (America’s second-oldest musical organization) was formed there in 1815. The church’s organist Lowell Mason composed the standard settings of hymns like “Joy to the World” and “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Many of today’s congregational singing patterns began at this church.
Park Street also became a leader in Christian foreign missions. It sponsored the first American missionaries to the Hawaiian islands and several other overseas locations. It continues to send out missionaries today, concentrating on locations where Christianity is unknown. It funds its own Bible translation and church-planting efforts, and provides health, schooling, and economic services in poor lands.
In the mid-twentieth century Park Street Church was influential in the formation of the modern evangelical movement. It took part in Billy Graham’s crusades, helped create the National Association of Evangelicals, and contributed to the formation of Gordon-Conwell and Fuller seminaries.
Park Street currently has a thriving congregation of about 2,000. Its present charitable outreach activities include the City Mission Society that it co-founded, America’s first prison ministry, an inner-city school for minority children called Boston Trinity Academy, homeless ministries, a crisis pregnancy center, an Animal Rescue League, and language training for immigrants. Park Street Congregational Church may have had a greater impact on American history than any other single U.S. congregation.
At the tender age of 20, Rebecca Gratz founded the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, an 1801 charitable organization that assisted victims of the American Revolution. Several years later she was a principal contributor to the establishment of the Orphan Society of Philadelphia. While the society was a Christian organization and Gratz was a devout Jew, she served as one of three original board members and gave of her family fortune. When a fire destroyed the society’s building, Gratz led the fundraising campaign to build a new one. Gratz was equally active in Jewish causes. She was a founding member of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1819, which continues two hundred years later in its mission of aiding Jewish women in financial crisis. Gratz also helped start the Hebrew Sunday school and laid the groundwork for Philadelphia’s Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum.
When America was born as a nation, Charleston, South Carolina, had the largest Jewish population in the U.S. The city had been the main receiving point for Sephardic refugees for more than a century. Many of Charleston’s Jews were merchants, and amid a burst of post-Revolution prosperity they wanted to share their good fortune with others.
In 1784 they formed the oldest Jewish charitable society in the United States, which led in 1801 to the creation of a dedicated group “for the purpose of relieving widows, educating, clothing, and maintaining orphans and children of indigent parents.” The constitution of the Hebrew Orphan Society cited the good fortune of Jews living “in the United States of America, where freedom and equal rights, religious, civil and political, are liberally extended to them,” and stated that the aim of the society’s charity was to “qualify” recipients to exercise “those blessings and advantages to which they are entitled” as they “freely assume an equal station in this favored land.”
Orphans were mostly placed in private homes and provided with money, clothes, and education by society members, though for several decades before the Civil War a group home and school for orphans was also operated. Today the society still exists, and funds medical needs in Charleston, gives grants to schools and nonprofits, and awards ten to 20 annual college scholarships.
When the Sunday School movement began to spread across America in the 1790s and early 1800s as part of the Second Great Awakening, these gatherings were the only places many poor children had a chance to learn to read. Christian philanthropists wanted to both acquaint youngsters with the Scriptures and free them from a life of illiteracy. The Bible was the textbook, and all the requirements of reading and writing—alphabetic instruction, word sounds, penmanship—were assiduously taught in church classes. Millions of children became literate by copying out Biblical passages. The appetite for Bibles, language primers, and religious instructional materials in turn stimulated the growth of publishing houses and other aids to reading.
Christian morality and virtues were inculcated by the Sunday School movement. And pupils often graduated to become Sunday School teachers—providing a leadership opportunity the poor rarely enjoyed in other parts of their lives. Every state had Sunday Schools by 1826, and the percentage of New York children attending Sunday School was double the enrollment of the public schools in 1829. By the mid-nineteenth century, Sunday School attendance was a near-universal aspect of American childhood; parents who were not regular churchgoers often insisted that their children attend. Even Marxist atheists observing from abroad credited the Sunday School movement with being important in elevating the working classes in the U.S.
