HE GETS US: A Galaxy of Cash Behind Jesus Videos

There is an ad campaign called “He Gets Us” consisting of short videos relating Jesus Christ to our daily human lives. It covers topics like “Jesus was a refugee”, “was Jesus’ family perfect?”, “Did Jesus really struggle as I do?”, “Was Jesus ever lonely”, “Did Jesus face criticism?” and others. Each video is paired with a hashtag for social media, like #ACTIVIST for the criticism video, along with one on injustice and “How would Jesus be judged today?”

These videos have gotten a noteworthy number of views—25 million for the one titled “The Rebel” and 36 million for another, “Dinner Party”—which have been added (in English and Spanish) to the @HeGetsUs YouTube channel over the past year. As evangelistic tools, to my eye they are neither the most compelling stories (for that, I’m partial to the personal testimonies in “I Am Second”), nor are they cringeworthy church youth group efforts either. The videos are professionally done, with good production values, and are short enough to keep the average YouTube viewer’s attention, but the right length to convey a basic idea.

That main point is that Jesus Christ is fully man, able to relate to our daily lives, because he lived a real life, faced opponents, critics, dealt with loneliness, judgment, and disappointment. Reading through the website, I find little reference to the theme of Jesus as Lord, a God who seeks us, the Creator of all, Commander of the Angel Armies of Heaven, co-equal with the Father and Holy Spirit as one of the Trinity in the Godhead. But each video on the website includes a companion short text and Scripture references.

As evangelistic efforts go, I think getting people to open their Bibles and read it is one of the most effective methods to lead them to Christ. I know this from personal experience. Though I was being drawn to Christianity and to Jesus, I could not make any decision until I had read enough of the New Testament to understand what I was deciding, and to accept the truth of Jesus Christ in my own life. I’m not saying that everyone has this same exact path, but I do believe it’s Biblical. 

Romans 10 refers to the chain of events leading to belief: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15.)

Those verses are referring to Israelites who learned the Torah, along with Gentiles who knew nothing of it. Remember, there was no printed Bible in those days for the masses like we have today. People didn’t have Scriptures in their homes—except for Rabbis and possibly some very rich individuals. Christians, here is a question: What preaches better than God’s word? I believe, and Scripture supports, that directing people to God’s word—the Bible—to gain understanding of questions in their own lives is good ground for evangelistic efforts.

From the perspective of impact as an evangelistic tool, I’d rate “He Gets Us” as a 6/10. Of course that’s my personal opinion; yours may differ. Let’s now look into who is producing the videos.

According to the HeGetsUs.com website, the videos are “an initiative of Servant Foundation, a designated 501(c)(3) organization with a 100/100 Charity Navigator rating.” 

This all started with a diverse group of people passionate about the authentic Jesus of the Bible. While much has been said about him, much is still misunderstood. But we’re confident that as people clearly understand, read, and learn for themselves about who Jesus is, they’ll find wisdom, hope, and peace unlike any other offered.

Be assured, though, that we’re not “left” or “right” or a political organization of any kind. We’re also not affiliated with any particular church or denomination. We simply want everyone to understand the authentic Jesus as he’s depicted in the Bible — the Jesus of radical forgiveness, compassion, and love.

Notably, there’s no link on the website to donate money. That’s right, you can’t give to Servant Foundation. Even the “merch” page has no price or items for sale. Oh yes, there’s t-shirts, hats and stickers, but not for sale: “No Money Required. Pay with love. Select up to one t-shirt, one sticker, and one hat for your order.” You can’t donate money to “He Gets Us” or to Servant Foundation on their website. Well, you can give them money, maybe, if you do the paperwork and qualify, but it’s a bit technical.

I looked up Servant Foundation on Charity Navigator, and indeed, it is rated 100%. The charity rating organization had this to say: “This charity’s score is 100%, earning it a Four-Star rating. If this organization aligns with your passions and values, you can give with confidence.” But again, you can’t just go online and use a credit card, or write them a $20 check.

That being said, Servant Foundation’s accountability, transparency, and financial ratings are all gold-plated. They have completed and filed their IRS Form 990s on time, maintain a conflict of interest policy, have at least three outside board members, keep detailed records and minutes of meetings, and most importantly, maintain a paper-thin 0.21% liabilities to assets ratio (in essence, they don’t borrow at all), and a program expense ratio of 99.15%, meaning out of $1, they spent 99.15 cents on their charitable programs. Pretty impressive.

Where does their money come from? One clue to the foundation’s funding lies in the website listed on Charity Navigator. Behind all of this is an organization called The Signatry.

Who is The Signatry?

