What would you do if you were king of the forest, the philanthropist-boss of a $17-billion-plus foundation, one required by law to give away at least $850 million each year?
To make it harder, here's a stipulation: You cannot give those big bucks to your own church or denomination, or to parachurch evangelistic programs. That's partly for their own protection: The yeast alone from all that dough would puff up any institution. But it's also because I want to press you to think hard about how to glorify God through activities beyond those involving worship, preaching, and teaching that most readily come to mind. (Note: I'm assuming that you've already tithed on your earnings.)
I'm modeling this thought experiment on a real situation: The Gates Foundation, which now has a $17 billion endowment, recently provided one of Bill's billions to set up college scholarships for members of minority racial and ethnic groups. The grant was announced as one designed to increase the number of minority kids going into math and science, but the actual plan is for scholarships to be usable in all kinds of majors, including education.
Bill Gates, like John D. Rockefeller, seems on his way to showing brilliance in business but not much sense outside his domain. Scholarships are already available for those minority kids, all too few, who are prepared for high-tech/high-abstraction elite college work. The larger problem is K-12 education, particularly in inner cities, that leaves kids unable to take full advantage of opportunities already offered them.
So if I were giving away a billion dollars, I'd start by using $300 million to pay half of Christian school tuition for at least 150,000 poor students; each student could receive up to $2,000. As the furor in Cleveland last month about a grinch-like judge's decree showed, poor parents are desperately seeking alternatives, and Christian schools should provide them both for covenant children and for those who know neither the Father nor any father.
Even though private voucher plans are growing, we're still likely to have poor public schools jeopardizing the future of children for years to come. Even though tax credits to give people more incentive to contribute to private schools are also a hot item (the Supreme Court has allowed the Arizona plan to go forward), public schools will still remain. So I'd invest an additional $100 million in after-school (and Saturday) Bible-centered programs for kids. Each of our 50 largest cities has good programs of this sort, but inner-city students also need to compete academically, so I'd give 10 good programs in each of those cities matching grants of $200,000 each. They could expand and replicate themselves, while reaching many more kids as they add top-flight tutoring in math and computers.
I'd spend another $100 million to give $200,000 matching grants to 500 crisis pregnancy centers around the country. They would use the funds to build maternity homes that give pregnant women a new start and their babies a good start. Single moms would be able to give serious consideration to adoption.
OK, half a billion down, half a billion to go. I'd give $100 million to Christian organizations that offer challenging and personal help to adults mired in alcoholism or addiction. Some 500 groups from the 100 largest cities would receive matching grants of $200,000 each to expand their programs or replicate themselves. These groups are far more successful in changing lives than the government-funded, secular liberal alternatives.
Another $100 million would go in those $200,000 matching installments to 500 church-based groups that are helping welfare moms make the transition to work. Most welfare recipients who can readily leave the rolls have now done so; additional movement will require mentors who can work one-to-one with the economically and spiritually needy, offering carefully targeted material support during crises.
I've been emphasizing domestic programs, as has the Gates Foundation so far, but I'd also want to send $100 million to Christian international relief and development groups that have maintained their biblical edge.
Finally, I'd contribute $200 million to start and upgrade Bible-based magazines and newspapers. To build WORLD into a million-circulation publication that can go head-to-head with Time and Newsweek, and to have top-rated Christian publications in major cities, additional journalistic talent is needed, but heavy capital is also needed for marketing and production.
Whew! It's hard to spend that much money. I'm sure that every reader's list would be different from mine, and that's how it should be: Philanthropists are called to different emphases. Let WORLD know yours, and we'll publish a representative sample of responses.