Happy “Aussie Battler” Day

Most call it Australia Day, some call it Invasion Day and others call it a day off work. It’s our annual day of confusion that we celebrate with BBQ’s, beach, cricket and Australian Flags draped or temporarily tattooed on sunburnt bodies.

Whichever way it is perceived and celebrated, the intention of this national public holiday is to, according to the official Australia Day website, “encourage a sense of national unity and belonging by promoting and engendering alignment with core Australian values”, whatever that means.

The core Australian values are as follows…

Respect – of self, of others, of law and the environment we all live in

Tolerance – of difference and freedom of each individual

Fair go – both in the way we act but also in providing opportunity for all

Mateship – Spirit of egalitarianism and compassion for those in need

On the face of it these are worthy values to uphold and as egalitarian Australians we like to consider that most of the time they are achieved.

Probably one of the core Australian values that isn’t mentioned on website is the mentality of being an ‘Aussie Battler’, or the underdog. This has given strength to our country over a number of decades as we have created a great nation out of some convicts and other random travellers. The flipside to this mentality is that we seem to be against those who aren’t ‘battlers’, those who are better off than we are, which actually is contradictory to the values stated above. I didn’t know what poppies were when I was growing up, but I knew that the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ was real and I was happily part of that culture.

We find ourselves living in tension, wanting to respect, tolerate, provide opportunities and compassion for other Australians and people from all walks of life (I’m not sure if this stops at the Australian border – the website didn’t specify how far the values were to reach), but at the same time tearing down anyone who is too successful or gets too far ahead of us. We are a complicated people. In case you have ever wondered why we struggle to find quality leaders in our country, you can thank our ability to cut people down when they start to stand out. We have killed them off before they had a chance to flourish.

Australia has grown into a very different place in my lifetime and the average ‘Aussie Battler’ is earning $78,832 a year which is more than 99.7% of the rest of the world, according to globalrichlist.com. What this means is that we have become the tall poppies to over 7.2 billion other people. (To be honest, it has probably been that way for a long time, but we now have more information that tells us that).

I think it is well past the time when we forgo the underdog mentality, because we are not an underdog, and we should lose the Tall Poppy Syndrome, because we are the tall poppies. It is time to increase our focus on celebrating the success of people who are leading the way and at the same time to look for those who are struggling around us so we can lift them up. It shouldn’t be that hard, there are 7.2 billion of them around the world. How you do that is up to you. For me, it is about empowering women to work their way out of poverty through the work of Opportunity International Australia. I encourage you to join me as a way to embody respect, tolerance, a fair go and mateship.

Generosity Gym

The idea of a fresh start is appealing. A clean slate from which we can start again to create the life that that we want.

In theory that is what the new year brings to us every December 31. As part of that process of renewal, I am sure that ‘join a gym’ is on the list of many people thinking about what a healthy lifestyle looks like for them. I have known many people who joined a gym, signed up to fitness classes or purchased a bike/treadmill/weights with the greatest of intentions. For some it has worked, but for the majority it has been less than successful and they are left questioning their wisdom and financial outlay. Perhaps you have been there yourself and that is something you remember as you think about what can be different in 2017.

Now it can be easy to use these experiences to justify not trying for any change in 2017, saving yourself money and time, but let me encourage you to still join the gym. It’s a new kind, which doesn’t require you to learn how to use fancy equipment, stand next to super fit and healthy people or feel any guilt whatsoever. I call it the Generosity Gym (patent pending…may need a catchier name) – a place where you train yourself through giving. There is such a thing as a ‘giving muscle’ and just the same as any other muscle, if don’t use it, you lose it. The benefits are numerous, including feeling good about yourself and your place in the world and making the world a better place for others. Working out your giving muscle actually makes life better.

Instead of paying out large sums of money for a membership to a corporation that you will most likely have to cancel anyway, you can pay that money to an organisation that is changing the lives of mothers living in poverty, by empowering them through a small loan. What better way to start the new year than by using what you have to reach out beyond yourself for the benefit of others.

It doesn’t take much either, $70 can provide 1 loan for a mother living in poverty in India, Indonesia or the Philippines. This will enable her to start a business, put food on the table and send her children to school. The average price of gym memberships in Australia is $65 a month, so you could potentially provide a loan every month and with a repayment rate of 98% the impact is ongoing.

