Today we had the opportunity to give to initiatives that are doing good in the world – more good than my wife and I could do on our own (what, with our day jobs and all). But why am I telling you about this?
It’s not because we’re wealthy and want to show how cool we are: we’re barely debt-free, and the amount was something we had been saving up to give for a while. Like many of you, we couldn’t afford to give anything approaching that on a regular basis, even though we really enjoy giving money. It’s not because we want you to give money too, either, even though we’ll end this post with a challenge to all the bloggers reading this. Instead…
Why We Give And Tell (You, Anyways)
In short, I’m sharing what we do because it’s one of the greatest sources of joy we have in our lives, so I can’t help but share it with you. For instance, every week, we give to one team that welcomes people with addictions, chronic problems, homelessness, abuse victims, criminals, and far-from-perfect folks like us and helps them pursue a better life through faith in Christ. They work through their pains, hurts, habits, and towards a better future. You may not believe in a faith, and that’s fine, but nobody can deny the power of transformed lives; I love being a part of something bigger. It is incredible to witness how peoples’ entire lives and families change as a direct result of that program. We love knowing that our small financial effort might help even a few of those who are truly down,* and often very humble,** to move forward in their own futures.
What Giving To Others Gives Us
I encourage you to find worthy causes and give as well. Even when times get hard, I’m joyful about all those who would be doing worse had we not given along the way.
I grew up relatively poor, especially when I was young, yet even then, my parents found money and resources to give to those who were less fortunate. It reminds me of that Johnny Cash song where a poor family gives to an even poorer family—there’s always someone poorer than us. When done right, giving can remind the needy that we are all human and all in this together.
What’s never important is the amount we give: whether it’s $2,500 or $2.50, giving what we can joyfully give may well change someone’s life.***
The Dollars We Enjoy The Most
Giving is its own reward, and personally, we find that the dollars we enjoy the most are those that will give returns to others throughout their lifetimes, throughout their family’s lifetime/dynasty, and beyond. It’s impossible to value how much return those dollars have – to say nothing of the joy of being a part of changing lives. What if it helps put someone on a path to reconciliation? Or helps avoid future child abuse? Or helps people avoid becoming crime victims—or future criminals? Any of the above would be profoundly valuable. Furthermore, it’s profoundly encouraging to read, on a regular basis, the stories of those whose lives have been transformed as a result of such efforts.
Giving Well: Not Just Throwing Money At Problems…
Nobody likes to talk about it, but there can be a dark side to giving as well—one that we can avoid. First, we have to acknowledge the problem, but then, we can learn to avoid these difficulties.
In the Western world, we tend to throw money at problems, no matter what they are. But that alone is ineffective.
This tendency to throw money at a problem goes hand in hand with our materialistic culture here in America: we value things, own a lot of things, and, when faced with need, we assume that more things will fix needs. People must simply lack things. That’s certainly what those advertisers are always telling us.****
And sometimes, that’s true: after a tsunami, the biggest needs of the week may be experienced emergency personnel and resources on the ground. Great.
Helping All Needs
But the world has many needs, and most of them have nothing to do with money: they’re about personal hurts, spiritual needs/fulfillment, personal growth, values, culture, and so on. Sometimes even legal needs: what good does it do to send more money to a place where the government confiscates all significant material resources on a monthly basis? Those folks have a legal need, a need for law and order, much more than a need for resources alone.
As a result, money can and sometimes does make problems even worse, and sometimes much worse.
Intuitively, we all know this, but it’s still worth mentioning aloud, especially when encouraging giving. Consider some examples: we probably wouldn’t give money to an alcoholic who’s recently broke, because it may well enable him to fall deeper into alcoholism. We realize that alcoholism is something that needs to be treated—not just by doctors bearing liver pills, but by those who can address the emotional needs/trauma, spiritual needs, and other causes. Otherwise, a person could make it even easier for an alcoholic to fall farther into alcoholism and the physical issues that go along with it. We’re doing an alcoholic (or a drug addict) no favors by simply giving him cash without more.
Giving can also create a sense of paternalism: we know best, because we have resources, and we’re giving those resources. In other words, giving can reinforce our pride—that we’re great people because we have money and give money—hurting ourselves and hurting others, by telling the poor, for instance, through our actions, that they are less valuable as humans because they own less. What an awful thing to demonstrate to a person who has little. Every human has value, by virtue of being human.
Yet we can avoid these pitfalls – without spending hours upon hours of effort.
When Helping Hurts
In short, we all have material needs, yes, but we also have a number of other needs, such as spiritual needs. To give effectively, my wife and I focus our giving on places that consider all the needs a person has and address those needs appropriately.
Some of you will want more information, and want to dig in further, so for you, we recommend a book that absolutely transformed the way we think about giving, and gave us the framework to assess our giving, which is why I recommend it to you. It’s called When Helping Hurts. It helped us think about giving: considering spiritual needs as well as physical ones, institutional issues, and so on. I highly recommend that you read and apply the principles in that book—even if you disagree with the author about his religious views—especially if you give significant amounts. You’ll be doing everyone, including yourself (perhaps especially yourself), a huge service.
