How to be generous
"To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own..." – The Optimist Creed
Anyone who knows me knows that I am currently the president of my Optimist Club © - an organization whose mandate is to bring out the best in our young people, our communities and ourselves. I love this organization and what it does, and in fact a person would have to be crazy to become president of any organization they were not committed to – it is not an easy task. Indeed I could write an entire post (probably an entire book) on the experience and the things that I learned, but today isn’t the day for that. Today I am looking at why I joined the club in the first place, and what I learned about being generous.
I can only speak for myself, but I am sure that most persons I grew up with can say they experienced the generosity of the older generation at the time. In fact I can say with absolute certainty I would not be where I am today without the generosity of others. The teachers who gave of their spare time and went above and beyond, the neighbours who looked out for us, family members who assisted with a variety of tasks from hair to dinner, other school staff and general community members who generally made sure I didn’t slip through the cracks. I can remember being a teenager, and I can’t have been the easiest person to work with, so I greatly appreciate their efforts. Even throughout university, there was an ongoing exchange of the hospitality of others, and it was there I appreciated the value of having and indeed being a good host. And it was at this time that I made a decision that I would always use my resources any way I can to assist others, especially the younger generation. When I was a student those resources consisted of time and baking ability (and occasionally a mattress on my floor), when I started working, I could add my professional skills to the mix, now that I am older I can throw in skill, life experience and enthusiasm. For me being able to be generous with everything I have is one of my key values.
However, for me the ability to find a comfortable way to give has been a journey. In fact, often when I speak to others about being charitable, especially in connection with “charitable organizations” there are 2 reactions that I hear the most. The first is that there are people out there that don’t need it who would take advantage of it. And the second is that they don’t agree with such and such an organization, and a question about how much of the money raised actually goes to charity. I will be honest and say that both of those things were and are a concern for me. In addition, I also worry about the sustainability of charitable giving, especially when I hear horror stories about some fake charities, or some real ones whose administrative costs were extortionate and where very little money goes to the cause. I remember years ago living in England, there were always “charity Christmas cards” on sale. And one day seeing on the news that out of the 5 or 6 pound calendar price tag, only 10p went to the charity, and out of that, 50% went into admin, and thinking I would be better off buying ordianary cards for half the price and donating separately to the charity. Some organizations make it complicated to donate – insisting on regular giving as opposed to one off donations, and requiring credit card numbers, bank account details etc which everyone isn’t comfortable with. And people have other concerns about organizations too. But for me it was different. I am the definition of a bleeding heart. I have difficulty saying no, and I am a sucker for a sob story. My bank account would be empty before I know it if I am not careful. I wanted to be able to give my time as well as my money, and my skills, and I wanted to be able to do it in an environment with a certain level of accountability built in, and that was going to be sustainable without fostering dependency. So I did a lot of research before I joined or worked with organizations. And I have been happy with every organization I have worked with overall, even if none of them was perfect. And I am able to give of my time, talent and other resources which was all I really wanted to do in the first place. Along the way I learned these valuable lessons.
- I did not need to belong to or work with an organization to give of my time, talent and resources – (Don’t tell anyone in my Optimist club that I said this!). Generosity and charity are not the sole property of organizations or institutions. It does not belong to the church, or school. It is not only for the philanthropic billionaires who can feed one million children this year. Generosity is for any person who wants to share what they have with someone else to enhance both their life and the life of the other person. I believe that everyone has something they can give if they choose to do so. I have told you why I choose organizations that I trust but if you are going to give then do it in whatever way works best for you. If you are going to work with an institution or organization – do your research. Be sure that you have found an organization with the values that you support. Be comfortable with their administrative practices. Check for accountability. If you can, talk to someone else who has done it – someone you trust. And then go for it in whatever way you feel most comfortable with.
- I needed to find a cause that I was passionate about. I do my best work if I feel passionately about the cause and I think we all do. For me it is working with youth, but for someone else it could be the environment, animals, children, the elderly or the disabled. It could be single mothers, and widows. It could be overseas or at home, just around the corner. There is need everywhere – if you are going to give find the thing that resonates with you and doing the work will be productive and joyful, or at least that is what I found for myself.
- There will always be loopholes. There will always be scammers. There will always be someone out there trying to trick the system and make the most of what they can get. I cannot let that stop me. There is no foolproof way of ensuring that things that are given only go to those who need them. I just have to accept that sometimes people who are not in need will get, and work to minimize that percentage and then close my eyes and give. I believe that these things all come out in the wash.
- I cannot do more for people than they want for themselves. It took me a long time to learn this. Often I can see so clearly what could really impact someone’s life, and yet I cannot convince them to do their part. I noticed this even in my work. People would not follow up. They would not be held accountable for their own health, for their own finances, for their own lives. I wanted to help, and I was prepared to offer everything, but I could not make them do their part, and I cannot want better for them than they want for themselves. In many cases – generosity is a transaction between two parties and each have to contribute something. If I partner with those who are willing to put in personal effort then this always makes the transaction go more smoothly.
- I cannot judge others by my standards. This was another hard one to learn. You can help someone, but you cannot make them hold your values. I first learned this at work. There were people who felt they were in need of free services, charity or discounts, and they came in better cars than mine, with better technology than mine, hair than mine, nails than mine - you get the picture. It took me a long time to realize that we all have different priorities, and that I cannot judge their priorities and actions, I can simply decide whether I will give my generosity to them or to someone else. It is hard to be truly generous to someone if you are judging the things they do, as well as what they do with what you give. Often you need to help in a way that is beneficial to them if you want to make a real impact.
- It costs to care. Everything has a cost – be it money, time, resources. I found I had to be wary of persons who invited me to be generous without some personal sacrifice, or of those who claim to be doing it.
- To look after myself. Someone once told me “you cannot pour from an empty cup”. This is the one I forget most often, and I am fortunate to have good people around to remind me.
These are the things I learned about how to be generous. I think that the first thing is to have a generous spirit, be genuine and want to give back and then anyone who wants to do it will find a way. I certainly did, and life is all the richer for it – I have no regrets.
And to you I send Big love from a small island
PS Four of the organizations I work(ed) with are Bridge2Aid, Optimists, Special Olympics and Shelter. Check them out if you want to know more about them.
Pps - The above photo I took of the Golden Gate bridge. Loved that spot...