How to do Charity the WRONG Way this Christmas: 8 Dos & Don’ts
Blame Tiny Tim, blame the Christmas Spirit, blame the bell-ringing Santas or the social media “do-gooders”. Whatever your opinion on the season, from Thanksgiving to Christmas is the most giving time of year and the most productive season for charities. We are surrounded by Angel Trees, shoe-boxes that need to be filled, catalogs to provide anything from a goat to an impoverished family in the third world to a needed surgery for an orphan. This is the time of year that even those who normally do not think of charity, will easily add a dollar to their total at a cash register for the benefit of St. Jude’s. With all this giving surrounding us, it is easy to feel confident that humanity is “good” after all, that we have “done our part”.
For those who serve in the non-profit sector, however, it can also be a conflicting time of year. If you rely on donations, you almost have to play up to the notion of the “holiday spirit”. If you want to increase funds, you have to make it “easy” and “efficient” for donors to contribute. Yet in the midst of all this giving, even if the necessary funds come in to accomplish good things, the true benefit to the giver is often lost in the process. In other words, you can give to a good cause and yet still not really be changed yourself or leave a lasting change behind. Would you like to really give something that matters this year? Would you like to do more than have a fleeting moment of warm fuzzies and instead leave a lifetime change on someone else and even your own heart? Here are some suggestions for how to have the most impact with your giving this year.
1. DON’T call it “charity”. Even if it technically is. The word “charity” carries with it a long history of implying someone who is coming down from a lofty place to give to someone of a lesser position. One of the biggest mistakes we make when we give to others is to carry even an unintended air of superiority. Have a clear purpose in your heart and mind to give in a way that causes YOU to feel humble, not to make the person to whom you are giving feel humbled.
2. DO more than give “stuff”. Americans are saturated with “stuff”. So when we think to give to others, we always think in terms of “stuff”. Of course those who are in impoverished situations need material things. But the reality is, giving material things away without any attachment of relationship, connection, emotional contact or hands-on service lead only to a cycle of filling material holes without creating the bonds that bring the greatest benefit to both parties. Giving should be about more than providing for primal human needs. It should open a door for us to share our hearts, our lives, and our spirits with another person. The reality is, you need the connection to them as much as they need it from you. Our differences in culture and status often keep us from connecting with those who can change us the most and enrich our lives in ways those who are just like us cannot.
3. DON’T look for the easiest way to give. In the mall recently, I noticed instead of asking if I wanted to add a dollar to my order for St. Jude’s, they were asking if I wanted to “round up” to the next dollar (“Do you want to donate 67 cents?”). When I asked why, the clerk told me the donations had dramatically increased when they offered the option to customers to just round up what was left to the next dollar as opposed to donating a full dollar. Seriously??? I am aware that most people are driven by unconscious motives, so I do not believe it is a conscious decision to do “the least”. But it floored me, nevertheless, that by allowing customers to end on a nice, even number instead of giving a full dollar we could actually increase giving by that much. As the director of a non-profit, I am very aware that the easier you can make the giving for the donor, the more likely they are to give. But here’s my point….my goal and mission as director of Healing Projects is not just to see how much money we can raise, it is to change YOU. And YOU will not be changed if you simply choose the easiest path to giving every time. If you only donate toys and clothes you don’t want anyway just so you can clean out your closets, you miss the joy of actually spending money you would have spent on yourself or your own child to purchase new items for a child in need. If you only give your pocket change to the next nearest dollar to help a child in need of surgery, you will likely never check in on the progress of that child or organization again. If you only give your least, your toss-offs, your unwanted, you will never experience the greatest heart change, the first and best interactions with others, the timeless treasures that are returned to you when you have given and served your BEST.
4. DO give more than money, give yourself. One of the earliest goals of Healing Projects was to find a way to customize service to allow individuals to use their actual talents, passions, and skills to change the lives of others. So much of the non-profit world is filled with requests for money, and that’s where the interaction ends. I get it, money makes stuff happen. I wish we had more of it! But the reality is, when that is all you give, it might provide for the physical needs of someone, but it does nothing to reach into the heart, soul and life of another….and we happen to believe the inside of a person is just as valuable as the outside. Is it any less important to hold an orphan who is in pain as they heal from the surgery as it is to offer the money to provide the surgery? Is it any less important to sit and cry with a 14 year old mother and share some parenting wisdom with a young mom who does not know how to handle the tantrums of her 2 year old child than it is to hand her some diapers? You may not be a doctor, a dentist, or able to build a school, but everyone has special skills and qualities that they can pour into the life of another that are just as valuable as a toy that will be forgotten in a year.
5. DON’T brag about what you give. In this age of social media, it is so easy to cross the line from inspiring others to promoting your own goodness. There is nothing wrong with humbly sharing stories to inspire others. But always check your own motives before exploiting the impoverished publicly. Be respectful and careful in what photos you publish, what stories you tell, and what information you expose. If you are doing it to feed your own soul, you will actually cancel the positive impact it would have had. And others can see through false humility, thereby cancelling out the inspirational effect it might have had. So go ahead and share some things sparingly and wisely. But also consider hiding some of those treasures in your heart, just between you and God.
6. DO incorporate the giving spirit into your everyday life. While this season may spark something that has been lying dormant in your heart, don’t allow the fleeting joy to be swept away with the new year, to only be remembered again next Christmas. If I eat healthy one day out of the year, there is absolutely no positive impact on my body. If I speak kindly to my children one day out of the year, there is no lasting impact on their character. If I give of myself to the world around me one day, one week, one holiday, I am nothing more than a tiny shooting star in a universe that is in dire need of a sky full of lasting light. Use this year to find one organization, one child, one family, one place to plug in and maintain a more permanent giving relationship.
7. DON’T use the poor and needy for your own company, church or personal “PR”. Similar to #5, we live in an age and a culture that actually is quite fond of being viewed as generous. TOMS built an empire on the idea that they were putting charity first. In our culture, you are not viewed as weak when you give to those in need, you are actually seen as quite saintly and admired. This opens the door for lots of giving on behalf of public relations. We admire the churches who give away backpacks to school children. We buy from the businesses that provide hungry children with meals. We lavish praise on the celebrities who perform at fundraising events. But if our motives in that kind of giving are secretly to build our own reputations, the poor and needy might gain a little from our endeavors, but we have actually exploited their lack for our own gain. And even if they gained materially in the end, we have purchased our reputation at the expense of their dignity. Do not use the lack of others to build your reputation. Give without bragging, serve without always promoting, and actually interact enough with those in need to do more than throw an occasional handout their way, making sure there is a photographer, videographer and social media expert nearby.
8. DO give something that will take commitment. Even the hardest hearts can have a moment of generosity. But to genuinely change your own character, commit to something. Join a volunteer board and show up at the meetings. Instead of a one-time gift, sign up to sponsor a child or ministry monthly. Set up a special savings account your family can give to throughout the year so that the Christmas giving is actually out of something the whole family committed to all year. Sign up to be a mentor, read to a child, sing monthly at a nursing home, something that requires you to commit year-round to having a giving heart not just “check in” at Christmastime. Form a long-term relationship with a missionary, a family, an non-profit. Not only will that have a far greater impact on the needs of those around you, it will have a far greater impact on your own growth of character, depth of joy, and profound fulfillment for years to come.
Even Scrooge did not approach his new-found generosity by providing one fancy dinner to a family in need. He committed to partnering with a family FOR LIFE for the betterment of their condition and his character. This Christmas season, do more, reach more, commit more, and discover that the joys of giving can reach far beyond one season a year. It can transform a life permanently….your own.