Changing Hearts and Minds: The Philanthropic Habits of the Orthodox Faithful


  1. The “Ellis Island” immigrants of the early 1900’s had a direct experience with poverty in their homelands and the Great Depression in the U.S. They were often the poor and jobless, or their contact with such was no farther removed than their next door neighbor. They were the “poor helping the poor.”
  2. The second wave of Immigrants after WWII also had a direct experience with poverty either during WWII or their own national civil war. They also moved into the inner cities in the U.S. where poverty and need were again next door.
  3. By in large the current generation has far less direct experience with poverty. While we have become the one of the wealthiest groups in America, we have also for the most part moved out from the neighborhoods where poverty exists. Our “knowledge” of poverty is through the media or passing by the homeless person. While we have remained “charitable,” our charity for the most part has been writing checks, not direct contact with the poor as past generations experienced. While many churches groups assist in “soup kitchens” across the country, seldom do they sit down and engage in a real and sustained relationship with the poor.


  1. Real philanthropia involves “friendship,” a direct relationship with those less fortunate, as previous generations had experienced. When we have a real and deep relationship (communion) with the person of Christ in the poor, we and they are transformed. First, suffering no matter where it occurs, either next door or on the other side of the world becomes real and not just a story. Second, the person who benefits from the charity knows he has a friend who returns his dignity as person and icon of Christ. It actually changes his/her brain chemistry to feel loved again. We who directly help the poor through this relationship will also take a hard look at our wealth and spending habits. With a more thankful spirit, we too can become less materialist and more charitable. Often ignored, Isaiah describes the “acceptable fast” as one in which we share our bread with the hungry. Fasting is not just doing away with harmful passions or not eating certain foods, but learning to be charitable. Charity then holds a place along with fasting and control of the passions as major disciplines in the Orthodox Christian life.
  2. Studies show the more we learn to be charitable, the more we will be charitable to everyone. Unfortunately, many of us abide by the myth that “we fight over the same dollar.” This is contrary to the scriptural and liturgical tradition of our Orthodox church in which we pray that God “multiplies” the gifts (in the Artoclasia) and remains (of the table). We perceive ourselves as “fighting” over the “remains”, instead of asking God to multiply them and giving people the opportunity to give as they should. Can we still experience the miracle of the feeding of five thousand?
  3. As I travel, I am finding that young people especially are not identifying with the building of buildings and the institutions of the Church. They are attracted to the “hands on” work of helping those around them. Encountering Christ outside the walls of the Church in the poor will keep them in the church, the very thing their parents and clergy have prayed for. This combined with a return to the correct teaching of tithing and giving offerings will bring many blessings to our Church.
  4. God has wired us to give, to be like Him. This also holds true for our Churches. The more the Church reaches out to those beyond her walls, the more the faithful will love and care for their church. If they perceive a church only concerned about Her, they will give less. This country is experiencing serious economic depression, joblessness and poverty. If our Church leadership does not respond to this crisis in our own backyard, the Church herself will be inconsistent with the philanthropic tradition of our Church Fathers and eventually our faithful will ask “why?”
  5. The direct contact with the poor that FOCUS North America seeks to bring us by asking us to sit down and establishing a relationship (communion) with the poor will reestablish the very likeness of God in us and them. Taking “ownership” of problem of poverty in America will reestablish us as the Church of our fathers and put us on the map for caring about our own country. The raising of money and giving it to other Churches or agencies to help the poor is really only depriving us of the very experience that can transform our hearts, minds and philanthropic giving.

Findings from the Study

Images or visuals of one person in need engendered more sympathy and funds than statistics about a particular issue or disaster. In several case studies, donors gave more to a charity when they read or heard about one individual as opposed to two or more, or when informed about a particular issue or situation. Donors are more likely to contribute to someone about whom they knew one fact than to someone who they knew nothing about. This “friend of the victim” phenomenon can be helpful for charities using celebrity spokespersons or other people who assist in their fundraising. In the study, the one fact the potential donors knew was where the person would like to visit in the world. Individuals are more likely to spread out their support to several charities than simply give it all to one organization. Charities may be able to capitalize on this trend by offering donors different ways to give and different programs to support. The research was reported at a recent conference at Princeton University. "Experimental Approaches to the Study of Charitable Giving" was funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and sponsored by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Want larger donations? Ask Donors First to Volunteer (June 9, 2008) A recent study published by the University of California, Berkeley, shows that people who are asked to give of their time before they are asked to donate will ultimately give more money to that charity… In one experiment, each participant was told briefly about the mission of a charity (the American Lung Cancer Foundation) and notified of an upcoming event for the cause. Then one group was asked how much time they would volunteer to the cause followed by the question of how much money they would donate. The second group was only asked how much money they would donate. The experiment found that those who were asked to donate only money, pledged to give $24.46 on average; whereas those who were first asked to volunteer their time pledged an average donation of $36.44.Other experiments were carried out that backed up the hypothesis that asking one for their time as a volunteer before asking them to donate will result in higher overall giving amounts.The researchers explain their results by proposing that when a person is asked for money in the beginning, that person will approach the decision in terms of maximizing value, focusing on the tangible returns of the investment. Since this calculation is more difficult than measuring the personal happiness that comes from supporting a cause, less money will be given at the end. In other words, the initial request frames the way people evaluate how much they want to donate.

Data from Helping Out shows that there is a relationship between giving time and giving money. The majority of respondents are engaged in both activities. Furthermore, participation in one activity is positively correlated with the other, with active volunteers giving more money than non-volunteers. On a personal and social level, the giving of both time and money are valuable activities. However, data from Helping Out suggests that time is perhaps seen to be a more precious commodity than money. From Helping Out: A National Survey of Volunteering and Charitable Giving (2007)”

Volunteering produces health benefits? While Americans may be divided about volunteering, those that do contribute their time often find themselves in better health, according to a recent study from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: a Review of Recent Research reviews a collection of scientific research and finds a significant connection between volunteering and good health. According to the research, volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease. The study documents major findings from more than 30 rigorous and longitudinal studies that reviewed the relationship between health and volunteering with particular emphasis on studies that seek to determine the causal connection between the two factors. The studies found that volunteering leads to improved physical and mental health. Research suggests that volunteering is particularly beneficial to the health of older adults and those serving 100 hours annually. Two studies found that the volunteering threshold for health benefits is about 100 hours per year or about two hours a week. Individuals who reached this threshold enjoyed significant health benefits.

Nick Kasemeotes is the Philanthropy Director of FOCUS — Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve. Visit the FOCUS website.

Read this article on the FOCUS website.

Date posted: April 26, 2010