I am not a Christmassy type of person. I don’t mind this time of year, the decorations are okay, although they don’t put me in a joyful mood like they do for some people, the food is good although it doesn’t excite me a great deal, and the carols I can leave – I certainly don’t get too involved in any fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la-ing.
What does excite me at this time of year is the idea of giving. We have a special season where we think about what others would like to receive. Now, that can be stressful, but we can also look at it as a great opportunity to put a smile on the face of someone we care about. The reason it is stressful, perhaps, is that if we don’t spend much time throughout the year thinking about what others would like, it is very difficult to switch that part of our brain on in December.
Often I hear people talking about becoming the best version of themselves, something that I am striving for also and I think that we go a long way to being the best version of ourselves when we are giving. When we are generous to others and giving back.
So, use this Christmas time to be the best version of you. Be generous to those around you, give great, well thought out gifts to friends, family and people you don’t know – like a chicken, for example.
Philanthropy is a strange word. It can be hard to say…
Philanthropy, Philanthropist, Philanthropic…
It also carries with it connotations of meaning which may not be accurate.
When we hear the word Philanthropist in can conjure up images of older (normally white) men who have made their millions and have now decided to give a tiny portion back. Most people don’t connect with that imagery, which is fair enough because it is not a true indication of what philanthropy is.
The true understanding of the term is that it is someone who has a strong desire to promote the welfare of others – usually through a generous donation of money to good causes.
Philanthropy has no gender, no specific cause and no specific amount tied to it. Really, if you care about people and give some money to charity, to see the closest philanthropist who is making a difference in the world take a look in the mirror. You are most likely one already.
I was born in a little town called Naracoorte, in the South-East of South Australia. Nothing I did had any bearing on where I was born, that is literally where I popped out.
Through no effort of my own, I was born within the borders of this country we call Australia. As a result of that I have managed to live the life that I have so far. I got an education, went to university, had a family, travelled, lived interstate, and created a life for myself and a future.
If I am honest, very little of this has come as a result of my intelligence. Sure, I have a debt to pay to my ancestral line, but if I was born in Indonesia, for example, where nearly half the population live in poverty, there is no doubt my life would have taken a very different trajectory.
Geography is destiny. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
For a while I felt guilty about this fact – but that didn’t help anyone, so I chose to feel pride about my country of birth and take with it a sense of responsibility. To use what I have been given to help others who haven’t had the same advantages as me, purely because of where they were born.
Geography is destiny, unless we act. Unless we use what we have been given to do what we can to create a better world.
I don’t know if it happens at a specific time in life, or if it becomes a consistent interruption in thinking, but the desire to leave a lasting impact on our world is a strong motivation for many people. Some would call it a legacy.
Legacy is a heavy word with connotations of a long term, far off benefit for some unknown people. But in reality it doesn’t have to be like that.
We can all leave a legacy starting right now, through two easy steps.
Firstly, we can give money generously to causes that we care about. Our donations have long lasting impacts and will benefit our world from the moment we give.
Secondly, we can include our kids in the process of giving and generosity. We can start by having conversations with them about the organisations we support, show them the stories of lives being changed because of our giving, and invite them to participate through giving some of their pocket money, or birthday money and letting them suggest some organisations that we can give to.
These simple actions and conversations with our children will not only impact our world, but also our family for generations to come. Creating a culture of generosity with our kids will bring about gratitude and positivity within the family unit.
What gets you up in the morning?
The excitement of a new day filled with possibilities, the sound of children waking up and destroying things, or the desire for caffeine? Perhaps all of the above.
We all have at least one motivating factor that keeps us going day in and day out – and the most difficult time in life comes when we lose that connection with what motivates us. Which brings about a sense of hopelessness and can make everything we do seem mundane.
The key that I have discovered is to connect with a purpose that is bigger than just me. Something greater which reaches beyond what I am capable of and impacts the world positively.
I recently came across a guy who was working for a corporation for 25 years. Not long ago this business partnered with a group who were freeing slaves in Cambodia – now they are putting money in to making the world a better place, providing hope for people, and at the same time creating a purpose that is bigger than themselves.
The employee said,
“…for 25 years I never told anyone where I worked, now I will tell everyone, I am so proud of what we do.”
Finding purpose can take the mundane and transform it into a world changing event.
What is your purpose? What do you connect with that reaches beyond what you can do by yourself?
If it was easy anyone could do it. If it was easy, it would already be done wouldn’t it?
Certain things in life are difficult, usually because the problems that we face day to day are not easily fixed and are multifaceted. Be they relational, financial, spiritual, emotional, life is a complex combination of joys and difficulties. Stuff is tough. That’s okay.
This is just as true when it comes to poverty. It is a complicated, multifaceted issue, which is also man made. We have created this construct which puts many people into a place where they don’t have enough to survive.
