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Giving That Liberates the Soul

“I sent a donation to Standing Rock today,” my spouse told me.

“I did, too. How did you decide which one to support?”

Thus began a conversation about the criteria we each had used to choose which crowdfunding appeal to support and how much money to give.

in purple light, an open hand filled with U.S. coins

It was one example of the giving decisions we all make regularly. We receive U.S. mail and email appeals, requests via radio and television, requests from friends who are fundraising for an organization, social media links to crowdfunding sites, and the membership canvass for our local congregation. How do we navigate this giving environment? What is faithful giving, for each of us?

When our children were still at home, we would talk directly with them about money and giving. We made a decision as a family to donate 5% of our income and to work steadily toward a tithe (10%). In the 20 years since we began that spiritual practice, we have sometimes achieved our goal and other years fallen short, but it is still very much a part of our intention and action each year.

When we began our practice, decisions about where to give were comparatively simpler. There were no social media appeals nor crowdfunding sites. No one had identified “sustaining donations” as a good practice (although, in truth, isn’t that what congregational pledges have always been?). But, the decisions we made then about how to allocate our giving were based on values which have stood the test of time, with some tweaks and editions. Here are our giving values and priorities; I’d love to hear about yours:

  1. We believe in sustaining, regular month over month donations to organizations to which we also give significant volunteer time, and which nurture us and carry our values into the world. To give money regularly is to support the institution and its leaders (and yes, to help pay the electric bill!). In practice, that means our congregation, the conference center which is a second spiritual home for us, and the UUA, which does work that individual congregations cannot do alone.
  2. We believe in sustaining donations to organizations that respond to crises locally, in our nation, and in the world as they arise, and are able to do it effectively because they nurture partnerships with local leaders. While many will open our hearts and wallets when a terrible crisis occurs, we make sustaining donations to help those organizations respond to situations that don’t get broad media attention.
  3. We make donations to affirm and support the work of people and organizations that are making a difference and working with an eye on justice-making over the long haul. Of late, we are paying special attention to who is leading such efforts, striving to support the leadership of people of color and others directly affected by injustice.

In the Tapestry of Faith program, Wi$dom Path: Money, Spirit, and Life, Workshop 10, Faithful Giving begins with this quote from Maya Angelou: “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” How does giving liberate your soul? What values help you decide to whom and how much to give? Do you have a regular conversation with those you love about how giving carries your values into the world?

Perhaps the turning of this year is a good time to start, evaluate, or continue your practices of faithful giving. Happy New Year and many blessings in the year to come!

Next Steps!

Explore the reflection questions and activities in the Faithful Giving workshop. Organize an accountability group or a small group to explore the questions together, or set aside family time to talk with one another about giving and values.

Read and do the exercises in Mark Ewert’s book, The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving (Skinner House, 2013).

Find crowdfunding projects that support Unitarian Universalist organizations, groups, and values at Faithify.org.

Read “Waiting for unicorns: The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion” to learn more about supporting leaders of color. 

About the Author

  • Gail Forsyth-Vail is a Credentialed Religious Educator, Master Level, who served congregations for twenty-two years before joining the UUA staff in 2008. She is the author of a number of faith development curricula and resources. She was the 2007 recipient of the Angus MacLean...

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