How Much Giving Is Enough?

“For it is in giving that we receive.” ~St. Francis of Assisi

I recently read some (to me) interesting statistics. For the 12 months ending September 2013, only 25.4% of Americans over age 18 volunteered their time and/or money. That’s one in four adults. Of this population, 40.8% got involved after being asked to volunteer or donate. 43% engaged on their own initiative. If I’ve done my math correctly, less than half of that ‘one in four’ people acted on their own.

I cannot comment on comparable data in other countries but as an American, I find this news bewildering. Individuals aged 65 and over contributed on average 96 hours of their time annually which is understandable given their greater amount of discretionary time. The median adult commitment was 52 hours annually. That averages one hour per week.

Americans, I believe, are a generally generous people. We tend to be a compassionate lot, especially in times of devastation and destruction. Many are moved to local acts of kindness in support of people who have lost their jobs, homes and/or family lives. Our willingness to contribute is most often in the form of charitable giving and volunteering of time. Yet I wonder…

In a country (and world for that matter) where there exists so much pain and suffering, where poverty, hunger, pollution, overpopulation and government corruption are increasingly pressing issues — how much of our time, talents and energy can we give to help those in serious need? What within us drives our desire to give to others, especially when we are abundantly blessed? I recognize personal choice is involved yet is giving a moral responsibility?

Most of us have a passion for our own growth. Yet none of us can succeed alone. We need to be there for others. And we can do this not only by offering time and money but by giving respect. We can become a servant of and to others. We can become friends with people we may be uncomfortable befriending. We can acutely listen to, not just hear their plights and basic needs.

So I wonder… How much giving is enough? Is it ever enough? Who defines what is enough? Is it one-time or is it continually? How much of your giving is coming from your heart and how much of what you give is a personal sacrifice?

We can feel.  We can care.  We can educate.  We can inspire.  We can give.  More.

For those who believe I am on a soapbox, please feel free to share your thoughts. The more I age, the more I become aware, the more I know that it is about giving it away for free. And the beauty in doing that is ever so rewarding.

45 thoughts on “How Much Giving Is Enough?

  1. Hard for me to answer you about your soapbox. I am the queen of giving. The last 6 months have been the first 6 months that I think I have actually said no. It’s a strange concept for me. I find total joy in giving. It is part of my nature. I watch how people live in their bubbles and don’t offer outside of their family. Drives me batty. I’m working on the acceptance piece. LOL You can never share this information enough. Thank you. 🙂

  2. I agree with you. However, I do question the validity of you data (not yours, but the source research). Having served many regional and national nonprofit boards, I’ve seen far too many appear for the “tiara and tux” moments only to disappear when the donation time happens. Do any of these people actually volunteer to work? Rarely. I believe the spirit of charity in this country is far less than what we would like to imagine.

    • A typical case of government released data (these were from the US Dept. of Labor) versus knowledge coming from being on the ground/in the trenches. I suspect you and your experience in the nonprofit realm yields a more realistic and accurate assessment — as sad as it may be.

  3. some say they have no time for others.
    mother theresa said “let them eat you up”
    i believe there’s a middle path of being generous
    and giving to others as well as to oneself 🙂

    • I like the concept of a middle path of being generous. Just as we need to be aware of and practice self-care, we also benefit ourselves and others when we give to ourselves. After all, we are just as worthy, right?

  4. There is always the opportunity to give more. And an important thing to give is our patience for others who have not found the trigger for their own giving. Do not chastise them or try to convince them. Just continue to provide the opportunities to give. They will find their way there, or they won’t. But your task is only to express the opportunities to give. Even our blogs are a gift – simply words of encouragement and possibility that may inspire another to give of themselves. Or not. Just keep giving.

    • Thanks for stopping by and adding to this thread, Mike. I acknowledge and appreciate your “patience” advocacy and know it works (in due time) with many. There are also cases where an invitation or perhaps a little coaxing is what others need (and sometimes want!) in order to participate. I try, with my posts, to share possibilities that others many not have yet considered however rarely, if ever, do i “tell.” It’s not for me to do and people don’t often respond favorably to unsolicited direction. What I believe many of us do is, to your point, just keep giving.

  5. Eric, what is definition of giving? Are all your posts examples of giving? Is paying taxes qualifies as giving? What about spending many hours or days helping members of your family? Do you define giving only as giving time or money to STRANGERS? Even in this case paying taxes is giving.

    • Thanks for your questions, JF, to which I don’t have the answers. The open-ended questions posed in the post was intentional, as I didn’t have answers to them either. Or if I did, chose to not express my opinion(s). I believe that if you were to revisit the post, you would see reference other methods/means of giving in addition to only time an money. The post’s intention was to surface the matter and hopefully, heighten awareness of the need, the opportunity and the reward in giving.