Whilst we have made significant headway in the fight against poverty over the last 40 years, there is still a way to go until we have overcome it. And I have to admit, there are times when I get so frustrated at the sight of many people, mothers, fathers, children, still trying to survive. But just because it is difficult to overcome, doesn’t mean that we should avoid it. And it certainly doesn’t mean we should stop fighting. Because the people that we are fighting for are worth it. So we continue to take one step at a time.
Like the American author Mary Anne Radmacher says:
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.‘
If you have ever given to a charity before, you will know that once you give they will ask you to give again. Sometimes it can become overwhelming as they seem to be like a dog with a bone, asking and asking and asking. Add to that, if you give to more than one charity then it gets multiplied to numerous asks. You can feel as if you are at the mercy of interrupting phone calls, excessive emails and piles of mail at your door step.
Everyone wants charities to spend their money wisely so that as much money as possible can go to the projects they run, and believe it or not, when they are asking you for money again, that is the wisest use of their finances.
It comes down to basic marketing. It is commonly known that if you ask someone who has never been a customer of a particular business before, to become a customer there is a 5-20% chance that they will. If you ask someone who is already a customer to become a repeat customer, there is a 60-70% chance that they will.
It’s the same with Charities. It is much more likely for someone to give to a charity if they have supported them before and much less likely for someone to give to a charity if they have never supported them before. Essentially, it is smarter and financially wise for charities to spend time and money engaging with existing supporters.
In saying that, you are in control of what you receive from them – if you don’t want them to send you mail, emails, or to phone, tell them that. It saves you and the charity time and money, which is an extra donation to them.
Extreme Poverty is defined as anyone living on less than about $2 a day. We still have hundreds of millions of people in that situation which is horrific and no one should ever have to go through it.
I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I would try to calculate what I could with $2 per day to see if there is a way that I could survive. Surely you can make anything work, if you budget well enough, were frugal with spending, survival would be possible. Extreme poverty can’t be that difficult. Can it?
Not only is that a harsh way to look at it, but my thinking also had a fundamental flaw. One of the most difficult aspects of life for those living in extreme poverty is the unpredictable manner in which they earn an income. Whilst in Australia, most of us know what our next pay check is going to be, when it will arrive in our bank account and how we can access it. In places like India for example, many work in unregulated areas and do so irregularly. They may earn $20 on day ten which averages out to $2 a day. Meaning that they don’t literally receive $2 every single day. It’s not neat and tidy and it makes budgeting and increasing financial security impossible.
There are many organisations, including Opportunity International, who are fighting against this and creating a way for people to earn a regular income to increase their financial security, making life just that little bit easier.
We all have motivations that drive our behaviour, whether they be to feel good, or because of love, or a sense of responsibility and sometimes it comes from guilt.
Guilt can be a strong motivator and I have come across a number of people who will give generously to churches or charities to appease a sense of guilt they feel about one thing or another. Sometimes that guilt comes purely from within them, and other times the organisations they give to have sought to create a sense of guilt for them, so that they will give.
Whilst guilt can motivate us to do good things, it is not a quality long term motivating factor. After a while, people will generally tire of feeling guilty, like they are trapped in to doing something, and cease to engage in their generous acts.
A stronger motivation, and a somewhat healthier one, is a sense of responsibility. This is a more positive, proactive response that doesn’t require someone to feel bad about there current situation. Instead it provides a way for a person to use their current situation for the benefit of others. To act out of freedom.
As Australians, we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth, we could feel guilty about that and offer our generosity as some sort of payment to overcome the guilt, or we can see our place in the world as a gift, which carries with it a responsibility to help others who are not as financially blessed as we are.
It’s a story that you may have heard dozens of times. Jesus was in the temple, watching people put money in the collection box. He was watching them give. That sounds really odd. But this was how it happened – it was in a place where people could see it and some people used it as an opportunity to show how great they were by giving big bundles of cash caused a commotion. At the same time, a poor widow approached the box and almost ninja like, drops in two coins. Most people would not have noticed because she wasn’t there for the applause of the masses and didn’t cause a ruckus.
Jesus noticed. He took time to highlight her action. He said that she ‘had given had given more than all of the others’ because she gave all she had to live on, whilst everyone else gave a tiny bit out of their surplus.
So what does that mean? What do we learn from that story?
Here’s what I think. Giving money out of surplus, when it doesn’t impact us financially either way, whilst a good thing to do, is not generosity. True generosity is costly. There’s an old saying, ‘give till it hurts’ which doesn’t paint generosity in a particularly positive light, but perhaps that is a good place to start. If you don’t know how much to give, give until you feel it, when it becomes a sacrifice – there is something deeply powerful about a sacrificial gift.