The practice of open-hearted, unafraid generosity is not simple. It’s fairly easy to accept the idea that we should be generous with our resources (which, in any calculation, belong to God), and it might even come easily to decide to be generous. But the practice, the choosing how and where to give, is where we—certainly I—can become paralyzed.
The fear comes in the face of the sheer volume of need. The requests from churches and local non-profits, kids’ sports teams and cancer research, and people on city streets come alongside reports of natural disasters, refugee crises, and devastating child hunger. And since most of us aren’t Warren Buffet, we run up against our own financial limitations. We cannot possibly address all needs. But more and more, we are aware of them.
Even more difficult, for me, are the potential unintended consequences of giving when we don’t acknowledge uneven power relationships, discussed by authors such as Robert Lupton in Toxic Charity and Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in When Helping Hurts. How then, do we give to alleviate suffering, empower others, and protect human dignity, with our own limited resources?
This post is the third in our three-part series on Transformative Giving – generosity that creates change in the world and in ourselves. We’ve already talked about the importance of intentionality and sacrifice. The third element of transformative giving is connectedness–giving that is relational. By that we mean generosity that is driven by more than a reaction to a request and involves more than a click online. In the words of John Stanley, author of Connected for Good, “check-writing philanthropy” or “transactional” giving has the potential to be detached and duty-oriented. In contrast, connected giving is driven by relationships with other people working for change and with those whose lives may be affected by the gift. This type of generosity responds to Christ’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We’ve heard stories here at BFJN of this kind of connected giving coming out of Lazarus at the Gate groups. Since one of the end objectives of the groups is to give a collective donation to a need agreed upon by the group, the input and relationships of all the members play roles in making the final determination of where to give. In one group, at the end of their meetings they found out that a person in their church desperately needed repairs to his car, and they were able to use some of their gift towards that end. In a LATG group I was part of, one couple were doctors who had worked in Rwanda. They knew that in the hospital where they spent their time, reference books for the local doctors were very few, detracting from the doctors’ ability to treat patients. So we paid for books. Another women in the group had spent time at a medical clinic in Somalia that needed a new building. She knew and trusted the director. We gave to that need, and the new building was constructed.
These stories indicate that while options for relationally-oriented giving might be more obvious in our local contexts, it can also be done globally. Not all of us live in places where people are experiencing deep poverty and crisis, but we can form relationships with those who do.
So here are three possible ways to increase the connectedness of your giving (there are many more, but it’s a start):
Simplify. Newsflash: you actually can’t give to every need. You have to make choices. So start with a process of reflecting on the personal experiences that have shaped you and the issues that inspire emotional responses in you. Then choose one or a couple of places to research and invest in. This process will allow you to go deeper and think long-term. (Note: this approach doesn’t mean you can’t give in response to requests – consider setting aside funds for spontaneous giving.)
Reach Out. Both before and after you decide where to give, make it a priority to get to know people working at organizations that respond to your areas of interest. Go to them instead of waiting for them to come to you. Go to board meetings if they are public, and other meetings if not. If the organizations are local, visit their sites and projects.
Get Involved. Consider giving to places where you volunteer, or volunteering with organizations to which you would like to give. If the work is happening in another country, find local connections and create relationships. If it’s happening in your city or town, see how you can participate. Link your giving to your actions.
We really want to know–how do you make your giving more connected? We’d love to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments or on Facebook!