If you are still keen to join the gym and are convinced that you can see it through, you’ll be happy to know that you can look after your body and give generously at the same time.

Happy New Year!

 

Don’t Be Stingy.

I feel the tension at this time of year. Often the news will report on how many billions of dollars that Australians spend on Christmas related paraphernalia, gifts, food etc. and it is hard to stomach. Whilst giving gifts to each other is great, the sheer enormity of some of the unnecessary stuff that we buy sets my thought process into a negative place where I imagine what that money could do if it was spent in other ways. How much emergency aid and relief it could give, how many small loans could be distributed to those living in poverty so they can start a business, or how many refugees that could house. We could choose to put our money towards these things, but we choose to spend it on Christmas. That’s what we want to do.

The tension I feel is related to celebrations and how important they are in building relationships, strong communities and social capital. It is incredibly valuable to celebrate the annual festivals that we have in our calendar, because that is a part of our culture and makes up some of our identity.

So I sit with the tension.

Then I realise that it is ok that this tension exists. Because it is not necessary for us to choose between the two options. We don’t have to be generous with our money to care for the poor at the cost of celebrating. We also don’t have to celebrate Christmas and leave the poor outside, cold and hungry. We can do both.

There is a strong Jewish tradition which encourages the people, when celebrating festivals, to do so with your family, friends and household, and to extend it even further than that.

“This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows from your towns.” Deuteronomy 16:14

They have a good balance. One that says we have the freedom to celebrate and enjoy the festivities together without the feeling of guilt, because this is good for us, our families and our community. At the same time, we can find ways to be generous to the poor in our celebrations. How this is done is non-prescriptive. Some people I know buy gifts that empower the poor on behalf of others, others host countless people for a Christmas meal, and still others volunteer their time on Christmas day. What it looks like for you is your call. But let me encourage you to find a nice balance this year, where you can celebrate and be generous to the poor at the same time.

So, don’t be stingy with your celebrations, and don’t be stingy with your generosity this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Electricity Isn’t Sexy…

It’s not, to most of us.

When it comes to not-for-profit organisations, the majority of people are not excited by the idea of lights being turned on, or computers and printers being plugged into the wall. To be honest, the imagery isn’t great and it reminds me of the tedium one would experience if they worked at Dunder Mifflan in Slough.

What excites me, and most people that I talk to, are stories of transformation where money given to a charity has changed the life of the recipient, or rescued them from a dire and needless situation. People being helped and receiving love because of a gift. That’s what fundraising is all about. Leave the information about electricity out of it.

I’ll let you in on a secret – electricity make the stories come to light (not even an intentional pun…). Without lights and power for computers and printers, then the stories of transformation and life altering development work simply would not exist. You can’t tell a story without the means to discover a need, figure out how to meet that need and then assess how it all went in your attempts to do that. Guess what? It all takes electricity.

Electricity is just one example of the un-sexy side of charities and not-for-profits. There are also reports and spreadsheets (oh so many spreadsheets) and emails. All of this, plus much more, works together to create the brilliant outcomes of transformation and then to tell people the story.

The un-sexy stuff is what most people call the “admin costs”. I know of some people who donate to charities and request that their entire donation amount goes towards covering the “admin costs”. Electricity, among other things. They are unusual but they are not strange. They understand that even though it seems un-sexy, it is absolutely vital to the work in the field. In the case of Opportunity International, the 4 million clients who currently have a small loan to start a business and work their way out of poverty, simply would not be able to do that if it wasn’t for the ‘admin cost’. Funding the un-sexy stuff in the office is part of the bigger picture of how we change the world.

Peanuts = Monkeys

I feel like we have all heard it said, ‘You have to spend money to make money’. This is true on many levels, but how do we feel about that when it is used in reference with a not-for-profit organisation? Can charities say that?

Let’s think of it this way – if there is a charity that no one has ever heard of, they will not receive any funding. A charity that has second rate staff is not going to create trust and therefore will not receive ongoing funding. A charity that is not working effectively because of lack of resources is going to waste money and will not receiving ongoing funding.

Dan Pallotta called this issue out in his TED talk (you should really watch it). The way we think about charity is wrong.