First, I’ll tell you who The Signatry isn’t. My friend Erick Erickson originally wrote about “He Gets Us” and mistakenly connected it to the Oklahoma United Methodist Church, for which he quickly published a correction. The error is understandable, as UMC has its own Servant Foundation, Inc., called the Church of the Servant

If “He Gets Us” was truly an outreach of the UMC, I’d still be okay with it, but Erick’s criticisms would apply—spending tithes and offerings on a national video campaign, while the denomination is embroiled in a rather public and ugly doctrine and discipline fight over gay marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy, is not going to foster love and unity among the faithful. Without getting too far off topic, the Methodists I know (I am not a member of a UMC church) are very mission-minded, and extremely committed to building community. They feed the poor, operate food pantries, maintain benevolence funds, participate in multi-church outreach, and fund missionaries around the world. It’s unfortunate that there is a political environment ripping the church apart at the seams. The fiery, Spirit-filled John Wesley would have condemned the politics and fallen to his knees in repentance for such heresy.

The Signatry is not part of the UMC, or any other church denomination. The website Intrumentl, and the group’s own IRS Form 990, lists Servant Foundation, d/b/a “The Signatry” as having total assets of $976,853,498—nearly a billion dollars as of 2021, and an initial asset value in 2019 of between $500 and $750 million. The foundation’s average grant amount is about $250,000, and the list of grant recipients (over 1,500 in 2021) are located in every U.S. state except South Dakota, with the majority located in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Iowa midwest states; Tennessee, Texas, California, Georgia and Florida make up the next tier.

What is The Signatry? It’s a donor-advised fund administrator, sponsor, and advisor group, focused on ministry. Here’s what their website says:

Established in 2000, The Signatry is a global community and ministry dedicated to creating eternal impact through generosity across generations. Since our founding, we have facilitated more than $3 billion in transformational grants for nonprofits around the world.

Basically, The Signatry acts as a fund administrator and advisor, like Fidelity or State Street does for employer-sponsored 401(k) retirement accounts. Except The Signatry is designed for people to give their wealth away in support of their (Christian) values. They offer services to manage funds and direct grants to thousands of ministries and community foundations across the world.

Bill High is the founder and CEO of The Signatry. He is engaged as an “of counsel” attorney with Sanders Warren & Russell LLP in the estate planning practice, but his main work is running The Signatry. High has co-authored several books, including “Stories of the Generous Life: Ordinary People. Extraordinary Generosity.” Its pages are, according to the jacket text on Amazon, filled with stories of stewardship, outrageous and amazing generosity.

Dane Frazier is the foundation’s Executive VP and Secretary; his LinkedIn profile lists him as Deputy General Counsel, Corporate M&A and Tax. Lucas Cherry was the Executive VP for Operations & Technology until 2019, according to Cherry’s LinkedIn profile. Now he is CEO of Give Interactive, a fintech platform for community foundations. The Signatry has a staff with some impressive pedigrees and resumes.

A galaxy of private money

There exists a galaxy of community foundations and donor-advised funds (DAFs) dedicated to funding various charities and grants. Their assets, along with private foundations, sum to a mind-bending $1.3 trillion, of which $234 billion is in DAFs, according to the National Philanthropic Trust 2022 DAF Report.

You, or anyone, can put money into a DAF. There are a few catches, however. Unlike a 401(k) or IRA, DAF donations are irrevocable. If you put money into a trust, or take life insurance proceeds and pledge them to a DAF, that money is inaccessible to you, other than you can help direct what charity receives the grants from your giving. If you want full control of where the money goes, you might be better off setting up a private foundation (which has some minimum capital requirements and nontrivial legal expenses).

The NPT report noted that “DAFs increased in all metrics in 2021.” Grants set a new record in 2021 at $45.74 billion, a 28.2% increase over 2020, and a 500% increase over 2012. Contributions increased by 46.6%, to an all-time high of $72.67 billion.

Charitable assets in all DAFs totaled $234.06 billion in 2021, a 39.5 percent increase from the revised 2020 total of $167.81 billion. The 2021 increase of 39.5 percent is the highest on record, followed by 29.6 percent in 2017. The compound annual growth rate for charitable assets from 2017 through 2021 is 20 percent. Continued growth of charitable assets under management reflects contributions from donors and market gains. The average rate of growth in assets from 2011 through 2020 is 17.7 percent. All charitable assets in DAFs must be used for charitable purposes.

It’s easier than ever to start a DAF, and the number of DAF accounts rose by 28%, to over 1.2 million. This is likely spurred on by the proliferation of fintech operators like Give Interactive, and fund sponsors like The Signatry.

