“I want to be generous one day, when I’m more financially comfortable,” so many of us say.
“I’ll volunteer more of my time, when I get to where I want to in my career,” we also add.
“I’ll help people get opportunities, when I have all the connections,” we promise.
Why do we do this? Probably because we think that we’re not rich yet. We think we don’t have the resources to help others yet. We think there’s a point when we will wake up and say, “I have more than enough now. Now, I can help others.”
The problem with holding off generosity
A wise friend once told me that our actions shape our desires. Let me repeat that: our actions shape our desires.
Don’t we often expect it to be the other way round? We allow our desires– our wants, needs, wildest dreams– to shape what we do and say.
But, what we do and say also shapes who we are. We are creatures of habit, you and I, and if we deliberately make choices that push us in a certain direction, we begin to become those choices.
So what’s the problem with holding off generosity? Why can’t we wait till we’re making a comfortable income to donate? Why can’t we wait till we’ve landed our dream job to spare time for others?
It’s because when we’ve reached that point in our lives, our desires will have changed. That’s right: if you have a generous heart today– which I know you do– it doesn’t mean that you will STILL be generous 20 years from now.
You have to act on that generosity immediately. Otherwise, 20 years could go by without an act of generosity– and perhaps by then, that desire will be but a faint memory.
Generosity is dangerous
There’s nothing safe about giving. We take risks when we willingly hand over a precious resource; it could be relished and used well, or it could be squandered.
It’s often the case that we give our time and resources, but don’t see fruit. Or worse, we realize later on that our resources were used poorly, or even thrown aside. As if the sacrifice isn’t hard enough, any suffering we might experience is compounded by the fact that we suffered for apparently no good reason.
But, your generous heart needs to act upon its inclinations at the risk of rejection, because the cost of not giving is greater than the cost of giving imperfectly.
The needs of this world are great– and those needs include the ability to put the right resources to the right places. And yet, even in the presence of such a need, we can give open-handedly.
The act of intentional giving
So, it seems that I’ve shared a paradox: it’s dangerous for us to withhold our resources until we’re comfortable; and it’s dangerous to share our resources freely.
What are we to do?
We are to give wisely. We are to assess our resources and research the needs to which we have access. We are to decide where we can be most helpful to our communities. And then we are to take the risk– and learn as we go.
5 Ways to be Generous Within Your Financial Limits
I get it. None of us are financially in excess; and even if we earn a comfortable income, it’s not the right time to squander those earnings.
As with anything else, being financially responsible does not mean being stingy. It means being creative with our resources and sharing what we do have in excess. Here are a few ways to do so:
1) Give that 10%.
Sure, who couldn’t use the last 10% of their income? But remember: generosity is practiced. If you hope to be generous with your future wealth, you need to be generous with your current wealth. Need help assessing a good non-profit? Check out Charity Navigator.
2) Teach someone a skill or mentor them in an endeavor.
You know how to do something that someone else doesn’t, right? Whether it’s cooking, gardening, going on a regular walk, or properly fixing a leaky faucet, there’s someone you know who needs to learn from you. Offer that lesson.
And, if you know someone who is on a journey you’ve been on yourself, offer to mentor them through it. Encourage them, advise them, and be there for them. It’s that simple.
3) Help someone who is sick or recently hospitalized.
Pay attention to the people at your workplace, at church, or in your community who might be sick (or have a sick family member). Perhaps someone just had surgery and needs a bit of help around the house. Offer to prepare a meal, run an errand, or clean for them.
4) Connect people who could benefit from knowing each other.
Young professionals like you and me are often bombarded with tips for networking for our own gain. Rarely are we reminded that sometimes we’re the ones with the connections! Sure, maybe you’re not as connected as your boss, but you hold sway. Mark Zuckerberg reportedly said, “Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend” (source). If you happen to be that friend, think of the influence you have!
5) Organize a drive or fundraiser with your friends.
Are you and your friends interested in a certain issue? Find out how to donate your time to raising awareness and funds for an organization that addresses that issue! This could mean collecting toys for kids at Christmas, cleaning out your closets and hosting a yard sale, or encouraging your coworkers to purchase toiletries for the local homeless shelter. Just because your finances are tight doesn’t mean that you can’t encourage others to give. Remember, little drops of water make the mighty ocean!
What all generous people know
There’s never a safe time to be generous. You can always keep your resources to yourself. You can always convince yourself that your contribution won’t matter, or that you can’t afford to lose anything.
But, what we gain from being generous is immensely greater than what we gain from withholding our resources. With generosity, we become the kinds of people who inspire others. We touch lives that are not our own. We expand our reach and our vision. And who doesn’t want that?
A few more resources on generosity:
MORE OR LESS: Choosing a life of excessive generosity by Jeff Shinabarger. This is my absolute FAVORITE read from the past half year. Jeff tells so many beautiful stories of generosity and giving, and has inspired me to be generous in ways I never would have thought of. If you’re interested in becoming generous, you need to read this book.
GIVING 2.0: Transform your giving and our world by Laura Arrillaga-Andreesen. I think Laura is fantastic. I’ve watched several of her lessons on giving, and she demonstrates how to give wisely, thoughtfully, and creatively. Laura was the one that reminded me that we are all philanthropists, just in different ways. As a philanthropist herself, she shares what it means to create a lifestyle out of giving!