Myths That Make Us Less Generous
Some people don’t invest much because it feels complicated.
Some people don’t give much because it feels complicated. How much to give? Where to give? How do I know the money will help the people it’s intended for? And so much more.
My hope is to unlock the generous potential in people by dispelling a few misconceptions that become barriers to charitable giving. Here goes…
- Generosity is irresponsible.
Can people give money away to the point of failing to provide for their own family? Yes. Do people sometimes get scammed out of their money, thinking it’s going to a good cause? Yes. Of course this does not mean that all or most charitable giving is irresponsible.
It’s entirely possible to give responsibly and generously, even on a small income or while paying off debt. Don’t confuse “generosity” with “giving away gobs of money.” I find working with percentages helpful here. For example, perhaps while you’re a student you could choose to give away 5% of your income. Once you have full-time employment you could work your way up to 10%.
- Generosity is enabling.
Unfortunately, there are “charities” that are completely bogus and just out to steal your money. Usually with a bit of research you can sniff these out. What’s sometimes more confusing are the well-meaning groups who provide types of “help” that are not actually helpful. Hand-outs that protract the poverty cycle, assistance that’s culturally inappropriate, and gifts that don’t uphold people’s dignity all fall under this category. Two thoughts on sifting through these factors:
- Do you know what fees you’re paying on your investment accounts? Do you know what rate of return you’re averaging? Good! If we care enough to do a little homework with our investments, it only makes sense to see how our charitable investments can be expected to perform. Ask questions, get personal recommendations, read ratings web sites, and consider volunteering or observing the work if possible in order to get a good read on whether the group is helping or hurting.
- Don’t get paralyzed. Finding the “right” organization to give to can easily hold up the practice of generosity. I know it did for us. To get the ball rolling, consider giving to a group that is providing disaster relief, such as the Red Cross or Samaritan’s Purse. It’s hard to argue against helping out during a natural disaster.
3. Generosity comes from excess.
Perhaps this is the most pervasive and perilous myth about generosity: I’ll give when I have more. When I get my big-girl job. When I get that next promotion. When I’m comfortable. In the same way that we chase more money for ourselves, we also tend to think we’ll become more generous when we have more. Meanwhile, studies show the poor are more charitable than the wealthy.
When I was in high school and college, I had very little income and gave away a minuscule amount of money. That pittance didn’t change anyone’s life—except mine. This early practice of giving set the course for a lifelong assumption of generosity which has informed all our financial decisions, from which college to attend, to what degree to pursue, to the home we purchased. We’ve made our share of mistakes, but at the end of the day, we’ve always been in a position to give because we made a habit of it before we had much.
Fifteen years later, I’m certainly not giving away a fortune. But the quiet, consistent giving year after year has added up to enough to make a difference in several lives. For us non-millionaires, consistency is the way to go when it comes to philanthropy.
If you want a big impact on a limited budget, consider funding a micro-credit loan (scroll down to find) to help a person in poverty get training and funding to start a small business. They even receive financial training to help them earn a profit and repay. And here’s the cool part—once they pay back their loan, that money goes toward funding another micro-loan. Talk about a ripple effect!
4. Generosity is interchangeable with volunteering.
“Time is money, so giving away time and money are interchangeable.” Sorry, but that’s just bad logic. If your boss offered to pay you in home repairs, that barter might work out for a pay period, should you happen to need repairs. (Who doesn’t?) But by next pay period, you’re going to need money to pay the bills and buy groceries. Same goes for organizations that accept volunteers and financial gifts—and the people or causes they serve. No one can get by on helping hands alone. That’s simply not how life works.
I commonly see people switch the topic from giving money to giving time, as if they’re somehow synonymous. They’re not. We should do both and talk about both, but let’s not excuse ourselves from generosity by volunteering.
- Generosity feels good.
We all know generosity isn’t about the giver, yet I write posts like “Get Rich with Generosity” and cite studies showing how people who give away 10% of their income are happier. It’s interesting research, but if we’re giving in order to receive we could be sorely disappointed. Sometimes giving doesn’t feel good. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like anything. And sometimes it’s better than the best shopping high.
The problem enters when we decide how, where, and when to give based solely on our emotions. I want to keep a compassionate heart that responds to needs in the moment. But if my generosity is limited to random acts of kindness, I’m bound to have less impact on others than if I make a thoughtful choice to partner with a charity for the long haul.
If you’ve read this far, you probably care about being a generous person. There’s no one right way to be generous, and there’s so much more to generosity than what we’ve touched on here. But the greatest danger isn’t that people won’t give anything at all, but that they’ll come short of how generous they could be. This is always my concern for myself in this area. I’ll leave you with a verse that has motivated me not to neglect this important area:
“You do well in everything else. You do well in faith and in speaking. You do well in knowledge and in complete commitment. And you do well in the love we have helped to start in you. So make sure that you also do well in the grace of giving to others.” (2 Corinthians 8:7, emphasis mine.)