“You want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it, we’ll put you on the cover of wired magazine, but you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria you are considered a parasite yourself.” Dan Pallotta

Somewhere along the line we have decided that we need to choose between either doing well for ourselves and our family or doing good for the world and that somehow these two outcomes cannot exist within the same paradigm. It’s a belief system that makes sure that charities and other not-for-profits don’t grow too big and challenge the power of the for-profit sector.

Dan points out that this mentality can be traced back to the religious experience of penance from 400 years ago. There is a long history of making money and then carrying a feeling of guilt because a profit was earned. Some of that guilt was warranted as the profit was earned off the backs of slaves and the poor, but some of the guilt was an unnecessary burden placed on people because of their understanding of who God is. Regardless of the reason, giving to charity was the method used to ease one’s conscience. Charity, therefore, could not turn a profit because then it would cease to serve the purpose of paying for the individuals ‘sinful’ money making. Whilst I would suggest that much of the thinking around business and turning a profit has changed, the feeling about charities spending too much money, getting too big, or their employees earning too much has not.

It is important to be wise with the money that people give but our thinking does need to shift. Overhead costs, including staff wages, are part of the program costs and ‘admin’ is not a necessary evil which we don’t like to acknowledge. It is part of the program itself.

If you pay peanuts you will get monkeys. It may not be true all the time. Some may take a pay cut to work in the nonprofit sector for a period of time but you will always lose the good ones eventually. Our society shouldn’t have to make the choice between doing well for themselves and their family, or doing good for the world. They are not mutually exclusive.

Money, Sex and Chocolate…wait, what?

Often people will give a long list of benefits for giving money away, including the amount of help that it provides to people who are ‘less fortunate’.

But ultimately you should give money away because it is good for you. It makes you happy. True story.

There have been a number of studies done and they tell us these things…

Donating to charity makes us feel good. One study found that when people donated to a worthy cause the area of their brain responsible for cravings and pleasure rewards ‘lit up’. That is the same area of the brain that is active during sex and consuming chocolate; meaning that there is a pleasurable feeling when we give money away. The same study tells us that giving money away gives us the same feeling as ingesting an addictive drug or learning you have won the lottery. It’s good.

Secondly, giving to a worthy cause increases our happiness.

In another study, a group of people were given some money, either $5 or $20. One group was told to spend the money on themselves, by paying a bill or spending it on some sort of an expense or even a gift for themselves. The second group was instructed to spend the money on someone else or to make a charitable donation. The end result was that at the end of the day the second group was happier. Yep. The group that spent the money on someone else or made a charitable donation had a brighter perception of the world than the first group who spent the money on themselves.

The secret is that people feel good about themselves when they give, it strengthens social connections and the good feeling of giving lasts longer than the ‘hit’ we receive when we buy something for ourselves.

So, giving money away makes us feel good and makes us happier people, and it is cheaper and less damaging than addictive drugs. This is brand new information but sometimes we forget these things.

Want to feel good? Looking to be happier? Why not give some money now – www.opportunity.org.au

 

Risky…

Generosity is risky. It costs something when we give, be it our time, money or energy. Beyond that initial cost, what if our generosity is accepted without gratitude, or not accepted at all, or thrown back in our face? Experiencing that sort of rejection can be one of our greatest fears.

Galatians 5:14 reads,

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself”

This is a huge statement. Essentially it is saying that if ever you were looking for a guideline on how to live this life, then ‘treat others how you want to be treated’ is it. But it carries a level of risk because there is no guarantee that if we treat others how we want to be treated, that we will actually be treated well or loved in return. Our love may not be accepted with appropriate gratitude, or it may not be accepted at all, or even thrown back in our face with spite. So we end up treating people differently to how we want to be treated because we are afraid. Afraid we won’t be loved back, or that we will miss out on good things. In some cases, that fear is based on reality but this behaviour is counter-productive and quickly leads to a downward spiral of hate and distrust.

This fear feeds into how we think about finances and business too.

For many of us when we give money away, it is a sacrifice and it is a deeply personal thing. It’s almost as if we give part of ourselves in the process. If it is not accepted how we would like it to be, or even rejected, we can feel rejected personally. It’s a risk.

