How to Ruin Your Whole Day

“Don’t read the comments.” It’s something I say frequently to my wife, especially when reading an article online on a topic that she cares about. Even just a short amount of scrolling through the comments is enough to ruin your whole day. People can be incredibly mean-spirited about any issue and are quick to come up with witty remarks to discredit and embarrass. It’s just easier and less taxing to not engage in it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my own advice and it just about did ruin my whole day. I was reading an article about Andrew Forrest and how he made the largest philanthropic donation in Australian history. $400 million. Unbelievable. To a number of different causes which is ultimately going to impact thousands, if not millions of people. This was a day to celebrate with joy and laughter. But then I read the comments.

Andrew was accused of many things and hatred was heaped on him about issues of tax evasion right through to grandstanding. All I felt was sadness. Now Andrew is a big boy, he can look after himself and I don’t think comments on the internet will have an effect on him, but my sadness was more about the state of our culture and how we respond to people doing good things. Again we see the pervasive tall poppy syndrome rearing its ugly head, as attempts are made to tear down anyone who shows any sign of leadership or a desire change the world. I hate that part of our culture. We complain about a shortage of strong leaders in politics and business, but we kill them off before they have a chance to develop. Surely there is a way we can foster an environment where we can develop strong leaders without expecting perfection or begrudging them when they are doing well.

No living person in the history of Australia has done anything like this. It is without precedence. But at the same time it is not an isolated event. There are a number of wealthy Australians who give consistently and generously, but they like to fly under the radar. We wish that they wouldn’t. Generosity is something that we should celebrate. The more we know about it the more we can celebrate it and normalise it. The hope is that because Andrew and Nicola Forrest have opened up about what they are choosing to give away, others will begin to do the same. The more we can normalise generosity, the more generous we will become and that is how we change the world.

 

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.

 

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!

 

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.

Generous God (but not selfless…)

Genesis 1:26-28
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings; he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.
God blessed them.

 

At the pinnacle of creation, God brings in people. He creates them, but not as an addition to what He already made. He created them to enjoy and manage. To participate in the life of His creation, and to participate in life with Him.

God put so much of Himself in to creating this world – because He is not one to do things half-hearted. He called it good. He was so pleased with it. Proud of what He had made. In light of that, it makes the invitation to include people and delegate authority to them so much more staggering. It is an incredibly generous gesture, from the heart of a generous God.

That’s how He created us too. As generous humans. It’s innate within us to be generous and thoughtful to the people and environment around us. It’s part of who we are and why we exist. As with anything though, if you ignore the generous inklings (perhaps you can read that as ‘the promptings of the Spirit’), then over time the desire for generous living can become easier to ignore and ultimately disappear from our character. That is how we find ourselves in a world with some who don’t appear to be generous at all. It can be fixed though; generosity breeds generosity.

Generous God, generous creation, generous people.

There is no doubt that things are not as they should be…but it is still good, with glimpses of heaven on earth.

I don’t see this creative and generous act of God as completely selfless though. I don’t necessarily see God Himself as completely selfless. He is relational and therefore He receives the benefit of relating with us and His creation. This brings Him joy. He receives because of His generosity. I wouldn’t call it payment or reward, more like fruit. Fruit that He knows is coming. Perhaps our thinking of how selflessness is an attribute that we should strive for, needs adjustment. I don’t see it mentioned anywhere in the Bible – it is definitely not a fruit of the Spirit.

This can change the way that we think about our generosity towards others. It releases us to be generous with reckless abandon and willingly receive the benefits, or fruit, that come our way as a result. We don’t need to shy away from it or be embarrassed because we feel good when we give. Not that feeling good becomes the sole motivation for generosity, but it’s ok to receive benefit for doing good, for being generous and thoughtful. This does not diminish the work that we do.

Occasionally I think of the dark side of relationships and how God reaps the fruit of that too. He endures the worst of it, as we do. Rejection, hurt, dishonesty, hatred, fear and misunderstanding – all at the hands of what He created. Because of us. It’s not all love songs and roses. Still, He is generous with love for us and we bring Him joy.

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

 

Asking for Money is Okay…

These days, there’s a lot of work to do. Of this we can all agree. Whether your focus is on providing for yourself, your family, your future or looking to change something in the world that is not right, we all have a long ‘to-do’ list and limited time. The main issue is that there are few tangible indicators that tell us when we have achieved what we have set out to do. There is always something extra to work towards. More money to make, more security to provide, more protection to put into place, more awareness to create, more projects to start, more money to raise. There is always more.

For me, it has always been about providing hope and security for kids in developing countries. Within any community it is children, the elderly and people with a disability who are most vulnerable, and more often than not you can add women to that list. My heart has been to enable vulnerable children to reach their full potential in life, through getting the right nutrition, access to education and a safe place to grow up and engage their creativity. As a world we have come a long way but with 161 million children globally suffering from stunting due to an insufficient intake of nutrients, and 124 million children and adolescents who are not attending school, there is much to do.

I have highlighted recently a few things that hopefully give people a chance to ask some questions around giving money.  If, when, how, why and to what you give to is such a personal experience and I believe the worst thing that we can do is to not talk about it. The more we do talk about it the more we learn about giving and philanthropy. I once heard someone tell me that they didn’t want to hear any more about giving money – they had decided to give and they knew all that they needed to about it. A part of me died inside, not only because it was someone refusing to engage is a subject that I care about, but because this attitude is dangerous in all areas of life. If we ever reach a point when we feel like we have learned all that we need to about a subject then we have stopped living, and we have become proud and arrogant. There is always more to learn. So, we keep talking about it.

I ask people for money. That’s what I do. It sounds a little weird when you say it out loud but essentially that’s my job. A few years ago I had an epiphany that helped me to understand why I do what I do. Firstly, I fundraise because it is good for the people that I serve. I believe that all people deserve the ability to reach their God-given potential, and the organisation I work for are leading the way in ensuring that this happens.

Secondly, I fundraise because it is good for the giver. I have often mentioned that we are designed to give back and it is actually good for us to do so, so when I ask someone to give money towards life-changing, life-giving work, I am not asking for my benefit or for the benefit of the people we serve alone, but it is also for the benefit of those who give. If I didn’t ask people to get involved in this, then I would be doing them a dis-service by robbing them of an opportunity to engage in something that they will enjoy. The worst they can do is say no, and I’m okay with that. It means they have thought about it and made the decision that it is not for them at this time, but I always hold hope for the future…

Giving is a necessary part of life because in our world, a few people have most of the wealth and most people only have some of the wealth. We work to make things a little better and ask people to give to that.  I have come to the conclusion that it is okay to ask for money. And it’s okay for people to choose not to give. But it’s not okay to make people feel guilty about what they do or do not give to.