I was thinking to myself today as I considered the Queen’s coming Diamond Jubilee here in the UK, that out of the pomp and ceremony that we all see and experience, it is little known that as a result of the jubilee lots of small charitable organisations get to enjoy a pot of money that is set aside as a form of celebrating through giving.
It got me to thinking about the whole concept of giving. It is a conundrum that has been at the centre of much speculation by economists in recent years. What really drives us to give? Is it all about altruism and our desire to help others, or does it come out of our generosity and desire to feel good about ourselves? Or is there a social element to giving as Tim Harford would suggest on his blog looking at the impact of the recession on giving? He suggests that we give out of peer pressure, giving because we think that it’s what others expect of us.
While giving is at the very heart of charitable existence, you have to ask yourself the question “What is in it for me?” If we didn’t ask these questions, we wouldn’t be human. If you are giving for a feeling of satisfaction, then it is more probable that you will give again at some point in the future. If you are giving because you feel you are expected to, you may well be more begrudging to give again.
Sally Strove makes an interesting point on her blog when she says that all too often we lose sight of the delicate moral balance between giving and receiving. She uses the example of a business faced with the choice of tax benefits through its charitable contributions, and asks the question are we giving for all the wrong reasons? Has “What do I get out of it?”, become all too important to us as a precursor to our giving?
In her blog Sally pointed me in the direction of the Maimonides Ladder of Charity, a doctrine of giving penned by a 12th century Jewish scholar. This ladder sets out eight rungs of the ladder of giving, starting at the lowest rung and working its way up to the purest form of giving. The eight rungs are listed below.
- The Lowest – Giving begrudgingly and making the recipient feel disgraced or embarrassed.
- Giving cheerfully but giving too little.
- Giving cheerfully and adequately but only after being asked.
- Giving before being asked.
- Giving when you do not know who is the individual benefiting, but the recipient knows your identity.
- Giving when you know who is the individual benefiting, but the recipient does not know your identity.
- Giving when neither the donor nor the recipient is aware of the other’s identity.
- The Highest – Giving money, a loan, your time or whatever else it takes to enable an individual to be self-reliant.
Imagine a world where we all consciously reached at a minimum of rung four on the ladder, and strove to achieve rung eight more consistently. How much more would the charitable community be able to achieve if we prompted ourselves to give more frequently without being asked to give.
Many charities survive through a sustained giving program supported by people who agree to pay a certain amount each month in support of the objectives of the charity. But is this model sustainable moving into the 21st Century as we face more challenging times? Can we really rely on this system of constantly presenting our begging bowl, prompting people to donate?
The challenge I guess therefore lies in getting the donor community to think about giving more constructively. What does this mean for the charitable sector, and how do we work towards ensuring that we have a sustainable source of financial income through empowering the community that support us into thinking more about what we achieve together as a community through their charitable giving. Ultimately we should be considering what the overall impact of our efforts is achieving not only as a giver, but as an organisation.
When times are good and donations are high, it is easy to fall into the trap of simply getting the job done. Yet time and time again, we find ourselves coming back to the problem at hand. Take for example the efforts of Live Aid. In the 1980’s the world came to the aid of the Horn of Africa with the best of intentions. Yet in 2011 we are once again back to a situation of televised appeals to finance another food aid program to the Horn of Africa?
In Oman, a region considered to be Water Scarce the government has invested US$52 million into a project designed to tap ground reservoirs fed by a desalination facility in Barka to provide water to millions of residents in the Dakhliyah region. Through the creation of jobs and the long term supply of water Oman has undertaken to secure the future of a region of its nation desperately needing water to develop. Is this not the same situation that befalls the Horn of Africa? You have to wonder how after raising over £150 million pounds through the Live Aid program in 1985, a proportion of the money was not set aside to secure the water future of the African nations in the Horn of Africa. It was too easy to meet the need of the people at the time without seeking to reach the eighth rung of Maimonides’ ladder and empower the African people with the tool, skills and equipment to do it for themselves.
So this is the challenge. How do we as the 3rd Sector community seeking to serve the people our organisation helps, actively encourage more proactive giving. Personally I believe that it is key to our future to develop a personal relationship with our donors and work towards involving them in the work that we undertake as an organisation. The benefits from this approach are multiple, and bring us back to that original focus about feeling good about what we give.
I agree totally with Sally when she says that the “Pay it Forward” concept of giving is a powerful tool in the quiver of the third sector. Working within the private sector to establish a corporate giving culture within the work place is a logical and effective way of securing a financial income. Gaining accreditation from a corporate body can often open the door to hundreds of employees who get the opportunity to collectively give as part of a program of giving designed to stimulate and encourage team spirit within the organisation, any donations being put forward by the staff being met pound for pound by the firm itself. This becomes a win-win situation for everyone involved. The charity gets a steady stream of income, the staff feel good about their contribution, and build a spirit of unity within their workplace, and the organisation get tax relief from their “Pay it Forward” contributions to the charity.
Another profound idea is to involve those people who donate to your cause more creatively. Everyone loves to have something to do for their community, society or to help something that they feel passionately about. People want to feel accepted and part of their community. Dale Carnegie hit the nail on the head in his book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ We love to feel important, and understanding that in giving people are looking to feel good about themselves, expanding on that concept by inviting a donor to become more involved with your organisation will open the door to a whole new world of opportunity for your organisation.
Not everybody will agree to this, and careful management of the program is well worth preparing before launching your campaign, but it is the ability to think outside the box and will excite and encourage people to buy into your vision and support your cause more enthusiastically.
I encourage you to read the blogs linked within this post and take time to reflect for a moment about the importance of understanding giving completely before committing yourself or your organisation to a designated fundraising strategy. Bear in mind that in these difficult times, money is something that no one really wants to part with, but while we are all counting the pennies, feeling good about ourselves, and a desire to want to help others is an essential part of our humanity. Managing this desire effectively is important to us as a society, but more significantly to our survival as a 3rd Sector community.
Additional recommended reading: If you question motivations for giving, whether those motivations belong to you or someone else, you are not alone. For a look into the process that led Hubber RTalloni to a personal philosophy of and commitment to giving, read The Definition of Charitable Work.