Or when people think about business, and getting ahead, often the mentality is that it must come at the cost of someone else. For me to succeed, someone else must fail, and there is a win-lose mentality. But in reality, the opposite is true – real success is when we all do well; when businesses and organisations care for their communities and put the well-being of others before a greater profit. When we all do well the flow on effects create a positive and more stable economic environment and when we honour God by loving our neighbour, He honours us (1st Samuel 2:30). Plus, we can’t forget that when we give generously of our money, time or effort, for the benefit of others, we actually receive the feeling of fulfillment and achievement, and begin to connect with our greater purpose in this life.

Ultimately, If we wish to see improvement in our world, we are required to take a leap and be generous with our treatment of people, to love them before they have had a chance to love us. We know it will cost us time, money and energy, but the alternative to “love your neighbour as yourself” is a response that assumes the worst of people instead of seeking to bring out their best.

Now, if someone is able to help me figure out just how to do that, then that would be great.

 

How Much Do You Want?

Normally a price tag tells us how much to pay. Even then, some are negotiable, like the price of a house or a car. We celebrate when things are on sale and love the feeling of nabbing a bargain. There are few feelings that are worse than that of feeling ripped off.  Yet, there are some things that many people are happy to pay full price for, or even extra.

  • Cleaners
  • Gardeners
  • Painters
  • Coffee

It depends on what we value as to what we are okay to pay for.

When it comes to giving money away, when there is no price tag, how do we know how much to give?

Many of us like rules and having someone tell us the right thing to do. We don’t want to get things wrong and end up with God being upset with us.

angry-jesus

Nobody wants an Angry Jesus.

So we search high and low for the rules of how to live and please God so we will be blessed because of our actions. If we do the right thing then God will like us, and if we are lucky, even love us. On the face of it, that is a nice notion, but in reality it is a horrible way to live and not at all how God works.

Some of the most difficult times that I have had in my journey with God is when He didn’t live up to my expectations because I didn’t get what I thought my good behaviour deserved. That sort of thinking hinders our view of who God is, and we start to follow rules in an attempt to not get into trouble with a scary parent type figure who lives in the sky somewhere.

God doesn’t want our behaviour. He wants our hearts. He cares less about what happens on the outside as He does about what is happening on the inside. Romans 8 talks about how believers now live according to the Spirit and not the flesh/law, because Jesus met the requirements of the law for us. We don’t need to obey rules; we are guided by the Spirit. This can make people uncomfortable because if we are not living by the rules then there will be chaos. But God is bigger than that, and His Spirit can be trusted.

So, how much money should we give to the church and other organisations/people? Many will say 10% as a starting point, based on the concept of tithing from the Old Testament (although I don’t see any comparative reference in the New Testament), some suggest 25-30%, and many others in between or even more. Don’t get me wrong, there is some wisdom to these numbers but ultimately any suggestion of what percentage you should give away is counterproductive.

Nobody can tell you what you should give. We are called to be generous with what God has blessed us with, plus we have the Holy Spirit living in us, so if you want to figure out how much to give, ask God. His Spirit will guide you. Then talk to some wise people about it. That’ll set you off in a good direction.

jesus-angry

 

3 Fears of Giving

What are you looking at?

I can’t read that phrase without an aggressive mindset. It is a classic ‘don’t bother me’ phrase and an attempt to push people away with force.

I have found that my aggressive responses come from a deep seeded fear. No matter what the issue most anger comes from something that I am afraid of. Whether it is a fear of being hurt, rejected, abandoned or isolated, anger is a secondary response to the emotion of fear that I feel first.

The Bible tells us that there is no fear in love, instead perfect love drives out all fear (1 John 4:18), which is great because love is the cure for hurt, rejection, abandonment and isolation. So it should be simple, love drives the fear of those things away and we don’t respond in anger. But when we don’t realise that fear exists within us, then it becomes a little more complex as we can subconsciously hold on to that fear and reject love. I have found it really helpful to ask at random times, “what am I afraid of?” Then to honestly answer that question and know that there is a loving God who won’t hurt, reject, abandon or force me into isolation if I am honest with myself. That is the first step to love driving out fear. (It’s helpful to verbalise this to someone trustworthy too).

The truth is that there is fear lurking in many areas of our lives, especially when it comes to giving.

So what is it that scares us when it comes to giving away our hard earned cash?

