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.

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.

 

Tension

How do we function as people after seeing some of the things this world has to offer? Many have seen such devastation and experienced trauma beyond what can be articulated. For some it is a daily experience, for others it is an occasional glimpse which jolts the brain for a while.

In relation to poverty, we all know it exists but when we are not confronted with it regularly it is so far removed from our daily life that it has little to no impact on our thought process. If you have ever travelled to a developing country and been exposed to those living in extreme poverty, or spent time with the homeless in Australia, then no doubt you will be struck by the contradiction that we live in each day. I recently spent some time in the Philippines and I was confronted by the gut-wrenching conditions that people find themselves in. I walked through a few slums and something within me disconnected. For me to continue to function in that moment, surrounded by one of the things that I hate most, I held my breath and kept walking, lest I stop and become so overwhelmed by the devastation that I emotionally journey to a place that I can’t make it back from. That was my coping mechanism; I’m not proud of it but that’s what happened.

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In retrospect one of the hardest things to comprehend was this…

Poverty begets poverty. It sounds strange but it’s true. One of the main causes of poverty is…wait for it, poverty. If you are poor and don’t have enough food to eat today, it is most likely that tomorrow you will be poor and won’t have enough food to eat. Poverty is perpetually keeping people from working their way out of poverty.

It’s not just physical symptoms either. Poverty removes any sense of self-worth, any idea of what could be possible if the situation changed, any hope and dreams of what life could be like. It is the cruellest of task masters which only allows you to focus on survival for today, takes you hostage and keeps you captive in your current reality. How can you hope if your experience has never given you anything to hope for? How can you dream if you have never been taught to?

This is what life looks like for 767 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Can you imagine what could happen if all of these people were empowered to reach their full potential. We have all witnessed the force of one or two people who are thriving and creating an amazing life for themselves and others around them. Imagine that multiplied by 767 million.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would all recognise that any success that we have achieved in life has only come about because someone invested in us and allowed us to believe that we could. Be it a parent, relative, teacher, peer, etc. For many it would most likely be more than one person, in fact a number of people at different times. Not to mention the head start of receiving nutrition, education and an opportunity for recreation. All of this adds up to a great head start, which is what we can offer to those living in poverty.

Poverty begets poverty, unless a hand up is given.

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!

 

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.