Obviously, you don’t have to believe in God to be a charitable person. (And many people are generous because they’re just good people!) But the reason why I make our family give away Hapa Papa’s hard-earned cash is because of a college Bible study on Malachi 3 (because I’m not good people!). Before that, it’s not that I was opposed to the idea of tithing or giving, but since I didn’t make any of my own money until after college, it wasn’t particularly applicable. But the study, particularly the following verse, rocked my world.
Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
– Malachi 3:10 RSV
The tl;dr version is basically God telling the Israelites to stop cheating Him out of His tithe (usually the first part of a harvest) and to trust that He will provide for them (and abundantly, at that) by having more of the harvest come in.
If you think about it, when you’re a farmer, it’s totally poor financial planning to give the first and best portions of your harvest to God versus keeping it for yourself to provide food for your family or as seed for the next planting. But God commands His people to do so as a way to remind them that everything they have is from God and that He alone provides. In fact, God almost begs the Israelites to put Him to the test so He can prove to them that He keeps his promises by lavishing them so incredibly with blessings – to the point of overflowing!
It sounds absolutely terrifying.
Now, I tithe not to bribe God to give me more stuff (although I am not averse to it – I’m not totally bonkers), but to remind myself that God has provided generously to my family and will continue to provide for us – regardless of me doing something as counter-intuitive as giving our money away. Since my first paycheck, I have chosen to tithe approximately 10% of my income. It’s funny how being faithful with my pitiful $11.50/hr starting salary helped with being faithful with ever-increasing amounts of money. (That’s a concept I also remember from my college days. I am pretty sure it was Pastor Ken Fong who taught this to me, but I can’t be sure. Either way, super helpful.)
True fact: Even though Hapa Papa is totally an atheist, he said his respect for me as a Christian went up when he found out that I tithed on a regular basis. It was early in our relationship and made a big impression on him. Now, it makes a big impression on his bank account. (Ok, not really that big. I don’t want it to seem that we give more than we actually do.)
So you see, other than the benefit of getting more blessings from God, you can get prospective spouses, too! Tithing is AWESOME!
Of course, it’s all fine and good to give money, etc. but I do think there are some responsible ways to go about it. Here then are some of my tips and reasoning behind our giving. (I’m pretty sure these work regardless of your religious devotion, but I could be wrong.) Obviously, just because this is how I’ve forced Hapa Papa to give doesn’t mean that this is the method proscribed by God and if you do not do so in the same manner, you will be smited/smitten/smote/smoted. Your theological mileage may vary.
1) Make sure your financial house is in order. Don’t be giving money away if you cannot afford to do so. If you have mountains of debt, I’m not sure it’s good policy to give away money that robs you of providing for your family/kids/rent etc. This is not to say that you cannot/should not give if you do have debt, but be sensible about it. And who is to say that the only way you can give is monetarily?
2) Donate to places that are responsible financially. There are a lot of groups that spend more money on advertising and fundraising than they do helping the cause for which they are advertising and fundraising. I want to make sure as much of my dollar as possible goes to whatever I’m supporting. You can look into a charity’s financials through sites such as: Guidestar or Givewell.
3) Give deeply vs broadly. In the past, I would give small amounts to many charities/worthy organizations. But now, I am more focused on selecting a few groups and giving more concentrated amounts. For example, instead of giving $10 to ten different groups, I would prefer to give $100 to one group. Nothing wrong with giving a charity $10, but $100 may be a bit more effective.
4) Give with purpose and planning. When I first graduated college, I chose to support friends who went on staff at InterVarsity (the Christian group I was part of at UCLA). I did so because I wanted to love my friends as well as thank the organization that made such a huge impact in my life. I also chose to support and contribute to friends who became missionaries (either in an urban or international setting) through groups like Servant Partners.
However, my philosophy towards giving has evolved a bit. I still support some of these folks and I enjoy reading and hearing about how my money helps my friends do college and urban ministry. But a lot of these types of para-church ministries are very fuzzy in terms of results and doing good. How do we measure success in these areas? Yes, people convert to Christianity or their lives are changed, but that is a lifetime commitment. Life is long and prone to many twists and turns. Who knows how it will turn out?
I think relationship based ministries are important – that’s why I still support my friends. But now, I try to focus on organizations that have very discrete and measurable results. I tend to give money to groups such as my local food bank, Heifer International, or World Vision. Next year, I’m thinking of adding the Hamlin Fistula Organization. What I love about these organizations is that I know exactly what I’m getting – and people are benefiting in a specific way. I give $450 to the Fistula organization and one woman gets a fistula (basically a hole caused by childbirth complications between a woman’s vagina and bladder/rectum that causes constant leaking of urine and feces) fixed. I give $100 to the food bank and they can buy 100 lbs of food. I really love how the very necessary needs of people are being met in supremely practical, boring ways.
Figure out what type of person you are and how you want your money to have impact. I like both “soft” relational results as well as practical, nitty-gritty results. That’s why I split my giving.
At the end of every year, I decide which organizations I want to support for the next year and decide what amount I want to give each month. Furthermore, it comes in very handy when people/causes to whom you don’t want to donate ask for money. I always tell them, I have planned out my giving for the year already and although I am sure their cause is very worthy, I only give to organizations that I have researched and vetted. They are welcome to give me information about their group and I will consider them for next year.
4) Budget for miscellaneous donations. With that said, every year, I have friends running marathons for cancer or asking for donations for causes that are meaningful to them. I want to support my friends so I make sure I donate to a few of these as well.
5) Set up giving on an automatic basis. Just like it’s much easier to auto-pay your bills or savings, it’s much easier to automate your giving. That way, you don’t forget, it’s in smaller monthly increments, and you don’t miss the money (as much).
6) If you are tithing or donating on a percentage basis, figure out what number to use. By that, I mean, do you use pre-tax or post-tax salary? Pre-benefits or post-benefits? I don’t think there is a right or wrong number to use. Just choose the one that sits on your conscience the lightest and be consistent with it. Personally, I am lazy and somewhat cheap, so I just use whatever number is deposited into my bank account (and that is the post-tax and benefits number).
7) Make giving a priority. Every time we have an added expense (eg: preschool) or a set back (eg: a layoff), Hapa Papa always mentions that we could lower our giving. I always immediately nix the idea. Not because I’m a good person, but because I know that I often spend foolishly. So, I am not about to “cheat God” when I could just spend in a more judicious manner. Also, it helps that so much of our giving is automated that it’s already built into our budget.
You’ll notice that I don’t mention anything about teaching my kids to give. I haven’t really started to teach my kids about money or giving – but in the future, I will. When that happens, I’ll likely blog about it. But for now, I’m leaving that blank and to other experts. 😉
You’ll also note that I do not give to a church (which is what most people think of when they think of tithing). This is mostly because I do not currently belong to a church. However, when I did attend church, I gave on a more sporadic basis. In the future, I may also give to my church of choice because it will support their many services and activities from which I directly benefit.
Anyhow, this post was not just an excuse to brag about how generous I am with Hapa Papa’s hard labor. When I was just starting to give money to charities I was pretty clueless on the practicalities of the matter and since all my friends were newbies just like I was, it wasn’t a particularly helpful bunch. Hopefully, this post can help you choose to give in a useful and practical manner. After all, it is your money. You should steward it wisely.