Don’t give until it hurts; give until it feels good

Introductory note from Chuck: This article contains statistical data of Ontario, Canada at the time of this article. Although the numbers may vary in the United States, the principles that are discussed apply to most countries . . .

At this time of year, people are celebrating or preparing to celebrate Ramadan, Chanukah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa. It’s a time we return to our spiritual roots. So, I thought I would write about GIVING. But before beginning, I decided to investigate how much giving we are already involved in. What KIND of people are we? We are KIND people! According to Liane Greenberg and Sandra Bozzo’s report for the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, 89% of Ontario’s population aged 15 and older made charitable contributions during the year. As 89% of us are already giving, there may not be much of a need to remind people of its importance. Yet, if we value doing good, we may be interested in learning how and why we can and should do better.

How can we improve?

Throughout the year, we are swamped with telephone, direct mail, and media appeals for our help. And we respond. This type of giving is spontaneous rather than planned. However, research shows that those who plan to give before being asked, give more. Therefore, the first way we can improve is to plan our giving. For when we plan, instead of just responding to a solicitation, we are focusing on the needs of others and therefore give more generously. Moreover, those who plan their contributions are still inclined to make spontaneous donations as well, so there is a double benefit. The direct mail pieces, telephone solicitations, and media ads that you respond to have to be paid for by the charities. So, the more we plan our contributions, the less charities will have to advertise and pay for. When we change our giving habits, we find that we could have afforded to give more all along. The only thing we cannot afford is to allow others to suffer needlessly because of our inaction.

True, 89% of us are already giving; however, 44% of all the donations made in Ontario are made by the top 5% of the donors. The next 20% of donors contributed 34% of the total. Thus, 25% of the donors were responsible for 78% of the contributions. Although the support of the remaining 75% of the contributors is appreciated, their gifts just represent 22% of the total. Where do we fit into the picture? Most likely we do not belong to the small 5% group of major contributors. In fact, the odds are that we are in the 75% group, making a valuable, but small contribution. So, the second way we can improve is not only by planning to give, but planning to give more.

Nearly one third of our charitable support is done indirectly. That is, instead of making a direct cash donation to our local hospital, we buy one or more lottery tickets in hope of winning a free home. Of course, our purchase helps the hospital, but they have to deduct their marketing and printing expenses. Direct giving is superior to indirect giving in two ways. First, the recipient of our direct donation receives more because they do not have to pay for any incentives. Second, it is better for us spiritually. For we think of others when we contribute directly, but think of ourselves when we contribute indirectly, such as when we buy lottery tickets. Direct giving, then, is the third way we can improve.

What is the pattern of giving according to age group? Those who give the most are 35 – 44 years old, followed by those 65 and older. The 15 – 24 age group contributes the least. If we belong to this young age group, we can start contributing more now. If we are older, we cannot turn back the clock and grow younger, but we can encourage, teach, and assist our children in learning the values of sharing. This is a fourth way of improving.

Let’s move on to spiritual considerations about giving. First, HOW shall we give? Seneca explains, “We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.”

Second, WHY should we give? Isn’t serving others the only way we can serve our Creator? Aren’t we the tools that God uses to help those in need? The answers to their prayers come in the form of our help. Consider also the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.” Also worthy of note are the words of John Adams: “If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve?” Isn’t it also true that when we give relief to others, we feel relieved; when we offer them peace, we grow peaceful, and when we sprinkle them with joy, we become joyful? Besides, as Albert Pike wrote, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

Third, WHEN shall we give? Samuel Johnson answers, “Let him that desires to see others happy, make haste to give while his gifts can be enjoyed, and remember that every moment of delay takes away something from the value of his benefaction.”

Fourth, WHAT shall we give? The answer lies in an Arab Proverb, “If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little give of your heart.” To this Kahlil Gibran adds, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” We give ourselves by serving others. And it makes sense to do so, for how can we discover ourselves or become ourselves without giving ourselves? If we would be perfect in our giving, we can follow the example of St. Ignatius Loyola who prayed, “To give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not ask for any reward except that of knowing we do Thy will.”

In closing, I would like to quote someone else who wrote, “Somebody did a golden deed; Somebody proved a friend in need; Somebody sang a beautiful song; Somebody smiled the whole day long; Somebody thought, ‘Tis sweet to live; Somebody said, ‘I’m glad to give;’ Somebody fought a valiant fight; Somebody lived to shield the right.” Why don’t we become that somebody?