With Sunday Schools dramatically increasing the overall U.S. literacy rate, the U.S. ended up at the top of international lists in this area. Literacy in turn “sparked an avalanche of organizational activity” that fed American prosperity. Historians argue that the learning and personal habits spread by charitable Sunday Schooling improved social conditions, fueled commercial prowess, and revved the nation’s economic metabolism.
Anthony Benezet immigrated from France to North America with hopes of becoming a successful merchant. When he fell on hard times instead, he sought support from the Society of Friends, whose worship circles he had joined upon his arrival in Philadelphia. Soon Benezet began teaching at the Friends’ English School. In 1754 he founded the first school in Pennsylvania that offered girls more than an elementary-level education.
Later he made an even more unconventional decision for his day—he would offer classes for poor blacks during the evening. After several years, he secured Quaker financing to start the Negro School at Philadelphia in 1770. Amid his religious and occupational devotion to educating blacks, Benezet began producing written materials arguing that slavery was inconsistent with Christian beliefs. This eventually led him to found the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush would later reorganize the group in 1784 as the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
Like numerous Quakers who would follow in his steps, Benezet’s work at aiding forgotten populations was motivated by a desire to improve the condition of men and women of all sorts. “Though I am joined in Church fellowship with the people called Quakers, yet my heart is united in true gospel fellowship with the willing in God’s Israel,” he wrote. “Let their distinguishing name or sect be as it may.”
For nearly a century starting in 1768, Spanish priests (mostly Franciscans) founded and operated 21 missions across California to bring Catholicism and European-style development to the far coast of North America. The missions introduced to the region not only Christianity but schools and medical facilities, European crops and animals plus cropping and husbandry techniques, water works, and art and architecture that is still admired. These missionaries established much of the initial pathbreaking, population settlement, and place naming of our most important state. The Catholic church financed the initial mission settlements, which then undertook various kinds of economic activity in an effort to support themselves and the Indians seeking aid at their walls. Few of the missions ever became wholly self-sufficient, though, so supplementary funding came from a private religious endowment known as the Pious Fund of the Californias. It was built from voluntary donations by Mexican families and churches. This represented one of the most significant charitable ventures in early American history.
As the oldest extant Jewish house of worship in America, dating from 1763, Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, would be famous under any circumstances. But Touro’s place in history was cemented when George Washington visited Newport to drum up support for passage of the Bill of Rights. The warden of the synagogue sent Washington a welcoming message, and, in return, the newly ensconced head of state penned a 340-word response.
In his note, Washington unveiled a glimmering vision of a nation where citizens of all faiths abide together under a government that “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Closing with imagery straight from the Old Testament, he expressed his wish that “the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.” The father of his country was well aware that Americans would not overlook his gesture towards this small, frequently persecuted minority, and his letter became a seminal document in the history of American religious freedom, cited by judges, politicians, and philosophers.
Supporters of the Touro Synagogue have sustained the facility for two and a half centuries. The name comes from two sons of an early prayer leader who made a series of gifts over several decades to maintain and expand the worship hall and its grounds (in the process establishing themselves among the first great American philanthropists). Abraham Touro bequeathed large funds to maintain the building and the street it sits on, after having previously built a wall around the adjoining Jewish cemetery. His brother, Judah Touro, gave several gifts of his own, plus a large grant in his will to preserve the facility (amidst many other donations he made to Jewish and non-Jewish charities around the U.S.—see 1854 entry).
In a nice twist of philanthropic genealogy, it was yet another descendant of the Touro family—financier John Loeb—who funded the new visitor’s center built next to the synagogue in 2009. The exhibit-filled building is a shrine to religious liberty and to George Washington. The associated George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom extends the mission of the Touro Synagogue, reinforcing respect for faith among the next generation of Americans.
In the first half of the 1700s, a crucial religious revival swept the American colonies. In addition to setting the stage for a political revolution based on the sovereignty of the individual, it sparked a vital transformation of American philanthropy. The so-called Great Awakening highlighted the importance of each person’s direct connection to God, unmediated by church or other institutions, and in the process fueled desires within the colonial population to live life as Christ would want, taking personal responsibility for the goodness of one’s behavior. This inevitably fueled charitable generosity and made it a mass phenomenon, even among the poor. “Of all the conversions wrought by the Great Awakening certainly the most remarkable was the transformation of do-goodism from a predominantly upper- and middle-class activity…into a broadly shared, genuinely popular avocation,” wrote historian Robert Bremner.