  1. That I won’t have enough after…

896 million people around the world live on less than 2 dollars a day, and Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Comparatively we have more than enough. (Try talking to someone in a developing country about the concept of ‘leftovers’). It also doesn’t take much to change the lives of those living in poverty; through a small loan of $70 so a mother in India, Indonesia or the Philippines can start a business, feed her family and send her kids to school. You don’t have to fix poverty on your own, start small and test out how much you can live off after you give some away.

 

  1. That my money won’t go to what I want it to…

You can be very picky and choosy about what you would like an not-for-profit organisation to do with money when you give it to them. If there is a specific area of the world, or a type of project that you are keen to fund, you can ensure your money goes towards that area and a good not-for-profit will update you with reports on the latest goings on. Alternatively, you can be very picky and choosy with the not-for-profits that you give to – if you don’t trust an organisation, don’t give to them.

 

  1. That the organisation I give to won’t stop hassling me to give more…

This is a legitimate fear and well-founded fear and I have heard of a number of occasions where this has happened. The beauty is that all not-for-profit organisations in Australia have to comply with strict privacy regulations and complaints procedures. What this means is that an organisation cannot send you anything unless you have asked for it, and you have every right to ring up and tell them to minimise the mail/phone calls/emails, or that you only want to receive communication via email or to stop contacting you all together. If they don’t abide by your requests you can take the complaint to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission, which governs all registered charities in Australia. This is the government arm which has the final say as to whether a charity is legitimate and should be registered for tax-deductable purposes. You are in charge of how much you get contacted.

 

These may be your fears, or you may have others, let me encourage you to name them and remove the barriers to giving back, and ultimately improving your life.

If only I had more…

How often has that thought passed through your mind?

“If only I had more money, then I would…”

I wonder how you would finish that sentence.

Save? Buy? Give?

I feel that the last one, give, would fall into that category for most of us. If I only had more money I would give to this charity. I would support that cause. I would give to the work of the church. I would fix the world. Maybe all of the above.

If only…

I have discovered that, as people, it is very unlikely that we will make a significant change in our character overnight. More often than not we are unable to just flick a switch and start doing something that we haven’t done before. Have you ever heard someone say, “I could give it up if I wanted to.” Be it smoking, excessive drinking, eating junk food or anything that isn’t good for us. We feel like we can modify our behaviour in an instant and pay no attention to the habits that we have formed over the years. But to make a change takes effort. It takes discipline and it takes time.

Want to be generous?

At some level, I believe we all want to give back and invest in something that is bigger than ourselves. But we can’t just flick a switch and start giving millions of dollars away when we retire

When we arrive at certain milestones in life, be it a better paying job, a significant birthday, a change in social status, retirement or winning the lotto, if we haven’t put things into place to become the person we want to be, then we will be the same person we were before. That might not sound too bad but it means that the aspirations we have will never be reached if we don’t take steps in the direction we want to go. If you are not generous with your money now, you will not be when you have more.

I see this philosophy at work in the parable of the three servants in Matthew 25.  Jesus tells a story about a master who gives his servants money to manage. The first one gets a certain amount, the second one receives less than half of that, and the third one receives a tenth of what the first guy got. The instructions were clear, look after it as if it was your own.

The first guy invested and doubled his money, the second guy did the same thing, but the one with the least amount was so caught up in what little he had, he hid it so that he wouldn’t lose it. He was afraid. The master was happy with the first two servants and entrusted them with more, but he was furious with the third guy because he didn’t even try. So the master took away the money he entrusted to him and gave it all to the first guy. I find it interesting that the master didn’t say ‘oh, you must not have had enough money, let me give you some more so you can do better next time.’ He just took the money away. The reason? How you behave when you have a little is exactly how you behave when you have a lot. It doesn’t matter how much you have; it is what you do with it.

Generosity breeds generosity.

What does all this mean?

If we ever think that being generous will be easier when we have more money, we are kidding ourselves.

So, if you want to be a generous person and give back and you aren’t currently giving, don’t wait, start now. Start small but be consistent and build a habit. Then if you start to earn more, give more. So when you become rich and famous, or win lotto, or somehow come into a large amount of money, giving back is ingrained and you don’t give it a second thought.

You can give to worthy charities, and the church and fix the world beginning now.