I’ve wanted to write this for a long time, but once again a reader of mine comes through. I received this question in an email recently:
I have a question about giving to charities. I was always taught by my parents I should be giving 10% of what I earn to the church, charities, the poor, etc. I have no problem doing this, and most financial books recommend giving a portion of what you earn away.
I’m getting married soon and my husband-to-be wants to know why we should do this, and to be honest, I don’t know why. Never really thought about it. Even in financial books, I haven’t found a good explanation, other than something vague like “giving your money away creates more wealth for you.”
Charity – in fact, altruism in general – is a very difficult concept to explain in a general sense. What I’ve found often is that you either have an innate understanding of why you give or you don’t, and introducing the idea to someone who doesn’t see the benefit is likely to get a shrug of indifference. The best I can do is explain in detail why I give to various causes.
First of all, charitable donations are a direct reflection of my values and perspectives. Whenever I donate money, I’m contributing it towards something that I feel has importance. If I want to see food available to homeless people in my community, I can donate to the local food pantry or soup kitchen. If I want to fight global warming, there are plenty of organizations that are fighting for such change. The real question is whether you have found something with enough importance to you to speak out with your pocketbook.
Second, helping others improves your self worth in many ways. Once you’ve given something to a charity that you truly believe in, you feel good about it. The money in your pocket went towards a cause beyond what you can manage in your daily life, a cause that combined with the similar actions of others can actually bring about change in the world. That’s not something you can get from buying yourself a flat panel television.
Third, charitable donations have indirect benefits. Here’s an example: in the community where I grew up, there was a food pantry where people would donate food and others who were in need would eat it. My parents would often take fresh produce from the garden there in the summer. The family of one of my closest friends was extremely poor and without some food support from the pantry, my friend’s parents likely would not have been able to keep their house and would have had to move away. At a crucial point in my life, this friend pushed me to do something that I would have never done on my own. The result? I received a full scholarship to college that I wouldn’t have received otherwise.
Because my parents quietly donated to that pantry, a series of events occurred that ended up with their son having an opportunity to get a college education. When people talk about charity coming back around, this is exactly what they’re talking about.
One final comment: I don’t think, like many do, that whether or not you tithe or give to charity is a sign of whether you’re a good person or not. I know some very wonderful people who don’t give to charities and I also know some people who give to charities that I wouldn’t trust my child around. A person should only give to a charity if they truly feel it is the right thing to do with their money – if it doesn’t feel right, don’t donate.
In short, even if you don’t donate any of your income to charity right now or you don’t see the purpose, don’t close your mind or your heart to the idea. When the right reason comes to you, open up your wallet and see what happens.