By Seth Busetti
Giving doesn’t come easy to everyone. The feeling that we want to give or should somehow give to our local church, missions work, humanitarian causes, or to a homeless person on the street corner is probably universal. But for many people there are a dozen reasons justifying why we don’t follow through and actually do it.
For example, we might say:
- I don’t know enough about what the ministry believes to commit to giving them money.
- An organization like that probably has high overhead, the needy kids won’t see any of this.
- That guy looks like a professional beggar, I see him all the time, he probably isn’t really homeless.
- Look how big this church is, I bet the pastor makes way more than I do, and I probably need the money more than they do anyways.
- I think we need to focus on paying our debts right now, then later we really will be able to give enough to help in a meaningful way.
- Family comes first, and it doesn’t seem right to give when we’re struggling ourselves.
- I give my time, and that’s even better than money.
I know I have said things like this before. In fact, for me, prior to getting married, charitable giving looked a lot less like giving as a way of life, and more like begrudgingly deciding whether the $10 bill in my wallet was needed to pay for lunch out or if I could spare it for guy on the street or the offering plate. I typically always had some money to give, but parting with that money was a bit more of a challenge. Alexis on the other hand was a compassionate giver and a disciplined tither but she never had money so that generous spirit could never be fully realized. She and I realized we had to change course when we got married. Even though we had a very tight budget, we had to learn both the attitudes and disciplined behaviors of charitable giving. So what did we do? These five steps will get you started on the path to generosity:
Step 1: Create a budget. To start, we learned to track our money with a budget. Our first versions were based on free written materials from Crown Financial Ministries. Years later we started using several of the Dave Ramsey tools, and got a lot of mileage out of the foundational book The Total Money Makeover. Learning to budget was the backbone of all of our money decisions moving forward in our marriage. It got us out of the habit of checking in the wallet to see if we had money on hand, or checking at the ATM to see if we had money left in the bank. Financial discipline helped us get past our own day-to-day money problems to start seeing the greater system. Don’t know where to start? You can download a copy of our Excel budget for free here.
Step 2: Create a “Tithe” line item in the budget. Next, we created a special fixed place for “Tithe” on the budget. We debated the logistics and doctrine of how to tithe, and came up with a workable tithing plan. If you are just starting to tithe, or are getting back into it, my advice is don’t get caught up on the details, just start. The truth is what we do now doesn’t look like what we did then and that’s okay. The point is we put a monthly tithe to our church in the budget. If you are between churches, check out some tips here. Committing to tithe started creating the attitude that our family would be not be selfish, we would serve a greater purpose beyond our own self-interests. Creating a line item in the budget for giving ensured that we would actually follow through and do it.
Step 3: Find ways to make yourself accountable to give. Then, we slowly started adding small regular donations for good charitable causes. One of the first, which we still support, was giving a small monthly gift to support pastors being trained in India. We learned about it during a presentation at our church. Hear me (or read me) when I say that we were broke when we started doing that. Seriously, we could have used that money for our own needs. But we made a decision in faith to do something small to support something bigger than ourselves. By committing to give monthly, even a small amount, we entered into an accountability relationship. Giving spur-of-the-moment is great too, but we needed accountability in our giving. People (foreign pastors with real names) were relying on us to be able to do their ministry.
Step 4: Use windfalls for one-time giving. Once our stewardship disciplines started paying off, and we got financially healthier and healthier, we made it a point to give out of any earned financial windfall. If we got a holiday bonus or a tax return, we made it a point to tithe and then to try and do at least one kind thing for others with the money. Windfalls continue to be a main source of our one-off giving. At first it looked like $25, and then in few years it was more like $100-200. Now, in much more stable financial position where our windfalls tend to be much larger, we find it to be hugely satisfying to find creative ways to divvy out some of that bonus money.
Step 5: Review your charitable giving at least quarterly. Lastly, we started making use of our periodic family budget meetings to check and update our giving status. We typically revisit our budget quarterly just to make sure our numbers reflect our real needs, and to make updates for salary changes, cost of living increases, etc. This is also a good time to review all the charitable giving commitments and one-time giving goals. For example, during this meeting we might increase our utilities by $50, decrease our food budget by $25, and cut out aquarium cleaning costs for our now dead goldfish (actually, we’ve never had a pet fish, but you get the idea). When we’re done with that, we ask “is there anybody we were hoping to give some money to?” and then we discuss how to make that happen.
These steps minimally get you in the charitable giving game. Year by year, Alexis and I are learning more about being generous, and incrementally expanding our giving. So how do you define generous? I’m not sure I have an answer except that generous giving feels good, at the same time it stretches you a little bit out of your comfort zone, and the result is that it feels sufficient to meet a need. Like you’ve really done something useful. That high school kid actually does get to take the mission trip to Mexico because you gave some real money and not just good intentions. My definition of generous and yours might not look the same, but do expect it to evolve as you give more and more. The point is for us all to actively move towards generous giving as a way of life. Here’s how the Apostle Paul puts it:
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” [2 Corinthians 9:6-7]
Hopefully you also saw that everything I mentioned above was doable on a tight budget. Giving regularly, and with accountability, and from windfalls can be scaled to any dollar amount, whether $10 or $10 million. But it is going to be really hard to keep tabs on how your giving compares to your earning and spending if you don’t have a budget. Do you need some help setting up your finances to be able to give more? Drop us a note, we can help.
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Photograph Caption: I met Michael in a Boston subway station. I told him I liked his sign. “What matters is what it means to you,” he told me. I asked what it meant to him. “Doing a deed or expressing kindness to another person without expecting anything in return,” Michael said. I love approaching strangers wherever I go. Listening and talking to them teaches you about people and how similar we all are to one another. Just like Michael, we’re all seeking human kindness.