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What does it mean to be a faith based organization?

By January 7, 2016April 15th, 2016One Comment

WhatIs_horiz2015According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 475,000 501(c)(3) organizations that report liabilities and assets using the IRS form 990. It should be noted that not all of these are faith based organizations. The IRS classification of 501(c)(3) is used for organizations that are organized for charitable, religious, educational, scientific, or literary purposes. However, we can assume that a large number of the organizations are indeed faith based organizations. The difficulty comes when we try to define what exactly it means to be a faith based organization.

Faith based organizations come in all sizes, from those that are very small to those that are very large. In most communities there are faith based organizations that are serving people in some capacity. They work in a variety of capacities, sometimes providing for the basic needs of those less fortunate, providing a Christian education to youth, counseling services, or evangelizing to the community. However, I am going to say that if you talk with ten “faith based” organizations, you are probably going to get six or seven different definitions about what is meant by the term, “faith-based.”

Usually, when people talk about faith based organizations, they are talking about organizations that are rooted in a particular faith carrying out programs and services related to that faith, but the activities are not necessarily what would be considered faith activities. For instance, a Christian school is a faith based organization that is based on faith and one that has some teachings related to the faith included in its curriculum. But, education in and of itself is not a faith activity.

Many faith based organizations are faith related organizations. These organizations were developed by people of faith. Generally, these organizations are not evangelistic in nature but instead focus on meeting some need of community members. Examples of faith related organizations include Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services. These organizations were founded on the tenets of their faith and may continue to have the roots of the faith embedded in them but do not necessarily require employees to share their faith and often times, faith is not shared with those they serve.

Faith filled organizations are those that typically exist to strengthen the faith tenets of a certain group of people, quite often a denomination. They exist to serve people of a certain faith and often require participation in religious services of those they serve. The ultimate goal of faith filled organizations is to bring others to a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The term faith based, then tends to be a term that is used very generically to describe all of these differing degrees of faith integration into the work of organizations. This is an important consideration to remember when talking to individual donors and applying for grant funding. How you explain your organization will determine how it is viewed by others.

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