By Kelly Hines
A minister stood before a group of parishioners recently and asked how many of them had been divorced. About half of the group raised their hands. He then asked how many had experienced a life altering illness, like cancer. A quarter of them raised their hands. Finally, he asked how many of them made over $100,000 a year.
Everyone shifted uncomfortably in their seats. A few people laughed, most looked down, and no one raised their hands – and not because no one makes that sum.
In an age where we air our dirty laundry on Facebook, where we profess our politics on bumper stickers, and where we wear our religion like an accessory, we still feel weird talking about money. Not about how much we have, but rather how much we keep.
I’ll admit I didn’t know what philanthropy really meant until I was an adult. While I’m sure my parents gave to various causes, it was a discreet giving. Now we are raising a generation that is all too aware – thanks in part to social media – of the great needs in society. From Go Fund Me pages to school fundraisers to passing the plate at church, it seems like every time you turn around, someone is asking for money. Most of us agree that we have a moral responsibility to help those who need it, and the programs we support, and the organizations who work hard for the community. But how much of our support is lip service? How much are we actually giving?
Thanks to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, we know exactly how much. We can see that in Forsyth County, for instance, the average giving ratio is 4.15% of adjusted gross income. What may be shocking to many is that as income increases, the percentage of giving decreases. For households making up to $25,000, the average giving ratio is 10.88%. The number drops almost in half for $25,000-$50,000, to 5.94%. $100,000-$200,000 – that group the minister couldn’t get anyone to admit being part of – gives only 3.65%.
It’s not a phenomenon specific to Forsyth County. All across the country, the formula bears out with rare exception. The more we have, the more we are interested in keeping it for ourselves.
You may be familiar with the parable of the Widow’s Mite. Wealthy men were giving great sums of money into the temple treasury, when a poor widow approached and put in two mites (the least valuable denomination of the time). The lesson being that the widow’s contribution, while meager, was more charitable as it related to her personal worth. You don’t have to subscribe to any particular religion, or religion at all, to get the moral of the story.
Charitable giving shouldn’t be related to how much we have, or how much we think we need to keep, or how worthy we think a cause it. Giving should be motivated by two things – a desire to improve the common good, and a reluctance to become entrapped by material possessions. Giving does not bind us, it frees us from ourselves.
So let’s talk about it. Use the comments section (and feel free to comment anonymously) about charitable giving. What inspires you to give, and what prevents it? How do you feel about being asked to give? What are you teaching your children about philanthropy? Do you give to causes that you benefit from, or things you’ve had personal experience with? How comfortable are you having this conversation?