Why We Should Give

Recently, while presenting to a small group on the principles of personal wealth I got a reaction that I didn’t anticipate. It has caused me to look deeper into the reasons for giving.

As I teach people about creating a plan for their spending on a monthly basis, there is a baseline formula that I use. It is this:

Give 10% of your income to charity

Save 10% of your income

Invest 10% of your income

Live on the remaining 70%.

As I shared this with the audience one of the participants made the comment, “You shouldn’t push your morals on me.” This was with regards to the 10% giving to charity. To that point, no one had looked at this spending plan % as a moral indoctrination vehicle, or at least they didn’t speak it out load if they did. I’m grateful that this person gave voice to his interpretation. It allowed me look deeper into the reason and hopefully to better explain why we want to give 10% of our income to charity. The reasons are not all moral. Many can be construed as selfish, just as helping someone in need has a positive impact on the person providing the assistance.

There are a few studies about charitable giving that shed light on the reasons why we should give. Here are some of them, along with my thoughts:

  1. In perspective, you probably have more to give than you think. Anybody reading this is likely among the most wealthy people in the history of the world. If you make more than $33,000 annually your income is among that of the top ten wealthiest countries in a 2013 study reported by Gallup, and more than 50 times that of the lowest 10 countries. You may not feel like you have much to give, but in perspective, you have a lot.
  2. The habit and practice of giving helps instill a master/servant relationship with your money, you being the master. If we look at our finances and believe ourselves to be limited by what we have available, mentally we become the servant to our money. The simple habit of giving a consistent portion of your income to a charitable organization, cause or person in need, changes that mental relationship. If you are not the master of your money, you will be it’s slave. Giving to charity establishes you as the master.
  3. Making charitable donations increases your own happiness. One study showed that charitable giving activates the same brain region triggered by other pleasurable experiences. The study compared charitable giving to forced donations (a.k.a. taxation) concluding, “ on average, charitable giving produced a stronger activation of this pleasure center than did the forced donations.”

Here are some thoughts for your charitable donating practices:

  1. Be wise about where you donate. Not all charitable organizations are created equal. When I give, I want the maximum amount of my donation to go to the actual cause being supported, and not to the overhead of the organization. There are organizations that rate various charities, though their evaluations may be limited to available public records of the charities. These include GuideStar, Charity Navigator and CharityWatch.
  2. When you donate, take a minute to think about the good that your donation will serve. Let your heart and mind dwell for a time on the help that you are providing. If you turn your charitable giving into a habit, you are at risk of losing the very benefit that it affords you, if you don’t realize the good that you are doing by giving.
  3. Don’t think of money as the only way to give. Serving others directly has a 10X factor in terms of connecting yourself with those you are helping, and paying your personal dopamine dividend for giving. Look for random opportunities to help someone else. Buy or bake some bread or cookies and take them to someone you know who needs to know that they are remembered. Help the person in your neighborhood who has a need. Donate some of your time, which is more valuable than money in the first place.

If you don’t have the practice of donating a portion of your income to a charitable cause, I invite you to start doing so. I believe you will find that it pays dividends greater than your other financial investments, though you may not see the result directly in your bank account. In the long run, the balance in your heart is far more critical than that of your financial institution.

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James Stephenson is the author of Small Steps, Big Feat, and coaches and mentors people in principles and practices of personal wealth.