Charity: Why You Should Give Your Money Away

Poor childI’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.

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33 thoughts on “Charity: Why You Should Give Your Money Away

  1. chris says:

    Tithe, depends on if you believe the Bible or not. My wife and I tithe because we believe that to tithe is part of our belief in God, His Word and His promises.

    Apart from this, I do believe giving to charity or others is important.

    In the book, Think Rich, Grow Rich, the author says to set your goal of how much you want to make, and how much you want to give away. He states, you don’t get something for nothing.

    I also believe it is easier to give when one is not in dire debt.

  2. Wylie says:

    Nice post.

    I wrote a post about this topic recently.

    http://wyliemoney.blogspot.com/2007/04/why-we-save.html

    I especially appreciate your comments about being a good person not being tied to giving.

    And Chris is right on about thinking differently about this when you are in debt.

    Folks should learn to live below their means and folks should learn to think different about what is ‘enough.’

  3. Brad Andrews says:

    People who refuse to give anything are selfish. They may be as pleasant as possible, but they are refusing to do anything for anyone beyond themselves.

    While I see giving as a Biblical command, I also see it as a general principle of the universe. We should care about more than just ourselves. Of course it is very hard to justify if we live life just looking out for ourselves.

    It really boils down to whether the universe revolces around us.

  4. Rebecca says:

    I think that, no matter how badly off we are, there is probably someone who is even worse off and our own lives are enriched by reaching out to them in even the smallest way.

    I believe that our first obligation is to those who depend on us, if any. Our most basic needs of food, shelter and clothing should be covered. Then we are obligated to people to whom we owe money. If there is anything at all left after that, I think we should help others and ten percent is a perfectly reasonable amount, although it certainly doesn’t hurt to give more if we can afford it and would like to. If we are fortunate enough to have disposable income left over, then saving and investing for the future should come next with luxuries trailing in last place.

    I believe that putting others first, always, will ensure contentment in this life far greater than any material goods we may spend our time chasing.

    I believe our government is partially responsible for the horrible mess most of us have gotten into with consumer debt. They allowed creditors to prey on the weakness of consumers at the same time as allowing them to charge usurious interest rates. Unfortunately, they are not any help at all in getting out of it. One step at a time is the only way to go, but faith is a really big help if you’ve got it. And so is the information found in this blog. You are doing a great job, Trent, a great service.

  5. Kevin says:

    This is a very good commentary on why giving to charity is a good thing. Thank you for your well thought out comments.

  6. snappyfrog says:

    Charity – this is a topic that really gets me going.

    I give to the church because that is what I believe. Others have to follow their beliefs also, so I won’t turn this into a religious message.

    I find it hard to give to major charities because so many times others have abused their powers and reward themselves instead of the ones in need.

    I have become quite interested in helping those I see that need help personally. I want to give some examples, but please believe me, I am not tooting my own horn or looking for praise.

    Our neighbors, in their 70′s, took in 3 granddaughters because their mother had a drug problem. The girls needed clothes, school supplies, etc. I have helped them several times.

    I saw a young (mid 20′s) couple who were delighted they had found half a hamburger in the trash. I helped them.

    These are just 2 examples to show my point that I help those who I KNOW need the help.

    I give to these kinds of people knowing that they will never be able to repay me. That is what charity should be about.

    And also, I give selfishly – because it makes me feel great when I see someone first hand that is truely thankful someone was there in their time of need.

    Your friendly trucker,
    SnappyFrog

  7. Jim Lippard says:

    As an atheist, I don’t give to churches. But if I did belong to a church, I would make sure it was one that was financially accountable to its members (which means I would not be a Catholic–they have had some serious problems with financial accountability and embezzlement that would lead them to lose their tax-exempt status if they weren’t a religion).

    I think you’ve given some great reasons for giving to charity, to which I would add that it is very important to do research into where you donate your money just as you do research into where you invest, if you want that donation to be effective in supporting your causes and not just a tax deduction. Not only is it a good idea to donate your money to charities that are efficient (and not spending huge amounts of money on fundraising and staff salaries), but it’s good to identify opportunities for having your donation matched by your employer, challenge grants, and so forth. There are also some creative ways to donate funds over the longer term–donor-directed funds, charitable gift annuities (which pay you fixed income until your death), and legacy gifts, for example.

  8. Mahthellin says:

    I understand that this isn’t for everyone, but the most powerful reason that Christians are called to give is to remind themselves of their dependence upon God (i.e it is ALL His) and to acknowledge His rule in their lives. It is also to remind each of us of our responsibility for all of us – to deliver us from selfishness and to prevent the pull of “get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the lid.”

