Want to get? Try giving

th5 Want to get? Try givingA writer named Revanche, who blogs at A Gai Shan Life, recently wrote about a friend who’s “against” volunteering and giving to charity.

His rationale: “He feels that he worked really hard to get here and doesn’t feel that he got any help so he doesn’t feel he should give back to the community at large.”

He did work hard, putting himself through school and supporting family members at the same time. So did/does Revanche, who’s still supporting “two adult dependents who aren’t my children.”

What her friend doesn’t seem to get is this: He may not have asked for any help, but it would have been there had he needed it.

Suppose he’d become very ill and unable to support those family members (or himself) during that time. No one would have starved. They could have sought temporary assistance from government agencies but also from nonprofits and private charities funded in part by ordinary citizens.

You know, your neighbors. Fellow human beings. People who think that a few of their extra dollars would have more of an impact outside their bank accounts.

“I don’t need to be (very) wealthy to make a difference,” Revanche writes in a post called “Poverty, water, animals: On charity and the why.”

“I can’t save any one person but sometimes a helping hand is all you need, sometimes it gives you enough hope to scrape yourself off the floor and keep going.

“And that’s why I still give. Even though I’m all about personal responsibility and bootstrapping, I remember when a kind gesture was enough to help me do another job, fight another day.”

I was the recipient of a few kind gestures myself during hard times. And yes, they did make a difference.

Surviving and giving

That’s one reason why, back in 2007, I made “charitable donation” a line item in my budget, to the tune of $20 per month. This was the same time frame when I wrote “Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year” for MSN Money, the guest post that got me started as a personal finance writer.

Some readers took me to task for donating to charity when I had relatively little myself. Strictly speaking, I guess I didn’t have much: My apartment was a dump furnished with castoffs and I was in debt due to a protracted divorce.

But I chose to look at things differently. I had friends and family, a full-ride university scholarship, a library card, a radio, a transit pass and a slow cooker. Most of all, I had the chance to make a life for myself. Felt pretty rich to me.

The desperately poor character Francie in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” poured a cup of coffee down the drain every day because it made her feel rich. She figured she was better off than her equally poor neighbors because she had something to waste.

Me too: Although some people considered me poor, I was able to give away $20 each month and still keep the lights on.

Picking your spots

While I don’t kid myself that a double sawbuck each month meant a whole lot by itself, it did make a difference when combined with small (and large) contributions from others.

Right now I’m living on a very tight budget once more but giving is still part of the equation. I just have to pick my spots. A few recent examples:

  • Dropping off items at a charity thrift shop
  • Donating an art print to a charitable auction
  • Continuing to pick up found money (including a $5 bill and a $25 bill thus far) that will go to the food bank

(For more ideas along these lines, see “25 ways to give (without breaking the bank),” a piece I did for Get Rich Slowly.)

Like Revanche, I know I can’t save the world. But I live in the world, which means not closing my eyes to need. I can’t pretend that other people’s suffering has nothing to do with me.

Revanche’s friend might feel justified in holding his money close and hardening his heart. That’s his right. It’s yours, too. No one has to donate either time or money. But you might be surprised by what you’ll get by giving.

Related reading:


27 Comments

  1. Ro in San Diego

    I remember strongly identifying with Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because my family was so poor we ate USDA “welfare” food. I remember how grateful I was for anything extra – clothing, charity provided foods, and how hopeful and thankful it made me feel.

    Fast forward 50 years – my husband and I are comfortable and relatively debt free due to careful spending. I donate and volunteer for a local women’s ministry promoting/aiding sober living. I recently was able to forward a $700 donation from one of my good friends.

    It’s such a good feeling to help others, especially if you had a rough patch in your life. I am a thrifty gal but it pleases me to spend time, effort, money on behalf of those who are going through some rough times now, while I am in good shape financially.

    • Donna Freedman

      Exactly so: We feel rich because we once weren’t. We have enough — in fact, we have so much enough that we can pass some of it on.

      • Someone once said, “You are rich in proportion to what you give away.” I so believe that giving back — time, money, goods — is our rent for being allowed to live on this wonderful planet. And yes, if people hadn’t helped me along the way, I would not have all that I have now, including my loving husband, 2 terrific kids, and dozens of wonderful supportive friends.

