What Does Giving, Donating, Tithing, Mean To You?

written by Bari Tessler August 2, 2021
What Does Giving, Donating, Tithing, Mean To You?

Dear Money Adventurer,

Money is more than just a measure of currency, the means to pay the bills, or the privilege of comfort. Money is a powerful tool, an opportunity to invest in our families, our communities, and the future we want to build.

What does it mean to give back?

How do you contribute in a meaningful, impactful way?

What is enough to give?

Whether you call it tithing (Judeo-Christian), Zakat (Islam), an offering, donating, or giving, the answers to these questions will change and shift depending on our familial, religious, spiritual, and personal beliefs and experiences.

We all earn, spend, save, give, and invest differently.

We all carry conscious and unconscious beliefs about the importance of giving – of how, when, and why we give.

Each one of us gets to decide what financial, religious, spiritual, or personal practices we want to follow, and they may change as we grow through different phases in life.

There is more to giving than hard and fast rules.

How we give, when we give, and how much we give needs to be evaluated from a personal perspective. There is no one true answer because there is no single “right way.” You get to write your own story about money and what giving means to you.

Generosity isn’t about the numbers – it’s about taking intentional action to show up and offer support.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the numbers, we forget that our time and energy are gifts we give of ourselves, that we can “spend” our time, our labor, and our care as intentionally as we spend our money.

It’s a matter of finding the right balance for yourself in this moment. The “three pots” method is one of my favorite metaphors for finding clarity and grounding myself in decisions that feel aligned with my needs and values. Simply put, when you reflect on your time, energy, and finances right now – where do you have an abundance to pour from?

Maybe it looks like giving $30 a month once your basic needs are met and you’re moving into a more comfortable lifestyle. While $30 may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, that commitment of support can be a significant contribution to someone’s life and wellbeing.

My mom volunteers; it’s something she has always done for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the ways that she gives that feels important and meaningful to her.

At the beginning of my career, I gave free talks everywhere. I worked with local organizations that helped women in lower-income communities start their own businesses, and I gave my time, energy, and support there. I wasn’t in a place to give financially, but I could still show up for my community and contribute.

We often lose sight of the fact that there are many different ways to give,
and what is right, and true, and good for you right now IS right and true and good.

I grew up in a Jewish household, and the Hebrew tradition of giving is similar to the Christian concept of tithing, in that you give 10% of your gross income. But this is only one example of “how” to give.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with Mark Silver, a friend, and business coach who was born into a Jewish family and lives as a practicing Sufi. I posted something about tithing and asked for different perspectives, and Mark reminded me that tithing 10% of your income is not a universal practice.

In Islam, the tradition of Zakat is to give 2.5% of your net worth every year to support the impoverished. What you give isn’t based strictly on your income, it factors all you have, minus all you owe, and if your net worth is negative, you don’t pay. Now, it is customary for those with good cash flow but high debt from, say, owning a home to give to support the poor, to invest in social justice movements – to find a way to contribute what they’re able to give, even if it doesn’t fit the traditional equation.

To find a way to honor our capacity to give.

We need to revisit this conversation and ask ourselves how we can give – what is possible for me right now?

What feels meaningful?

Once upon a time, in my late 20s, I was a psychology student earning my master’s degree, working full-time in the mental health field, and getting paid $11.14 an hour. My paycheck didn’t go far. During a meeting at work one day, a charitable organization came in to make a presentation and ask us to donate from our paychecks to support their work.

I stood up, and said quite boldly, “I love my work here. But we’re not even making minimum wage. I’m already giving so much to the community. It doesn’t feel good to be asked to give on top of what we are already doing and I’m not going to give more right now.”

There are many ways to be generous.

We need to be mindful of over-giving, of giving beyond what is sustainable for us at any given time.

We can start small.

In a long life, we’re going to move through different phases, personally and financially. We’re going to find meaning and make an impact through opportunities to give of our time, our money, and our energy.

I am personally not a follower of the 10% tithing rule, so I don’t use the word “tithing.”

I choose the words: “giving, donating and generosity.”

And, I choose to honor my capacity to give.

For years, I’ve kept spreadsheets to track where my family was donating or how we were redistributing resources. And every year, we reevaluate where we’re at, because life happens.

Money ebbs and flows, weaving through our circumstances,
experiences, beliefs, and values.

How, then, do we navigate sudden money?

How do we balance privilege and social responsibility?

For many folks, unexpected abundance arrives on a wave of loss, as an inheritance after the death of a family member or other beloved. There is baggage that comes with inheritance – we wish we had our person, not the money; at the same time, we want to honor their gift and be a steward of that generosity. Or perhaps we’re conflicted because of personal differences, how the money was earned, or what it represents to us.

This is a time to be gentle with yourself. To honor your own timing and be present with your emotions. There is no rush. Give yourself room to breathe.

When you are ready, check-in with yourself – where are you at financially?

Perhaps you are facing medical bills, tuition costs, student loan payments, or trying to start your own business. Maybe this inheritance is an opportunity to change your money story while finding smaller commitments to give back that feel meaningful and important to you.

Or maybe you’re living a comfortable lifestyle with a well-established safety net of savings, or you come from a wealthy family, and what feels most aligned with your values is to donate generously to local social justice organizations.

Are you in a position to give a percentage? To donate monthly? Are you considering a one-time gift?

This is a loving, gentle, but insistent reminder that you get to choose what values, practices, and commitments are best for you in this moment of your life.

Ask yourself, “How can I give?”

Do a body check-in.

What feels right in your body?

What feels possible, generous, and meaningful?

How can you give of your time, energy or money, right now ?

Stay here awhile, rest in this space, and reflect on what is coming up for you here.

These questions not only ground you in your values, they illuminate new opportunities to show up and contribute to building something better, a chance to forge our future with hope and generosity, together.

With dear wishes,

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