Numbers Are Important.

I love a good story. If I can lose myself in and engage with someone’s journey, that speaks powerfully to me. But, in saying that, often we can underestimate the numbers behind each individual story.

For example, our recent history of the fight against poverty.

In 1970, we are told that there were 60,000 children under the age of 5, around the world, who died every single day, due to basic illness, malnutrition and other easily curable diseases. 60,000. It is unimaginable and heartbreaking; how could such a reality exist? I’m so grateful that at the time, people were motivated to act, and join those who were already taking action.

Fast forward 20 years to 1990, the figure was closer to 33,000 a day.

Another 20 years on, in 2010, it was down to 22,000.

Today that number is around 16,000 per day. Still unimaginable and heartbreaking, but it is a phenomenal improvement. Especially when you take into consideration the population explosion.

Globally, the population was at 3.6 billion people in 1970, which grew to 5.3 billion in 1990 and then 7.3 billion in 2015. The growth over the last 45 years has skyrocketed but the number of children under the age of 5 who are dying every single day has plummeted.

In other terms, it looks like this, 10% of the global population currently live in extreme poverty. 45 years ago it was over 60%, 12 years ago, it was 21% of the global population in extreme poverty. Generosity is winning.

We are making a difference. We are getting somewhere. I didn’t wake up this morning and discover poverty, as a world we have been fighting it for decades, centuries. We still have a way to go but we are in a much better place than we were – we just need to keep going.

As we get closer to the end of financial year, there has never been a better time to fight the injustice of poverty than right now. Opportunity International Australia provides mothers in India, Indonesia and the Philippines with small loans to build  businesses, put food on the table, send their kids to school, and work their way out of poverty. Be part of a hand up. A gift as small as $70 can be life-changing.

You Can Never Be Too Poor…

Times are tough. This is always going to be true for someone, somewhere in the world. Even if the global markets were growing at record rates, things would be hard for some sections of the community. If my one term of Economics at University taught me anything, it’s that growth in one area usually means that other areas of the economy may be struggling. It’s a delicate balance but when things are tough we can hope that another part of the market will expand.

When times are financially tight, we adjust our budgets and often the money that we have allocated for giving is repurposed. If the Federal Government is any example, then you can hardly blame people for doing this (Australia now gives less in Foreign Aid than in any time through the 60 years that Australia has been supplying aid). Let us also not forget that, ranked according to Gross Domestic Product per capita, Australia is the 15th wealthiest nation in the world. Not bad for 24 million people floating on an isolated island in the Southern Hemisphere. Even if we weren’t in the top 20 wealthy nations, we can always find room to give.

Don’t get me wrong, there is wisdom in handling our money well but being generous is a core part of being financially wise. There is a World Giving Index which measures the generosity of each country based on an average score of the amount of people who have helped a stranger, donated money and volunteered some time in the last month. For the third year running, the most generous country in the world is Myanmar. I know, I was surprised too. Sure, the US, Australia and New Zealand make out the rest of the top 4 but Sri Lanka is number 5. Also, the most generous country when it comes to helping a stranger is Iraq. Think about that for a while. If you could nominate of a country that might possibly have an excuse for not trusting a stranger enough to help them out, surely Iraq would be at the top of that list. But no, 81% of Iraqis had helped a stranger in the last 30 days. You don’t need to have all the money in the world to be generous.

Giving is a part of life. Generosity is a life philosophy. What I have learnt from those living in some of the poorest parts of the world is that you can never be too poor to be generous. The amount of money you earn does not shape how generous you are, your mindset does.

You can start being generous now.

 

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

 

Would We Give if it Wasn’t Tax Deductible?

There is a short answer, a longer answer and a philosophical answer…

The short answer is “Yes and No”.

Yes we would but it probably wouldn’t be as much. Giving to organisations that provide a tax deduction financially assists those who are giving. People would prefer that not-for-profit organisations get their hard earned money rather than it ending up in the hands of the government through paying tax.

The Longer Answer

The longer answer is to do with the structure the Australian government puts into place. The Federal Government desires that its citizens make philanthropic donations to not-for-profit organisations because many of those organisations exist to complement existing government agencies or they can even fill gaps which government agencies are unable to get to. In short, the Australian Government likes it when we give and want us to do so. As a result, there are many organisations which are Deductible Gift Recipients, meaning that when we donate to them we can receive a tax deduction. To become a Deductible Gift Recipient an organisation must go through an application process and fulfil a list of requirements e.g. must have an ABN, be located in Australia and must fall within a Deductible Gift Recipient category

You can find a full Australian list here.

The benefit to us as citizens and donors is that we can be sure that when we donate to one of these organisations, they have been vetted by a government agency to ensure that they are legitimate. They aren’t perfect and we still have a responsibility to do our own research before we give but we can rest assured that the government is aware of the organisation and what they are involved in. Plus, there’s the tax deduction – that’s another benefit.

The Philosophical Answer

This answer is to do with selfless acts, and as with most philosophical discussion the answer is neither ‘yes’ or ‘no’. People wrestle with and debate the idea of acting in a completely selfless way; doing something good for someone without getting anything in return (whatever ‘something good’ means – this is up for debate itself, but for now let’s just sit with the definition of an action from one person designed for the benefit of another). The real question that gets asked is ‘if we get something in return for doing something good, does it cancel out the good that has been done?’

It doesn’t take very long to figure out that there is no such thing as a completely selfless act (perhaps apart from that time when God came to earth and died for us – but I think that even He received some benefit as a result… maybe that’s a topic for another time), because we get some sort of benefit from any good thing that we do. Whether it is a thank you, a smile, an award, a tax deduction, recognition or even just a good feeling. You can’t stop it. And if you could, the amount of effort required to ensure that you received no benefit from something good that you would be so exorbitant that it would make your life miserable. It all comes down to motivation – why we do good things for other people.

