The Purpose-Driven Centrist: Doing the Most Good

As I was walking out of our local farmer's market grocery store almost two months ago, I passed a bell ringer of the Salvation Army. The sign behind him read "Doing theMost Good" and I skeptically wondered "since when did charities become competitive?" This idea stuck in my head for the next week, and I planned to write about it here for my November column. But my wife delivered our son Tayte seven weeks early through an emergency procedure and everything got put on hold. (Both mommy and son are doing just fine and completely healthy, and Tayte is sitting in his massage chair staring at me while I type this.)

Over the past seven weeks, doing the most good has taken on a whole different set of meanings. The most definitive meaning has been a major life decision that my wife and I have been contemplating. Throughout this process, I have been wondering exactly what doing the most good really means? According to a posting for Salvation Army Careers, "Doing the most good" is:
The Salvation Army’s national brand strategy and distinct identifiable message. Moreover, it is a promise the organization makes to its contributors, clients, associates, officers and employees. The Salvation Army pledges to do the most good with contributions of money, time and resources, evidenced in that 83 cents of every dollar donated are directly allocated to services that assist people in need.
I have a great desire to do the most good with the money I make, my time, and my resources. I have a purpose to hold onto a balance between family and career, a balance of financial security for my family and giving our wealth to the poor, and being the best father and husband I can be while living in community. But challenges arise, such as success in a job and being sought after with a new opportunity, or the economy going downhill and having to cut back just to pay the bills. Through all of it, I keep coming back to what doing the most good means in each situation.

When the analysis of the most good is objective, like financial allocations, it can seem crystal clear. In high school, I was doing a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and one of my teachers told me she would only support me if I could document that the foundation used less than 10% of the donations for administrative overhead. As it turned out it was around 8%, and I got my largest donation from her. That impacted me and ever since I make a point to be sure that organizations I give to are really using the resources I contribute as fully as possible. The best example I have seen is Cross International which used 97.6% of its contributions in 2007. That's an overhead of 2.4% which dwarfs the 17% the Salvation Army holds onto for overhead. I'm not saying the Salvation Army isn't doing great work, but as someone educated in economic engineering I want to know why they need 17% for themselves. But even that dwarfs what typically churches hold for administrative overhead, which averages 50-60% for pastoral and administration salaries, benefits, etc. with only 15-20% go to missions (see: Is Your Church Fiscally Fit?)

But when the analysis of doing the most good goes beyond numbers to things like deciding on a new, exciting job in a distant land, questions like what is best for the family or is it best to stay near other family, and where are we likely to find other followers of Jesus who seek community in similar ways, make finding this balance a lot more difficult. Nothing is black and red, like financial analysis, or especially black and white, like moral or spiritual analysis. Through it all, the reality is these types of situations define life, and life can be hard, confusing, and sometimes downright frustrating. But I'm thankful for that sign to remind me that doing the most good is at least a good place to start.


  1. "Doing the most good" reminds me of a phrase that has stuck in my head as a parent--the Hippocratic notion of "first do no harm." Little phrases, big ideas.

  2. That's a good connection, Angie. Thank you for that. "Doing the most good" also adds a little gray to situations in that not everything has a simple 'this is the right choice.'