  9. miguel says:

    Whenever someone talks about charity I always mention kiva.org. This site is dedicated to linking up private lender to provid micro-loans to (very) small business owners in third-world countries.

    I like it because you are helping those that help them selfs, and you get your money back (interest free) in 3-6 months, so someone else can use it again.

    It also makes a huge impact on one person –much better than a drop in the bucket approach.

  10. M says:

    More than just giving money away, it’s best to put some will and energy behind that money and at least take an interest in where your money will be going and if there is any non-material help you can give as well, because almost always motivated leadership is much more important than money.

    The revolution will not be expensive.

  11. BobT says:

    Giving money away is also helpful in cultivating an “abundance mentality.”
    Especially when in debt, it is too easy to think, “I don’t have enough.” Charitable giving, however, is evidence that “I have all I need, and then some.”

    Moving from scarcity to abundance in one’s outlook can be a cause to increase one’s personal fortune.

    BT

  12. EC says:

    It’s not that I don’t give at all, but I’m picky. And I always thought if I came into a lot of money, I’d like to start a scholarship for graduates of the community college where I got my start. I’d like to encourage other people to continue beyond that point, like I did.

    I like the idea behind kiva.org that another commenter added–helping someone fish for himself instead of just feeding him for the day. I’ve donated to the guy who provides Spybot free of charge, and hope to support Project Gutenberg. They are both creating something useful.

    What bugs me is feeling pressured to just throw money out into the universe willy nilly, just because. I get really turned off when I see sob stories designed to raise money and sympathy, where you can see that people are in a fix through their own bad decisions, and aren’t being required to change. Why should I struggle to live within my means, and then give money away so someone else can keep making bad decisions?

    (I’m thinking of something on the news recently, where a housing group was trying to raise funds by showing a family with 6 kids who couldn’t afford to buy a house in a very expensive county. DH and I have no kids, partly because we felt we couldn’t afford to have them, plus we know better than to try and live in such an expensive area. I’m not inclined to send money to help them keep living beyond their means. Maybe if they were raising money for a vasectomy!)

  13. annie-m says:

    Charity is an expression of gratitude and humility for Christian believers. It is not because God commands generousity, it is because He has given me so much. Giving reminds me that I am not the only one responsible for the money I have and that taking care of myself is not my highest priority. It’s not all from me; it’s not all for me.

  14. Gal Josefsberg says:

    I like giving to charities, but only when I know my money is used properly. Some charities have financial issues or are mismanaged so your money isn’t going to be effective. I would recommend looking at a site like Charity Navigator

    http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm

    and doing some research on the charity you intend to donate to. Donating is great but it can be really frustrating when you find out later that your money was wasted.

    GJ
    http://www.60in3.com

  15. PF says:

    Miguel,

    Thanks for the pointer to kiva.org. Just made my first loan. Awesome organization. Thanks!

  16. Nathania Johnson says:

    I’m a little concerned about a guy who questions why we should be giving to charity/church.

    Is he concerned with how much is given? Has he been jaded by the church and doesn’t want to tithe?

    While I believe it is ok to question things, I would definitely want to explore whether there are non-financial motives or underlying reasons behind the very question itself.

  17. Badai Aqrandista says:

    I think in the context of personal finance, charity can be described as this:

    Getting to financial freedom is a psychological exercise as well as a financial one. Giving some of our income to others that are worse off than us can make us appreciate more of what we have. Having that kind of thought can make us less tempted by advertising and other marketing stunt.

    If we have seen how $3 can provide one day meal for someone else, we will appreciate those $3 lattes more.

  18. plonkee says:

    I’ve thought about this extensively and written a bit as well.

    Giving to charity is not reallly connected to religious beliefs in the sense that lots of non-religious and atheist people also think that its important to give to charity. I find it difficult to think of a good reason not to give to charity.

    Being unselfish is probably one of the defining characteristics of being a good person, and giving to charity is one way of being unselfish so I think that is how being good and donating are related.

  19. TheHappyRock says:

    I would argue that the focus should be on creating a generous spirit, not on the action of financial giving. Financial giving is an outflow of a heart that seeks to help make the world around him/her better. Financial giving can be one means to grow a generous spirit, but it isn’t the focus IMO. Things like being a mentor, volunteer cleaning, etc help broaden or world view and will provide us with life empowering energy and passion. Ultimately this generous spirit will help you become more successful in life.

    -THR

  20. Keith says:

    I am the “husband to be” from the post and it wasn’t a question about giving to charity or not, it was a question about the cast in stone “10%”. I have given my time and money to charities in the past and will continue to do so.
    What I can’t understand and what hasn’t been addressed in the post or any of the comments is why that percentage because 10% of the income my “beautiful bride to be” is a lot different then 10% of our new combined income. Is there a typical percentage? What is the justification in the books that give a percentage? Do you take volunteered time into consideration? I think that my time assisting a person or a charity to accomplish something is more valuable then just giving that person /charity money.
    Keith

  21. plonkee says:

    The 10% comes from the old testament (one of number / deuteronomy / leviticus /…), where you should give one tenth of your crops to the priests. The meaning or origin of the word “tithe” is one tenth.