One of the strongest drivers of this new understanding of the importance of individual charity was George Whitefield, a charismatic 25-year-old Methodist preacher who set out in 1739 on a series of evangelizing tours that brought him into contact with thousands of everyday colonials stretched across a wide frontier. He excited his audiences with his vision of an intensely personal relationship with Christ and urged them to live out their internal convictions via generosity to fellow men. Whitefield took up collections at his meetings for many good causes: relief of victims of disaster (of which there were many in this raw land), assistance to keep debtors out of prison, funds to buy books for the hard-pressed new educational institutions of the colonies—Harvard, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania.
Whitefield’s personal top charitable priority was an orphanage he founded in impoverished Georgia in 1740. It was modeled on an institution created by the German clergyman and philanthropist August Francke, and Whitefield labored to build it up over three decades. It never met his expectations, but as he described the effort during his seven preaching tours across the America, his charity became for many of his listeners a template for how a serious Christian might offer up money and energy to assist the abandoned, the ill, the poor, and victims of sickness, fire, or other misfortune. Individual humanitarian action became a distinctive mark of the American character.
When 11 Ursuline nuns arrived in New Orleans in 1727—at which point the French colonial city was a raw settlement just nine years old—they established a school for girls. It educated not just European children but also slaves, Native Americans, and free girls of color. It continues to operate today, the oldest Catholic school in America. The Ursulines also created a hospital, which nursed 30-40 patients at any given moment, in a place and time when other medical attention was virtually nonexistent.
In 1729 the nuns set up an orphanage (originally to take care of children who survived the Indian massacre of settlers at Fort Rosalie that year). Over a period of years it fed, cared for, and trained up hundreds of children who had no other protectors or resource. The nuns were supported by the French and New World church, and by donations from merchants and residents.
Quakers showed deep philanthropic conviction from their earliest days in America. They gave generously of both money and time to scores of causes—building schools, aiding the sick, donating to the poor, registering early opposition to slavery. Prison reform was one of their earliest crusades.
William Penn had been imprisoned several times in the Tower of London for his religious beliefs. (He wrote his Christian classic No Cross, No Crown while locked up.) So when King Charles II handed over to Penn, as repayment for a debt the king owed Penn’s father, the land that now makes up Pennsylvania and Delaware (one of the largest individual land grants in history), Penn was determined that his new colony would take a very different approach to imprisonment.
In 1681 he spelled out that in Pennsylvania “all prisoners shall be bailable…unless for capital offences, where the proof is evident, or the presumption great.” At a time when prisoners had to pay for their food, and for small services like having their irons unlocked so they could appear in court, Penn stipulated that “all prisons shall be free as to fees, food, and lodging.” Penn limited the death penalty to the crimes of murder and treason—at a time when English law doled out capital punishment for more than 200 different crimes. He also insisted that instead of being dungeons, prisons should be workhouses, aimed at rehabilitation, with inmates taught a trade that could allow them to earn an honest living once released. In his lockups, men finished and shaped wood, and women spun yarn. Penn intended that in these new measures “an example may be set up to the nations as…a holy experiment.”
Quakers continued to put energy and money into prison reform for centuries. Dismayed by the nineteenth-century convention of locking 30 to 40 inmates together in large rooms, the Quakers pushed to have hardened criminals separated from novices, debtors from the violent, women from men, and so forth. They were instrumental in establishing separate channels to handle juvenile delinquents. (See 1825 entry on companion list of achievements building Prosperity.)
In 1829 Quakers opened a famous prison in Philadelphia that housed every resident in a strict solitary confinement meant to encourage penitence. The concept became influential worldwide. This innovation was taken to an extreme—the isolation and silence could also sometimes encourage mental illness—but the shift to small cells, more humane treatment, and rehabilitative efforts became the new norm in America and other countries.