        • Donna Freedman

          Yep. And in modeling that kind of behavior, you are raising two kind and thoughtful human beings who will no doubt pass along those lessons to those they meet/their own kids.
          What is it that they say? “Be the difference you want to see in the world.”
          Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. I helped people when I was in school and poverty stricken. Since then, I help because I was helped in small ways, nothing large. When Dollar General asks me to donate to GED, I tell them I tutor GED students free, and that is more, dollar-wise, than I could put in their container. Sometimes, my contribution is information about where to get help, information I learned in a former job with the federal program. I think he should rethink what constitutes donating. I doubt very seriously if he got no help of any kind.

  3. We donate where we can, a few bucks to the DAV, time at the VA hospital, time and misc. to the Boy Scouts, helping here and there at the church, time at the local animal shelter, donations to the thrift shop and food shelf. Little bits DO add up and feel good too :)

  4. An enormous amount of our “good works” is done by volunteers. The time is just a valuable as the money-so don’t feel bad if you can’t do much cash-try to put in a little time. If no one volunteered, I think we would be appalled at the mess left behind!

  5. Thank-you for this topic today. Over the weekend at a family dinner we had a similar conversation about what causes one to be generous and another not.

    It’s like when people say” We should be helping our own people here before we help anyone in other parts of the world.” I like to gently state when I hear that I never known a generous individual who gives of their time, talents and monies “here” who is also not generous to those in need away. I don’t know, I think it all comes back to you even in more blessings:)

    I find it SO exciting when I can be a conduit on the giving. Currently a few individuals I know and I( we all know one mom who is moving out on her own , one of her children has a disability and we are connected through him) are having so much joy from assisting the family in setting up their new life.

    I found a lovely reasonable captains bed and bureau and they threw in a lamp. Solid maple from the 80″s, such a good price. I am putting in a new in package mattress cover ( from the thrift store) and new twin bed comforter/sheet set , bought on super clearance. I said I would gladly furnish a bedroom in my house with this furniture. When I purchased it from the owners I mentioned I wanted my friend to have lovely things, just because she was in need of other people’s charity why could it not be nice:)

    One person knew of an estate being dispersed and call it karma or good fortune most of it is going to this mom and family .We did need more beds though:)

    I challenge myself to “find” homes for various items. Recently I saw on FB that our local Humane Society needs regular donations of newspaper. So, every two weeks I drop off what we have from our own subscription and the subscription my husband brings home for a national paper delivered to his office. Sometimes someone he works with asks for some of this paper for starting fires when they camp, Glad to pass our recyclables around:)

    • Donna Freedman

      You’re the opposite of some people I’ve encountered, i.e., those who think that people in need should be grateful for anything they get — e.g., they get indignant when a charity thrift shop won’t take their beat-up furniture and grouse that Angel Tree kids shouldn’t be asking for anything but the most basic toys.
      “Why could it not be nice,” indeed. You’re a good person.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  6. Good post, Donna, but I have to tease you.

    Can we please see a picture of the $25 bill? :)

  7. Thanks for the link and spinning off this post. You may have done it more justice than I :)

  8. Ellen G

    So encouraging to hear about “giving”. I love to give what I can afford also and somehow I always “get back!”

  9. Some see being frugal as being cheap or stingy-it is all the same. I see it as a way to do more for others. And in doing more for others, I am more.

  10. Cathy in NJ

    I wonder if anti-charity guy has ever taken the time of a busy co-worker to get help with computer problems or a project or had a mentor. Charity takes many different forms. With his anti-charity attitude I doubt he is the go-to guy who helps his team to learn to do their jobs more easily. No one becomes successful alone.

    • Well now, I can answer this a bit. He’s actually great at looking for ways to solve problems for himself or for people in his job, and that’s why I advocated for him when the time came. Afterward, he wrote me a thank you note, which I was (pleasantly) surprised by and wouldn’t have expected for a professional courtesy. That makes me wonder if perhaps he considers the debt sort of repaid because he graciously thanks people. It *is* why I was so surprised by the anti-charity/volunteer stance, though.

  11. Food is very high now, when in a grocery line if I have some money, I will give it to the cashier so a mother and her baby can eat, or another can eat..It is just money not my life, we are on this earth a short short time, you cannot take anything with you beyond the grave such as money…many people think they will and relatives fight over their money, shameful..While they are alive they could alleviate some hunger and suffering..really!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. He received no help from the community college? Were any of his classes STEM, accounting, skilled trades, medical? These teachers could be out making twice as much in the real world, but apparently thought it more important to be there for the newbies

    • Donna Freedman

      You’ll get no arguments from me on that score — when I went back to school in my late 40s, I had some marvelous teachers at the community college.

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