    If, like me, you are not bothered about following old testament biblical principals then feel free to do as you please. There is an assumption in many (prob. not all) US personal finance books that the reader is a Christian (in a bible believing sense). It annoys me a great deal when this is not stated explicitly.

    As in all things, do whatever works for you.

  22. Erin Foster says:

    To the “husband to be” – The word “tithe” by its very definition is 10%. It is my understanding that the 10% originated in the old testament. In the new testament it is taught that what ever mount you give,it is to be done with a loving heart and not to earn brownie points, so to speak.

    You can define 10% in a manner you are comfortable with. Personally, I use 10% of my gross salary to determine my giving. Tithing can also be considered 10% of your take home, or even 10% of your disposable income.

    And yes, your time contributed to worthwhile causes is equally important. Spending time working for a charitable group can give further ensight into what you are contributing as well as helping others.

    I cannot think of anything more generous than giving time and money to whatever is most important to you, whether it is your place of worship, a community food drive or anything else you choose.

    Please do give with love and generosity and do not worry too much about the rules.

    EMB

  23. Debbie says:

    Yep, the 10% figure comes from the Bible. Most people give much less (in America, it’s more like 2% according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy).

    I am completely nonreligious. But part of me thinks that I should live extremely frugally, with lots of roommates, and doing all my own cooking, and having only free entertainment such as library books, because even then I would still be much better off than most people in the world, and then I should donate all the extra. In the right hands, it’s amazing what a difference even a small amount of money can make.

    However, another part of me is selfish. So I compromise on 10% because although it’s much, much less than I could give, it’s also much, much more than the average person gives. It’s a very random figure. Anything between 5% and 40% would probably fit those criteria!

    I do make it only 10% of my net income because I figure that at least 10% of my taxes are also going to help people less fortunate than I am. Also, I have not been including income from investments because that’s been almost nothing, but I’m thinking of re-evaluating that decision.

  24. Minimum Wage says:

    I’d give my money away, but then my landlord and creditors would be angry and I’d wind up homeless and with my paychech garnished.

  25. I was once a “husband to be” whose wife asked that we tithe. We did, and it is one of the best decisions we have ever made. Indeed, we now give a bit more than 10% (of our gross pay). We did it for religious/ethical reasons, but there were other benefits as well:
    1. Satisfaction–we get great satisfaction every month when we make the decision about who to give to. this should not be underestimated.
    2. Planning–when you tithe, giving to charity is a large enough budget item that you begin to plan. You ask, who should I give to and why? What are my values? My wife are very intentional in who we give to–we research the charities and are careful to give to those charities that reflect our values and priorities. I feel much better that my charity dollar is being spent well.
    3. Communication and Knowledge–larger donors (amount depends on the donation, but usually $1k and up) get more communication with the charities they give to. You become an active participant in the organization, and not a mere donor.
    4. Pyschological–this is hard to explain, but I find that giving 10% or more of your income away gives tyou a better attitude about life and about money. You begin to understand how blessed you are with what you have.

    Whether and how much to give is a personal decision, but I have never met a tither who ever regreted the decision.

  26. Jeremy in AR says:

    Debbie hit the nail on the head IMO…That 2% statistic is kinda sad though for the richest nation in the world…

    Keith, it seems your fiance’s 10% number comes from the Biblical sense from her upbringing. Us husbands are usually blessed with wives who are more compassionate than ourselves and that is often why they push more for the charity than guys. Most people would agree that 10% is a good number to shoot for, and if you are in debt (hopefully you are working on fixing that situation) less is probably the only option, but as Dave Ramsey says, “never in the bible does it say to stop tithing” (for any reason). i.e. even if you can barely manage it, maybe try to give 1%to keep you grounded. I like Rick Warren’s plan, he and his wife started at 10% when they got married and added 1% each year thereafter… that’s what we’re shooting for.

    one of my avorite charaties is Compassion International, they do a good job of keeping down the admin costs and getting the $$ to those who need it with about a 50/50 physical/spititual need $$ allocation. http://www.compassion.com/

  27. Jeremy, in backing up Debbie’s comment, has it right. It is sad that in the U.S., the average person giving is giving a small amount.

    What’s even more sad is the fact that while the percentage being given had declined, the number of people has declined, seemingly double the amount in giving. Fewer and fewer people are giving less and less money, and where it is being given, whether to a house of worship, an animal shelter, or any other organization, the donations have dropped off considerably.