      • Yes, you were successful! I just wanted to stress that everyone can give what people need (even kind words can be very important). 😉

  6. I don’t know that I agree with the numbers. Of course I can only compare this to my personal knowledge of ‘people’. I can’t help but wonder if people who are giving and volunteering even recognize that what they are doing may be considered volunteering, or charity. I don’t know many people in my piece of the world who ‘don’t’ give. I work in a social services environment where there is a constant need and request for the work environment to give back of their own monies and time, and they do. I live in a neighborhood where the people are generous to their churches, their neighbors and their families in need. I don’t think I live or work in any different type of community than others. For those that don’t give as defined by others, I have an understanding of time and money restraints due to circumstances.

    • Colleen, as shared in an above reply, the source was the US Dept. of Labor. I’ll refrain from commenting on federal government data. I hear and am comforted by the environment/neighborhood in which you work and live. It would be encouraging if we all lived/worked in such communities. My observations and experience over time are different. I have seen and known a lot of self-centered people who have a take care of me and mine first (and sometimes only) mindset. More recently though (over the past few years) I have seen, first-hand, a gradual shift from personal acquisition and materialism to lives of greater compassion, caring, and acts of significance. This warms me and supports the perspective that you have. With optimism, I look forward to a time when we (not just Americans) all give more consciously and freely. Models like you! 🙂

      • I’ve seen the self centered Eric. I don’t deny their existence and quite honestly I have been impacted by that. But, on a scale, I think there are more givers than we even take notice of. I’m glad you have seen a change. And I wouldn’t say I’m a model (but thank you!). I have many role models who live in the grace of giving. It’s amazing. I’m shocked at the capacity, of some, to give. Here’s to the givers!!!! 🙂

  7. Provocative post, and a great post to put it out there. For most people I know, there is nothing better than giving…knowing that you are contributing and making someone else’s life better. Giving time feels good both physically and emotionally…however these days lines are becoming more blurred.

    Giving money now, I admit has been more difficult. Giving to the Red Cross during a crisis period to me is money well spent, as is Save the Children ~ as there is enough transparency. But I have also become extremely upset at charities for wasteful spending as well ~ a good friend of mine quit a charity after discovering incredible waste by upper management (by law/contract she could not make this public). Upset me on both knowing my money went to private travel and vacations, but mostly because such actions when revealed do more harm to those in need (people will stop giving). Poorly run charities are just like poorly run governments ~ wasteful and oppressive.

    Helping when you can see the results is great (community support). Helping when great tragedy occurs around the world is spiritually helpful (national or global support). Finding the right way to give is important…so many different avenues.

    • The provocation was intentional. 🙂 Your views and actions are admirable, Randall. I can also understand the frustration that you and many others have when learning about waste and misuse in the charitable/philanthropic arena. It’s not surprising that people are making use of third-party ratings reports for organizations/causes. To your point, tangible experiences and outcomes can be exponentially meaningful, rivaled I suspect by the fulfillment people derive knowing that their contributions (be it money or otherwise) are truly helping those in great need. And the spiritual significance, for some, can be even more rewarding. Bottom line: I think (and hope) the post stirred some souls. 🙂

  8. Statistics…numbers can be used in a variety of ways to make any point. Perhaps the definition of volunteering is not the definition of giving. I’m pretty sure that giving is the rule rather than the exception. Like so many things in our society, if we cannot measure it, we believe it doesn’t exist. Maybe we need to have more faith and believe that there is far more good among us and that we are all giving something to others every day. It is not always measurable. 🙂

    • Indeed, Carrie, those who study and work in the statistics sphere know how manipulative and misleading they can be. Part of what makes studying arts versus sciences is, in support of your view, the significant differences between qualitative and quantitative measures. I concur with you view that if we consider the vastness of what we contribute/donate/give to others, there is much more than can be or needs to be measured. The question remains: are we all giving and are we doing so freely and abundantly. Personally, I do not believe we have yet neared our potential. 🙂 Appreciate your thoughtful comment.

      • Thank you, Eric. I like your question and agree that we have not reached our potential. As a world society, we have to get beyond the level of disengagement that is pervasive at this time. 😉

  9. “We can feel. We can care. We can educate. We can inspire. We can give. More.”
    Seems perfect to me 🙂
    I’ll enjoy watching the debate unfold Eric!