The Signatry charges administrative fees of zero percent, as in nothing. It does, however, charge management fees based on the investment pool, from 0.05% for Money Market up to 0.75% for growth-oriented and index investment funds. Also, external advisors may charge for their services, and The Signatry may also charge for managing “complex assets” (like real estate, trusts, and business interests). There’s no minimum balance required to open a DAF with The Signatry, and support projects like “He Gets Us” through Servant Foundation. Each transaction is subject to credit card and e-echeck transaction fees, if those methods are used. There’s no fee for ACH transfers (which are typically used for most donations).

DAFs are not for everyone. Plenty of more traditional charities accept donations without opening an irrevocable fund that operates more like an IRA than a charity. But if you want to orient your life around giving to organizations aligned with your values, a DAF is attractive, especially when paired with the tax benefits of giving appreciating assets versus leaving them to their inheritors.

Hearing from God?

Here’s the main point of giving through a DAF-funded, or community foundation grant charity. As a Christian, when you give your tithes, you give to your local church (or you ought to). Many churches suffer from a dearth of Biblical understanding of tithing, and therefore a dearth of giving. If everyone on the membership rolls of a church gave the tithe—10% of income from all sources, pre-tax—churches would have no problem funding every ministry for the poor, every outreach, every missionary they ever dreamed of.

But non-church ministries compete with churches for the giving of the faithful. Prosperity preachers say if you give your money to their ministry, God will give it back to you, thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold (Luke 8:8). But the itinerant preacher is not your pastor, and his ministry is not your church. The well-known “tithe” scripture, Malachi 3:8 asks “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings.” Giving your tithe to ministries that are not your local church is robbing God of what he commanded you should give, and give joyfully, without regret or coercion. If your pastor has to guilt you into giving, you will want to check your heart and your understanding. If your pastor tries to manipulate you into giving, the problem may not be limited to your heart.

Give your tithe to the local church, and then trust your pastor or denomination to use it with the wisdom and heart of God. If you can’t trust your local church or denomination, then prayerfully seek a new church home. Some churches focus on giving to the needy and the community. Others focus on missions to far-away places. Some focus on outreach, and others on methods to appeal to “seekers” looking for answers. As Christians, we are not to be swayed to and fro with the latest fads. God’s word establishes priorities—to make disciples, to help those ministries and communities in need, to offer aid to the widow, the orphan, and the dispossessed of this world.

There’s still a question of whether people can hear from God to give toward efforts like “He Gets Us.” In prayer, in dreams, in visions, and through counsellors, I believe God speaks today just as He did with the original Apostles. While we know we should not forsake God’s purposes for the latest fad or social media hype, it’s very possible God would speak to Christ-centered and Kingdom-minded individuals to fund such an effort. 

If this effort was through a local church or denomination at the expense of distributing Bibles or planting new churches, we would have some cause to speak against it. But the vast pools of DAF funds available for these projects through The Signatry and Servant Foundation is money thoughtfully and prayerfully given (I can’t be certain, but I hope and believe so from everything I’ve read). Even if you think it’s a silly project, it’s Biblical. 

In Isaiah 29:14, the prophet heard from God “Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” Paul quoted this in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

(1 Corinthians 1:18-19)

If something appears unwise to the wise of the world, who is to say that God has not spoken it specifically for that purpose? The entire birth, life, and even the death of Christ on the cross confounded the religious, the wise men of the time, though other wise men from afar were given the vision to worship Him.

Also, to say that the money would be be better spent to help the poor is not really a good argument. In John chapter 12, Lazarus’ sister Mary poured an expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’ feet. Judas Escariot objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” (John 12:5.) Of course, Judas said this, according to the Gospel, because he wanted to steal the money for himself, as keeper of the money bag. I don’t know if there’s some scandal in the hearts of the leaders at The Signatry or the ministries to whom it grants funds. But their commitment to accountability, transparency, and their record of giving seems to give some assurance against it—as long as the controls are in place.

I say if the Lord speaks to you, prayerfully, to put your assets in a DAF and allow The Signatry to manage that for you, do as the Lord speaks. Don’t worry about the opinion of others, because we will all perish from the earth like the grass withering in hot sun.

Also, when considering a DAF, if you are blessed with a significant pile of assets for your family, look at Proverbs 13:22.

A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children,
    but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.

Biblically speaking, if you’ve taken care of God’s tithe, your family obligations, your offerings, and put aside for an inheritance for your children, you might want to confound the wise, and allow God to work in ways only He knows. He knows because, well, He Gets Us.

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.

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