How We Give
Over time, my wife and I are becoming better (I hope!) at choosing what we give to. By way of background, we have personally worked for charities, in charities, and I even helped establish and then lead one over a number of years. So we’re familiar with many of the values as well as the pitfalls of charitable giving.
A charity might receive all the money in the world and yet still waste it, or it might do incredible things on a tight budget: it all depends upon which one, who’s running it, and how it works.
For that reason, we have developed some ground rules.
Our Guidelines For Giving
We have three guidelines for giving. I say guidelines, because we may sometimes deviate from them, but overall, they guide all that we give.
First, we want to give where we know someone personally and have a personal relationship. This has many benefits. First, we see tangible results. Second, we also know (we’ll call the person) Bob, which makes it less likely that Bob will waste the money we give or walk off with it.
And third, we give more to the one place where we are both personally involved, know many people, know the key team, help volunteer, and participate in what’s happening. I have no doubts that our money there is being used for good—we see it being used, we know who is using it, and we know how they do so.
Second, we give to things we are personally passionate about, invested in, and (by nature) tend to be more knowledgeable about. That helps us stay invested and interested in what’s going on. It also helps us because we tend to give more to things that we already have some background in or experience with, so we’re more knowledgeable givers. We can also serve as a resource to the places we give to more easily when they do things we already care about and are invested in, too. This is merely a guideline, but we have found that it helps to consider this: more than once, I found myself giving to something that I really wasn’t invested in, and then, much later, wondering whether that had been a good idea.
Third, we focus our giving. This past year, we found ourselves overwhelmed: there are so many places to give, so many requests we receive, and so many things we really want to support. But as we did so, we found it harder and harder to keep up with each place we supported. It generated more tax forms. More emails. It became harder to manage. Moreover, each dollar was less effective: each place spent more on overhead and administration relative to our gift, so our dollars weren’t going as far.
Finally, we met someone who taught us to focus our giving. Now, we limit the number of things we invest in to a manageable number (which changes over time – no hard rules here) so that we can be more invested with each of those places and also more effective. We have never looked back, either; it has been great.
In addition, we have learned to say “no” more easily, even to friends and to outstanding opportunities in order to ensure we’re being as effective as possible. In other words, we learned to put in more boundaries with people we give to, which was healthy. (Boundaries will, I am sure, be the subject of its own post at some point—it’s vital to have good boundaries in life, and a recurring theme among so many of the conflicts I encounter.) Saying no to some allows us to be more present with places where we have said yes.
Fourth—and finally—we give to places that help rather than hurt when they use resources. We give to places that consider the holistic picture and help people with their physical needs, yes, but more importantly, with their spiritual, emotional, and other needs as well. Those needs are often (though not always) even more important than the physical needs we observe.
We also like to know that our money is being used effectively, that it’s not just being raised off of some disaster or tragedy to fund long-term staff or something else that is different than the purpose for which it is intended.
We use this as a guideline, though, and may still give to disaster relief, or a short-term emergency, particularly when we know those involved in helping and that they have expertise in it.
Finally, we avoid getting mired in the details, and you can too—and avoid spending much time—by finding people who already give in ways that we do, and learn from them: what do they give to, and why? Or we simply give through someone who is already applying the principles that we do, giving only where it’s helpful, to places that comprehensively address all human needs.
You can save yourself a lot of time by finding someone who’s already doing this rather than trying to do it all yourself, especially if you’re just starting off.
A Giving Challenge
Now that you’re fully equipped, I have a challenge for you: give something (anything, even time!) to someone this week and report back: how were you able to help, and how did it make you feel?
Furthermore, I challenge each of my fellow bloggers – I know some of you stop by here – to give to a worthy cause this week and then encourage others to do the same. (And post any link(s) of you doing so here as well, so we can all read it as well.) Many of you have tremendous spheres of influence, and if we all unite in giving—and giving well—the world could be incredibly different. If even one of you does this, it can have a tremendous impact.
Once people realize the joy of giving by learning to give joyfully, there’s no turning them back, and no limit to what we as a whole can do. Do it for humanity, because you’re not just helping others, you’re helping yourself be a part of something greater.
Now, let’s all go give to something meaningful!
What about you? Why do you enjoy giving? How do you enjoy giving?
*Lest we claim too much responsibility, I will tell you that none of any of the above happens without staff, volunteers, and others. Our small financial contribution is just that: a small contribution that enables many more people to contribute their own time and talent to doing good too. My wife and I are but a small part of an overall effort. The volunteers contribute far more.
**Sadly, most folks are too proud to come to a recovery and admit their life is a mess…until they’ve hit bottom and their life is truly a mess. Even though we would all do well to acknowledge—and work upon—those ways in which our own personal lives/desires are a mess.
***We give an amount that we can give joyfully. If we gave more, it might introduce feelings of guilt, obligations/strings attached, burden, or the like, which will take away from the joy of it and mitigate the good of it. Instead, by giving joyfully, we’ve found that our joy increases over time, and so does our willingness to give. It’s sort of like building a muscle: you start small and keep at it, and, before you know it, you’ve grown much stronger – and obtain much more personal satisfaction as well.
****By contrast, I enjoy the personal finance community and its blogs so much partly because so many financial independence bloggers realize that things won’t bring joy, contentedness, or better stewardship of resources. This is my favorite recent example. We know it because we live it.