    • I’m thinking and appreciating that it’s more of a discussion or a virtual conversation than a debate. The WordPress community (at least those people whom I’ve come to know) is too thoughtful and kind to “debate.” 🙂 Thanks, Val, for playing back the “we cans” and acknowledging their possibilities as perfect.

  10. Eric I appreciate your post and the stirring of discussion. We are in the fortunate position to donate time and financial resources regularly. When others ask how should they give my answer is to give in a way that works; be it time, money or both. All is needed.

    • Thanks, Sue. for recognizing the true intention with the post. All I wanted to do was ‘stir the soul a little.” Agreed here that giving “in a way that works” is sound guidance. Whenever, whatever and however we choose to give, will be gratefully received. All we need to do is act (and IMHO) from our hearts, consistently.

  11. Your post calls to mind the scriptures: 1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity; and 1 Peter 4:8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins

    I usually don’t quote scripture to others but these just popped into my head and I wanted to share them. I just feel that we should all be actively engaged in a good cause.

    • Thanks for sharing these, Linda. The are poignant and augment the thread. I think many of us (certainly we who read and comment here) believe that actively engaging in good causes is noble, necessary and humane.

  12. Great questions and an important topic.Thanks Eric. I don’t have the answers, but feel we need to give more. I would love to see our economic and attitudes shift to service. There are a few pioneering businesses who give away their service, trusting money will come. I would love to live in a world where we all shared our time, talents and resources freely instead of our current systems based on power and accumulation, with vast concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

    • What you express, Brad, is aspirational (is that a word?). You also reference our current systems. And therein lies both the conflict and the challenge. So, in addition to sharing what you’d like to see and how we could live, what simple, small steps would you advocate to shift people’s thinking and actions into that direction?

      • How about the awareness of both how precious our planet is and how unsustainable our current economic and lifestyles are. I just read an article showing the impossibility of growth.

        So to answer your question. Here are some possible steps
        1-individuals can consume much less, ask governments and leaders to move away from growth as the accepted model
        2- more sharing of resources ( cars, tools, household stuff, etc.). Borrow from a neighbor rather than buy.
        3- new governance based on sustainability
        4- quit measuring success ( business, economic, government) based on growth. Measure it based on quality of life, where humans are simple one aspect of a whole ecosystem.
        5- we can’t consume our way into a solution, no matter the technologies
        6- Amory Lovins suggested businesses get in the business of offering services rather than products ( so upgrade washers, phones, cars) rather than manufacture and replace. The book is Natural Capitalism.

      • You clearly gave this additional thought. Thanks for adding more deeply to this thread, Brad. Two considerations that your remarks conjured are: 1) perhaps we could encourage a more proportionate shift to measuring qualitative growth and development and; 2) that I like placing increased value and focus on service offerings versus a product-dominated culture. Lots to think about here…

  13. I think Americans are a super-generous bunch. The rest of us simply have government departments that fiddle with statistics to make things look good.

    • We, up here, thank you, down there. Yours is a gracious perspective, Bruce. Depending on one’s political leanings, the U.S. Federal government does quite well at massaging the statistics to make things appear rosy here, too. I don’t know if Americans are a super-generous bunch. Opinions abound.

  14. Hi Eric,
    I agree with you in the sense, it’s wonderful to give to others when it’s coming from a good feeling place, but I do feel a few things need to be considered when doing such things;
    ~ Excessive giving or help can often incapacite the receiver to the point where the have the feeling and belief they’re no longer capable on their own.
    ~ Giving is good as long as we are still looking after ourselves, for we cannot give to another, what we have not given first to ourselves….

    • Thoughtful and worthy perspectives, Paulette. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. Your points align well with and augment my brief post. And clearly, here’s to the concept and practice of self-care! All appreciated.

  15. Coming from an anthropological perspective ‘giving’ alone can cause much mischief. The giving needs to be part of an exchange, through which everyone benefits. E.g. Giving people what you think they need can very dangerous, and in the end destructive, and not at all what the donor intended. Having lived in Africa I have seen what well-meant giving can lead to. It can be wholly disempowering for the recipient and in all senses. This is an interesting dilemma though. Thanks for asking the question.

    • Mischief is an interesting word choice, Tish. I read it as a bit open-ended which may well be what the matter is. I concur with your perspective that giving needs to be part of an exchange. And it is more valuable to give something of true value to the recipient. While some (perhaps, many) may not think fully through the giving exercise, I do not believe people giving from their hearts are thinking of disempowering. They’re just less aware of possible consequences. Indeed, it “is an interesting dilemma.” My intention is raising the subject was to rekindle awareness of the potential value in giving. Thank you for adding to this virtual conversation.

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