We want to do good for others for a variety of reasons – we might have a heart for a certain demographic of people because we have similar experiences, or we feel a responsibility to help, or our faith might drive us, or a desire to impress others, or it is something we do offset the guilt felt in other areas of life, or it is to feel good about ourselves. In reality, I think it can be all of the above at the same time. People are complex with conscious and subconscious motivations and it’s good to seek to find out why we do the things that we do, but I don’t think we will ever fully understand ourselves, not in the short term anyway. So it is a good idea to keep doing good things for people as we journey through our self-discovery. It is okay to get a benefit along the way…so make a tax deductible donation before June 30…

www.opportunity.org.au

 

God Doesn’t Need Your Money

I can’t remember his name, or even exactly where we were, but we were waiting for a ride somewhere in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne when he said it. “God has His own economy.” I never saw that guy again after that day – we spent the entire day playing basketball against some inmates in one of the local prisons and the only thing I remember about him was what he said to me that morning. We were talking about how things were financially tight and I couldn’t see a way forward. There were expenses coming up and I didn’t know how we were going to meet them (I’m not sure how we got to that point in the conversation so quickly) and that’s when he said it. “God has His own economy.”

He went on to explain his understanding of God, how He is not restricted by the things that we are restricted by. He isn’t confined by a low pay packet, or by a pay cycle, or a shortfall. If God wants something to happen, He will find a way to finance it and he can work outside of our understanding and bring money from places we never knew about.

That one phrase from the unknown guy as we stood on the side of the road waiting, challenged the way that I thought about money and the way that I thought about God. Even though it can raise some curly questions, it doesn’t mean that it is not the truth.

I believe that God is all powerful, all knowing and all loving. That is something that I learned as a child and it is something that I have had to wrestle with time and time again as I have grown up and faced all sorts of different issues that come our way as adults. My understanding of what His power, wisdom and love look like have changed over the years, but I still believe those things about God.

It struck me a few years ago that there was an element of arrogance that motivated me to do certain things that I considered “works for God”. This ranged from being part of the local church to giving money to the church and other organisations. One part of the motivation came from a place of responding to God’s goodness and my “works” were an overflow of that. But the arrogant part of my motivation spoke in a soft voice in my head and said, “If you don’t do this for God then no one will and God won’t be able to fulfil His plan.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that we are all called to something special and that God has prepared some great things for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), but I realised that if I didn’t do the great things that God was calling me to, then God’s plan for the world was not going to fall apart. He wasn’t sitting in heaven watching earth on a TV, like we would watch a football game, shouting at the players as they make mistakes, seeing the game slip away and being helpless to do anything about it, as any spectator is. (Your TV yelling isn’t helping, so stop doing that, for everyone’s sake…)

This type of attitude is the deepest sort of arrogance because it suggests that God is only doing good things in the world wherever I am, or, at a stretch, perhaps He is doing good things with some other people that I think are good. But outside of that parameter He can do nothing. This suggests that He is solely reliant upon us to achieve something and if we have a bad day, then so does He. But God is not a spectator or coach watching the world and making suggestions on what might be a good strategy. He is so involved with His creation that nothing happens without Him being at the centre of it. What that means for us is that God does not require us to do good things in this world. He could feed the poor, negotiate world peace and heal all the sick in a moment. I absolutely believe that (which leads to more of those difficult questions).

The beauty in all of that is that whilst he doesn’t need us to do any of these things, He invites us to be part of it. He wants to use us. To be honest I don’t fully understand why, except that being part of what God is already doing on this planet has become my life’s purpose.

I didn’t wake up 15 years ago and discover poverty, nor did I discover poverty alleviation or the beauty and simplicity of microfinance. This has been happening throughout history and there is a special place in the heart of God for the poor (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:21, Galatians 2:10 to name a few). We see throughout history that God has used His people, and quite often He uses people who, by their own admission, wouldn’t be considered “God followers”, to bring about justice in this world. That is actually a gift for us; to know that our involvement in any good work is not necessary but we get to be involved anyway. It is a humbling reality.

It’s not only humbling to be invited to participate in what God is doing, but it is also good for us. We receive the emotional benefits from giving back, and God knows that, so He wants to ensure that we have the opportunity to receive from our giving. His invitation to give and be involved is partly for our own benefit.

Mostly, though, it is about obedience. I have heard that you can tell a person’s priorities by how they spend their time. I have also heard that you can tell their priorities by how they spend their money. I think both are true and they are a real reflection of who we are and what we believe is important in life. God calls us to give to the poor, not because He needs us to, but He wants us to be part of what He is doing, to be obedient, and for us to receive the benefits of giving.

I feel that it can be dangerous for someone who works for a not-for-profit that relies upon donations to function to then say, ‘God doesn’t need your money.’ The fear is that there will be some who will take that as a reason not to give. But upon reflection, if someone responds like that, then they were looking for an excuse anyway and my writing is not for them. The aim of this post is to come to a place where we are open for God to show us what He would like us to give to. God doesn’t need your money…He chooses to use it and us at the same time.

Perhaps He is asking you now to invest your time, money or resources to help families living in poverty transform their lives?

Here are some questions that come up after thinking through the ramifications of God not needing our money…

  • If God has His own economy how can He stand by and watch people suffer and die because they don’t have enough?
  • What does that say about God?
  • What does that say about us?
  • Why was I born in a developed country and the majority of the world wasn’t?

Some of these I don’t have an answer for, some I am working through possible answers but I am keen to hear what you think…