    I am a full-time volunteer with Awake In America (http://www.AwakeInAmerica.org/), and right now we are revamping the site to move it from an HTML-based site to one managed by a content management system. This will allow greater options for us with volunteers wanting to work on the site or write content for the site.

    Over the past four years, getting donations has been horrible. Even in the aftermath of Katrina, most people thought first of organizations like the American Red Cross, which often is the first thing that comes to mind. During that time, we received about $125 in cash donations — but, to be fair, we did receive quite a bit of equipment which was used to ship out to people who lost CPAP or BiPAP machines due to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rite. For the emergency relief program, the $125 cash donation helped cover shipping for about six shipments. In all, we made 97 shipments to various areas of the U.S. All is on the organization’s site, now strictly for historical purposes, at:
    http://www.AwakeInAmerica.org/Katrina/

    While the number of individual donors has declined, it seems as though corporate donors, aka corporate sponsors, are also declining.

    This is a topic, sadly, that people could talk about day-after-day, and much of the time many do just that. When the talk stops, for many, it’s an “out of sight, out of mind” thing.

  28. Cheryl says:

    I would love to have someone in this world help me. I have worked 1 to 3 jobs to support my family the past 10 years, with no benefits and no vacations. Each Christmas I tell my children next Christmas will be easier. But each year is the same, struggling to make it each week, pay bills, buy food, pay for gas to make it to work, praying we do not have any car trouble because I do not know if I could pay for a repair, making the house payment. This year was the worst but I told my family what was important was that we spent the holidays together. No one got gifts this year. My husband was laid off the 7th of December, my employer gave me 2 weeks off for Christmas without pay, and we did not have income for 2 weeks. We ate rice and bread for 1 week. We do not qualify for any assistance because we made over the limit for the year of 2007. I have not made the January house payment because we are trying to pay everything else that we are behind in. I have applied for a second job again. I will be 50 in March and I do not see things getting easier. I sometimes wonder if I will be working 2 or 3 jobs until I am 80. Will I ever be able to retire or take a vacation? I know there are others with hardships to tell. I owe $900 to the Mayo Clinic, and I had some health issues and they would not see me unless I pay off what I owe them, I have $1 in savings, so I just stay home and hope I get better on my own. I just hope for a break, that something happens that will let me have a little easier life. I am so tired. I don’t want to work 2 or 3 jobs any more, I want to take a paid vacation for once in my life, I don’t want to worry and cry any more about where the money is going to come from for my house payment, bills, food, and car up keep. When is that going to happen? When I am dead? Is that when I will have peace of mind?

  29. Schwamie says:

    Don’t forget, for those who itemize on their taxes, it is also a small deduction :) (Just make sure you keep a record of what was given if not cash, and if cash is given, make sure you have a receipt!)

  30. Jennifer says:

    I am a Christian. I do God’s work and i am in need of a photo copy machine to make bulk copies of religious leaflets booklets and pamplets for distribution to the people. I am also an unpublished writer of children’s books. Please consider me for a nice donation. I live in Botswana. My postal address is: P.O.Box 403849
    Broadhurst, Gaborone, Botswana, 0009. cell no. (0267) 71664274. or (0267) 39 333 11. Thank you. May God bless you abundantly. Best regards Jennifer february maiden name: King.

  31. Fritters says:

    While I’m Christian and feel as though I ought to tithe, I’m not completely on board with the people who feel you tithe to your church. There are lots of good charities out there, a lot of them that do God’s work, and I believe my money will do a lot more good helping people in impoverished nations than repaving the church parking lot…

  32. Charles says:

    For me, the bottom line on charity is that if I were to refuse to pay my taxes, I would go to jail, but if I refuse to give to charity, nothing will happen to me.

  33. Tanya says:

    Tithing was a no-brain decision for me (I am pretty new at all this stuff) I am a born again Christian as of two years ago. My husband was a different story, a little harder to get on board, but once he made the decision to tithe we haven’t regretted it since. We tithe 10% of all of our net income and tithe again when taxes come. I feel that tithing keeps us obediant to God. None of it is ours to begin with, we just believe that sewing back into his kingdom is what we’ve been commanded to do anyway and we do it with a happy heart…we need to trust in him. Our father supplies all of our needs. Something that helped my husband in the beginning was that at the very least, we were helping the church that we love going to and hear God’s word stay up and running…those bills don’t get paid on their own. We help others when we can, though the extra things we can do are far and in between, usually we are helping them with what we have to offer as a person, not with money, because there usually isn’t enough of that to go around. I believe that whatever you decide will be fine as long as it lines up with the word of God, same goes with everyone and everything.

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