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.

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!

 

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!

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

 

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.

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.

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…