What other misconceptions about generosity have you heard? What did you have to wrestle through in order to start giving away money?
I love this, I did the Dave Ramsey program years ago, and giving away part of your money was important. it makes me think about how much I give away each month, and how generous I should be. I love working through a monthly allowance of giving.
Thanks, Stephanie. Deciding on a giving allowance ahead of time is a great way to ensure generosity, while staying open to needs or opportunities that arise unexpectedly.
The big one is “those that are need caused their own problems”. While that’s sometimes true, it’s not always true. Even if you slant towards thinking it’s more true then not there are ways to be generous without donating to something people can control. For example donating to a rare disease or one without a known cause can help but has no linkage to someone’s activities. Giving to the poor is not the only form of charity afterall.
Excellent point. There are lots of important causes to give to, and there are certainly cut and dry scenarios that aren’t caused by bad choices–ever. That would be another good place to start if you have qualms about enabling poor choices.
I love your line about giving away small amounts of money as having changed you. I had a very similar experience. It’s easy to put off giving till our finances seem more ready. But I started giving a bit in high school, then as soon as I went to college I competed to 10%, even though we were in debt. Even though it was maybe $100 a month, I was changed by the process.
All are such good points!
I’m glad to hear you experienced the life-changing power of a giving habit, even when it starts small. Thanks for sharing!
My wife and I have conversations about generosity every now and then. She is more generous than I am and I think part of that comes from her upbringing in a more generous family than mine was where if we wanted something we had to work for it ourselves. Her family is more apt to give if it can be used for good like going to school to learn a trade or renting a small office to start a business.
Upbringings don’t determine how we act as adults and we can change. It’s not always easy and we can’t do it alone, but, it is possible.
A big giving topic for us for giving time and money is helping widows and orphans. Our biggest struggle right now is time. It’s real easy to write a check or even put a $5 bill in the plate, but, it’s hard to donate time when you want to be home with small children or spend time with your own family when you don’t work.
That’s great that you’re thinking through the experiences and assumptions you come to this topic with, and working through those. And that your wife has a generous bent 🙂
I agree that giving time can sometimes be more difficult, especially with little kids. Now that our kids aren’t babies, we’ve found a few ways we can serve others as a family. But we also get regular babysitters in order to devote time to our volunteer ministry.
I always try to act how I would hope others would act if the situation was flipped somehow. It’s a scary reality that many of us are one accident, illness, or other instance away from being in need.
And yes 100% to the time and money not being the same thing. We can (and should!) volunteer as much as we can, but facilities need to keep their lights on, too.
That’s a great way to think about these decisions–it really takes it out of the theoretical and makes it about real people. And it’s so true that no one is truly insulated against needing help in one form or another.
“Generosity is enabling” is definitely a myth that a lot of people believe. One of the best things I heard someone say in a sermon is that we shouldn’t judge how people use the money and resources we donate. It’s not up to us to decide how people use the gifts we give them. That’s what makes them gifts. I think that mindset should be at the core of all giving & generosity.
Hmmm….I don’t think we can wash our hands of all responsibility about our gifts. After money leaves our hands, it’s truly out of our control. However, like any spending, we’d want to make an informed, wise decision as much as possible.
I could see this being more true of personal gifts than charitable ones, perhaps. If I give someone I know money in a time of need and they blow it on stuff I’d never spend it on, that’s not something I should judge. And often churches and organizations struggle with receiving so many designated gifts that it’s hard to cover administration costs. But no one wants to support drug addiction, to use an extreme example. I think the statement from the sermon can be helpful, but requires more nuance to apply it in real life.
I’ve never felt like I was smart enough to discern when someone was actually in need and when they were not. I decided early to err on the side of believing and to help where I could. If someone is using me, that is really their issue to resolve, not mine.
I agree that ultimately the responsibility lies with the receiver. It’s true that there are situations where it’s hard to tell all the details about how it might be used. That’s great you’ve recognized this and still chosen to err on the side of generosity.
Kalie, I love your emphasis on generosity. My draw to the pf bloggosphere was all about debt repayment. One of the reasons I want to be debt-free is so that I will be free to be more generous. But your myth #3 speaks to my “once-I’m-out-of-debt…” mindset. Your point about generosity changing the giver resonates with me. I do give now, but I’m not satisfied with how much. And if I put as much focus on giving as I do on debt-payoff, I would set myself up, in terms of future choices, to give as a matter of course. Great stuff here!
I think there is a sense in which we might never be “satisfied” with how much we give–and that could be a good thing. Not that we should always feel guilty about it, and but that we should always be open to the possibility of giving more. Also, a goal of giving more in the future is a great debt payoff motivator. But I think the only way to be sure you’ll actually give generously then is to give generously, relatively, along the way.