Generous Living

You can't avoid them. They're in your mailbox and on the telephone. Turn on the radio or television, and you're hit again. Solicitations from charitable causes are constantly tugging at your heartstrings and your wallet. But when it comes to giving, do you know where to start? How to set priorities? Which ones you want to give to? How much to give?

Start by deciding how important it is to have a personal ministry of giving. While most of us would agree it's important to support worthwhile causes, we often do very little toward setting giving goals. In fact, according to Crown Financial Ministries, the average American gives about 3 percent of his or her income to charities, and the average Christian gives only 3.5 percent to charities (including a local church).

Check Your Cheer

You may feel you don't make enough money to support your church or other causes. But when it comes to giving, your attitude about what it means to give is more important than how much money you have in the bank. Winston Churchill wisely observed, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

Establishing a personal ministry of giving shouldn't be a chore or an obligation. It should be done with a genuine desire to help your church, your community, and individuals in need. If you're not quite there yet, ask God to open your heart to sharing what you have with others. Let 2 Corinthians 9:7 frame your prayer: "Each person should do as he has decided in his heart, not out of regret or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Giving Back to God

Generous giving begins after committing to tithe - giving back to God 10 percent of your income. The tithe is not supposed to be an afterthought, given out of what's left over; it should be taken from the first fruits of what God has allowed you to earn.

If you have trouble finding enough money to tithe, then it's time to review your household budget. Find out where your money is going, eliminate unnecessary spending, and reallocate some of those funds toward your tithe. As you begin to make tithing a priority, you'll find yourself becoming more disciplined in managing your finances, and you'll find your attitude toward money — and your priorities — changing.

Going Further

If you're a faithful tither to your church but want to do more in the community, then establish some goals for giving. Try these steps to get started:

  • Think of areas you're passionate about. Perhaps you want to help fund scholarships for students in need, support a food pantry, help fund missionaries, or support medical research of a particular disease.
  • List and prioritize your favorite causes.
  • Research charitable organizations you're interested in. (See "Wise Giving" below.)
  • Determine how much and how often you can give. Don't be afraid to start small and build from there.
  • Begin by contributing to one organization. Once you become a committed giver to this cause, you may want to choose another from your list.

Don't Limit Giving to Cash

Charitable giving doesn't have to come only in the form of dollars, so don't overlook opportunities for non-cash giving. Perhaps you have items in and around the house that a family in need could use. These could include gently worn clothing, toys, bicycles, furniture, or even a used vehicle.

You don't have to have a lot of money to make a difference; think about creative ways that you can donate by volunteering your time, talents, or resources to a cause that you support.

Lifestyle Giving

Once you've established your personal ministry of giving, it will naturally grow into a lifestyle. Seek to make your giving an expression of your love and gratitude to God, who has given you everything that you have. Let 1 Corinthians 13:3 remind you of the reason you give: "If I donate all my goods to feed the poor ... but do not have love, I gain nothing."

Wise Giving

  1. Research charities before giving. Make sure your dollars are supporting causes that are compatible with your values. Check with the local charity registration office (usually a division of the state attorney general's office), or access reports on charities at the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
  2. Request prospectuses and financial reports to show where donor dollars are actually going. If a charity refuses to give this information, give somewhere else. Any reputable organization should be eager to help you make an informed decision.
  3. Be cautious about door-to-door, telephone, and side-of-the road solicitations. Many of these are scams.
  4. Scrutinize organizations that have names similar to other well-known charities and groups claiming to be affiliated with local police and firefighter organizations.
  5. Refuse to give your personal information or credit card numbers over the phone.
  6. Never donate to groups that send solicitations in the form of a bill or invoice.
  7. Do not send cash. Always write a check so that you'll have documentation for your tax return and in case there's a problem.

Francine L. Huff is a financial journalist, news editor at the Wall Street Journal, and the author of The 25-Day Money Makeover for Women. She also writes a monthly financial column for HomeLife magazine.

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