Most people would describe themselves as being generous and kind. No one likes to be called stingy. It makes me wonder whether we sometimes give out of compulsion, just to keep up appearances. If so, is there really blessing in that kind of giving? In the Western world, people often donate to charities with causes they believe in. With the recent news about cases of misconduct by charity workers, people are not sure which charities to trust. It makes us really question who and why we give.
Giving to charities is a great way to reach needy people you would otherwise not have a chance to help. This means that we are trusting the charities to do the good work they tell us they need the money for. When I started charity work ten years ago, I remember people telling me that they were tired of charities that were here today and gone tomorrow. Some of the African people I contacted for donations told me that they do not give to charity organizations because they already give to needy family members. As someone who grew up in Africa, I completely understand what they mean. It is difficult to give money to poor people thousands of miles away when you have relatives and friends nearby that cannot afford food to eat. By the time you pay your own bills and help a few families, there is nothing left to donate to charities. Not to mention saving properly or making investments for the future.
It seems also that in such communities, those that ask often, get more. The poor widow with five children who does a menial job to maintain her dignity, look after her children and avoid begging does not often get people coming over to offer her money; but the unemployed graduate who spends all his time on the internet messaging friends and relatives for financial help often gets the money. As an employed or self-employed person, if you have enough money to cover all your bills and maintain a decent lifestyle, you are considered rich. There is an unspoken expectation that you will be able to supply the needs of people who reach out to you, even if your salary is just enough to pay your rent. This is where giving out of compulsion becomes a temptation, so much so that people get into debt and financial stress just because they are unable to say no to such requests. Giving is good, and I strongly commend a culture of sharing, but since resources are limited, how do we decide who to give and when?
Some people are very careful with their money and budget how much to give every month, while others ‘spend as they get’. Whichever group you belong to, there will come a point where you do not have anything to give, or you might have to choose just one person or cause to give to. How do we decide at such times? Do we give to the one who calls/writes us the most to ask for money, or the one who really needs it based on what we know of their circumstances? Do we decide based on what we are told the money will be used for, or based on what favour or thanks we hope to get in exchange for the money given? I have found that, sometimes, what people really need is more than just money. Is it sometimes better to volunteer time and expertise to charities, instead of cash? Is it better to take time out to speak to them, and show them how to fish, instead of giving them ‘fish’ every time? I imagine that might be seen by some as a ‘stingy’ thing to do, and may even be taken as an insult by people who just like to take, take, take.
However people view your motives for giving, or not giving money, the most important thing is to have a peaceful conscience and give out of love, not compulsion. Whether we are giving time, money, advice or connections, we need to be aware that resources are limited and it is foolish to give in a way that leaves you in debt or trouble. Sacrificial giving is honorable, but giving what you don’t have is foolish. We would like to think that anyone receiving a gift would care enough to know that you are not stealing, borrowing or killing yourself for their sake, but unfortunately people do not always care, as long as they get what they want. It is a shame that people today can take advantage of kindness, abuse generosity and betray trust. We must never let the bad in some, destroy the good in us. It is still more blessed to give than to receive.
Dr Afiniki Akanet is the founder of Forte, Charity for Inspiration, and author of Life Without Coffee (Choosing Happiness Over Stress). Afiniki.co.uk