Two principles of giving

To ask or not to ask?

How often should we ask others to give?

As a well-resourced school, known for serving a largely affluent community, we are regularly and frequently asked by a wide range of organisations and NGOs to make financial or other contributions to the important work that they do in our community.

‘We need to limit the number of causes we support,’ I hear people say. ‘We can’t meet everyone’s need and the more we bombard those that can give with requests, the more resistant they become and donor fatigue kicks in, which ends up being counterproductive.’

This reasoning is unhelpful as it wrongly presumes that our community is just one source of support. If this were true, it would be right to limit the number of areas to engage with. But our community is as many sources of support as there are individuals in it.

So I have been arguing the opposite for some time. Bombard the school with requests on a daily basis if needs be, but help the community how to respond to these requests.

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully. (2 Corinthians 9:7 – NLT)

This verse teaches us three things about giving:

  • GiveGiving is important, no matter how much anyone has. This is clearly easier for me to say, as a person who has far more than I need. But the principle is the same for everyone and, like the poor widow’s offering (Mark 12:41-44), I have seen people with very little, tithe and give generously to others.
  • You must each decide in your heart how much to give.
  • Give selectivelyThis is crucial. Don’t feel the need to respond to every request that comes your way – that is the best way to fuel donor fatigue. It’s OK not to respond to some requests. It’s not OK to respond to no requests, however! 
  • Don’t give in response to pressure.
  • Give willinglyNow that the pressure is off from having to respond to every request, follow your heart and give to a cause that you are passionate about – and put your heart and soul into it.
  • God loves a person who gives cheerfully.

This works. A few years ago, a local organisation asked us for donations of wool to make dolls for the orphaned children in their care. In that same week, another organisation asked us to collect football boots for a township football club that was running a local tournament during the FIFA World Cup. We made both requests to the school in the same week, whilst stressing the principles of giving as laid out above. Those students with a heart for children gave wool and made dolls for the orphaned children. Those with a passion for football donated boots. The response from both appeals was substantial and those that gave did so cheerfully. Imagine if we had told one organisation that we weren’t able to help them for fear of donor fatigue? Not only would they have missed out on some valuable resources, but I am not sure that the organisation would have received more.

Since encouraging our community to respond in this way and thus increasing the number of requests for help, it is difficult to quantify whether we give more, but it is clear that we are giving more widely and that there is more engagement with a wider spectrum of our community than ever before.

To ask or not to ask? Ask, ask, ask! But before that, teach how to respond.

Giving better

By and large, our community is kind and generous when it comes to giving to those in need around us. We regularly have ‘drives’ for food, clothes, blankets, toiletries or toys throughout the year.

This has been identified as the Good Deeds model of giving. Someone identifies a need, people respond and others benefit.  When I give using the Good Deeds model, the thought process is as follows:

  • I have, you don’t have.
  • I think I know what you need, you don’t get the opportunity to tell me what you really need.
  • I give, you receive.
  • I feel good, you feel obliged to be grateful.
  • I do things for people

We may never meet each other.

I realise that this is a generalisation and that many people use this Good Deeds model with a pure motive and a genuine desire to help. It is good. But there is a better way.

With the Community Engagement (CE) model of giving, the rules are different. I can’t offer to do anything for or give anything to anyone before the other party has offered something in return. This immediately implies something different and sometimes new: the need for me to engage. I need to identify someone or a group of people and meet them. We need to spend time getting to know one another and hearing each other’s story. Only then are we in a better position to know what we both need and start to serve one another.

The thought process here is different:

  • I don’t presume to know what you need
  • We meet and get to know one another
  • I give, you give
  • I receive, you receive
  • I learn, you learn
  • I do things with people.

We get to know each other.

A group of University Professors in the Eastern Cape of South Africa wanted to engage with a local crèche. They contacted the lady in charge and under the CE rules, they met. After sharing some of their stories and spending time together, the lady asked the Professors to paint some rooms and provide some furniture. But they weren’t allowed to do this until they had agreed something that the lady would do in return. They both got stuck with their mind sets. “What is a lady running a township crèche capable of doing for us?” thought the professors. “I can’t offer these people anything. They’re educated and clever, I’m just a township woman” thought the lady. Finally, they found a solution and the lady offered to give the Professors cooking lessons.

At Somerset College, two Grade 8 (14 year old) boarders were tasked with putting this CE model into practice. They decided to visit the ladies who work in the kitchen. Up until then, the only interaction the students had with them was to say hello, receive food from them, and say thank you (nothing wrong with that). The ladies’ interaction was to say hello, serve up a plate of food and wash the dishes afterwards.

The boarders and the ladies chatted and heard a little of one another’s stories. The boarders asked the ladies to teach them to cook and prepare a meal and a couple of the ladies asked the two boarders for a guitar lesson.

This model doesn’t only have to be between rich and poor. One student recently engaged with a Swiss neighbour who had recently moved in. The student taught his Swiss neighbour how to surf while in return, was given a German lesson. Another student struggled to find someone to engage with and asked if he could engage with me. We chatted and in return for some help with his French conversation, he taught me how to juggle! We both left knowing each other a little better.

Throughout this process, both parties give and both parties receive. Barriers of prejudice and misconceptions are broken down and are replaced with bridges of knowledge, mutual respect and hope. Both parties feel better about the experience. This process is more time consuming, it demands more from us and may be more uncomfortable than the good deeds model, but it is so worth it if we are serious about changing the unsustainable status quo in South Africa.

Giving is good, but engagement is better.

CCN Thought for the Week for 29th June – Somerset College, ICON, South Africa
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