Tell me a little about how you first got involved with World Relief?
We first learned about World Relief through Park Street Church in Boston. They were running a series on global justice, with a real emphasis on mission work. It was great to learn about how we might expand our passion for justice globally through World Relief—they were one of the first organizations we heard about that was really involved in social justice issues overseas. And they kind of became a tutor for us in learning about the issues of the world.
Tell me about your own decision making process when it came to charitable giving? Why do you give?
We’ve always believed we should give back, with both our time and money. Both Ross and I are very aligned in that we agree we don’t just want to keep stockpiling our resources and we want be good stewards of what we’ve been given. But I would say it was really about a decade ago that we got to a point in our philanthropic journey where both of us had this strong sense we didn’t want to keep living up to the standards that our finances would allow. We were concerned with the level of income and wealth inequality in the U.S., and I think we also believe there’s only so much you can enjoy in life before you experience a sense of diminishing returns. So we decided what kind of lifestyle we wanted and how much we needed to live that way. Then we agreed that anything we made above that, we’d give away.
God calls us to generosity in many ways. We felt called to use our money to go after the injustices in the world, and our foundation, Imago Dei, has been our response to that call. Of course, people give in many ways. You just have to listen to God, discern and discover what is yours to do.
How did you decide what and who to give to? What was important for you?
We were particularly drawn to World Relief’s focus on empowering and entrusting communities with their own change. When we went on a vision trip to Cambodia with World Relief, we saw small churches leading change in their communities, and it felt so much more empowering than just charity. It was the local church implementing the change that they wanted to see, not an outside intervention coming in and forcing something. In that sense, World Relief seemed to be navigating all the damaging colonialist undertones and aid dependence pitfalls very well. They really appeared to be catalyzing change from the inside out, delivering their work in and through the local church.
What’s been the most exciting thing you’ve seen or heard about as a result of your giving?
The sweet spot of our giving is to organizations (typically faith-based or faith-inspired) that are working to dismantle barriers for girls and women and helping them to become all God made them to be. We’ve been really inspired by the ways in which World Relief is working to integrate gender justice and reconciliation into their broader programming model, and entering into the gender struggles of our world. So many organizations tend to take a very specific programmatic approach—creating clubs or programs just for women and girls—but we know that to really get into gender norms and work to change those, you need to take a more holistic approach. World Relief supports churches as they wrestle with contradictions in culture and gender stereotypes, and encourage a holistic theology of wholeness and well‐being, embodied in Imago Dei.
What motivates you to continue giving today?
World Relief is really like a big family that keeps growing. It feels like this exciting movement—this amazing relational web, in which everyone truly believes in the organization. It really feels like a community. Sometimes when organizations are so big and bureaucratic, they lose their humanity. But we really feel like we’re part of something bigger at World Relief, part of a movement and a family. It feels very human.
We think they have that for many reasons. Probably most significant for us is that they help people and churches to embrace the liberating and holistic dimensions of the gospel. That is just so important in a world where there is a harmful use of religion for authoritarian purposes. World Relief really works to tap into the spiritual essence of the gospel, at a time when that is so needed. We’ve seen that play out this year in the U.S. in particular, where World Relief has shown so much moral courage in the face of the refugee and immigration crisis. As a family, it’s really touched us and we’ve been so grateful to have a guide that can speak with such a clear moral voice in relation to all that’s going on, especially when it’s really hard to know what on earth is happening. It really reminds you that this work of love, peace and justice can start right here in your backyard. You look out in the world and think about the world you want to create for your own children. Well, the answer is you start here and work outward.
How has your life been impacted or changed since you started giving to World Relief?
We’ve really enjoyed the shared solidarity and experience that comes with giving to an organization over the long haul. We’ve been able to learn so much about the world through World Relief. We’ve learned about what it takes to create change in a truly complex world. And we’ve learned about the role of faith in these complexities, about how we can use it to move the needle forward. World Relief reminds us to keep growing and learning about the world. It’s so easy to just go about your life, to be self absorbed, and sometimes the world’s problems seem so big you want to run away and stick your head in the sand. But there’s so much joy in doing your part, and doing it with others. Everyone we’ve met at World Relief is so dedicated; they quietly and passionately go about this amazing work and it reminds us that there’s always something you can do. We’re grateful for that moral courage that they demonstrate so admirably.
What would you say to other families that are thinking about giving to World Relief or a similar organization? Any advice or encouragement?
You know, giving can often feel like this really big and daunting thing but a little money can go a long way globally. God calls us, really invites us, into faithful stewardship. And it’s often when you lean in and give generously that you discover the greatest blessings in life.
We’d say start with your own humanity and your own heart. Allow yourself to feel the struggles of the world. Let them draw you in. You don’t have to figure it all out at once. Just start somewhere where you feel a natural affinity and see how it expands. Find where your heart is drawn and, from that point, just enjoy the journey. When it becomes more than just writing checks—that’s when you know it’s where your heart is.
Francesca Albano currently serves as Director of Branded Content at World Relief. With a background in Cultural Anthropology and a graduate degree in Strategic Marketing Communications, she connects her interests in societal studies and global cultures with her training in brand strategy and storytelling. Francesca is especially passionate about grassroots community development and the treatment and advancement of women and girls around the world.