Giving money away. What do we think about that? Over the last two decades, Peter and I have thought a lot about where to give our money. Considering what we have been given and how we can share that bounty with others is an opportunity to participate in God’s ongoing work of healing the world.
When Peter and I were newly married, we were invited to a small group Bible Study about money. We said yes for a few reasons. One, we had just moved to a new town and we wanted to meet some new people. Two, we had learned during premarital counseling that money was a topic that pushed lots of emotional buttons, so it might not be a bad idea to get some Biblical wisdom. And three, we were receiving our first regular paychecks and thinking about buying our first house and paying off student loans. We knew we needed some guiding principles if money wasn’t going to become a source of constant tension.
God and Money
The premise of the class was simple: Everything belongs to God. You are entrusted with God’s stuff. Your job is to hold it loosely but responsibly as you save, spend, and give it away.
On a practical level, we learned about keeping a budget (which we did, religiously, for a few years). We vowed not to need fancier or more expensive things even if we made more money in the future. (“Why would I ever want a bottle of wine that costs more than $10, adjusted for inflation”? Peter asked. He’s pretty much held to it, though I’ve allowed my taste to creep towards $18.) But perhaps most important of all, we made a commitment from those very early days of our marriage that we would give away at least ten percent of our income every year.
Thinking About Giving
As a result of two decades of giving money away, we’ve thought a lot about where to give. Over time, through prayer and practice, we’ve landed on giving to three broad areas: local institutions, people in need, and arts and education. These areas sometimes overlap, like when we give to a school where students all come from families at or below the poverty line. Other than our local church, our largest gift each year is to Special Hope Network, a ministry to families with kids with special needs in Zambia. (Holly Nelson, one of the founders of SHN, wrote a guest post last week about their work and how you can sponsor a family for $50/month.) SHN cares for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, and we are honored to participate in God’s healing work by sponsoring some of the work they do.
We don’t give in any significant way to major institutions (like our colleges or museums) where many other donors are already engaged. But we do make sure some of our money flows out of the United States, in light of the tremendous humanitarian need around the globe.
Recently, I was challenged to consider giving more to organizations led by (and not simply seeking to serve) people of color, and we have started to adjust our giving in that direction. We now give to a church within our denomination with a predominantly black membership, in recognition of the long-standing wealth gap between white communities and communities of color.
The Next Step
I understand that most people are not in our financial position, and very few people start off their adult life assuming that 10 percent of their income will be given to charitable causes. If you are someone who wants to begin to practice giving, consider what the next step would be for you, and do that. For all of us, considering what we have been given and how we can share that bounty with others is an opportunity to participate in God’s ongoing work of healing the world.
There are tremendous needs out there that we aren’t meeting. The point is that we have been entrusted with money and resources, and we have the privilege of participating in small ways in seeing healing happen and injustice overturned at home and around the globe.