Getting Over Guilt-Trip Giving

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This time of year, it’s sometimes hard to know how best to express one’s charity.

There’s the bell-ringer outside the store (always able to make me feel guilty, even if I gave yesterday). Celebrity-sponsored tel-a-thons on television. The walk-a-thons, ski-a-thons, bike-a-thons for various diseases. If your email or postal mailbox is like mine, it’s stuffed with once-a-year “friends” who plead with me to start giving to help solve at least one of the world’s problems.

But what motivates me to take action? What makes me respond to that email, to call a phone number or send back that letter? How do you choose? How do I choose?

If you’re like me, deciding amongst the competing voices comes down to three things when giving.

1. The first thing I look at is whether the charity is focused on problems I think need solving. For example, if I’m motivated to bring clean water to the poorest people in Africa (or Latin America or Asia), I’m going to be giving to that particular cause.  Regardless of, say, how many cute pictures I get of needy dogs at the local animal shelter.

At this time of year, Food for the Hungry (FH) helps its donors understand the breadth of projects that we’re engaged in. We hope that there’s something in that list that each donor might find attractive.  That’s the reason we have a catalog and send out appeals for various causes. But more than informing you, we hope they inspire you.

2. The second thing I consider is the charity’s values. It’s possible to do the right things for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way.

A charity might have a good program—but without sharing my values, it won’t count for much. So if I have a choice between a secular charity and a Christian one working on a similar problem, I always go for the one that shares my religious commitment. I think the Christian organization will more completely share the spirit of why I gave, hopefully with a witness to Christ—the Hope who inspires us all.

3. The last thing – but not least- I consider is trust. After I make my gift, my control ends. Will the organization follow through on its promises? Will my money be kept safe? Will the organization act responsibly toward my intended recipients, people like me, made in the image of God?

Based on those three principles, sorting the mail or email isn’t so hard. I depend on charities to be instruments of my heart. When I can trust them to do the right thing for the right reasons, it’s easy to give my money away and partner in doing good works. Just like Christ commanded.

About Barry Gardner

Barry Gardner is the Chief Financial Officer at FH. He joined FH in 2010 after a 20 year career as a financial consultant to non-profit organizations. He and his wife Susan live in Phoenix, where Barry enjoys year-round cycling weather.

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