How to Get Started in Your Giving

This is the final post in an 8 part series.  For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage at ... Short Series: On Giving.

Going from zero to something is often the hardest part of an endeavor. 

This is true all over life.  Going from zero hours per week in the gym to some hours per week in the gym.  Going from zero bike riding ability to some bike riding ability.  Going from zero regular writing to some regular writing.  Resistance. 

The same is true with giving.

If you want to get started in your giving - whether you've just gotten your first job, just received agreement in your marriage to begin giving, or just decided that you want to start supporting some ministry - here are some moves to help you dive in.

1) Know where your money is going

This move reflects our role in relation to our money.  All money belongs to God.  We are just stewards.  (For more on this idea, check out the first point in my post on Ignoring the Tithe).

No matter what you're doing in the realm of money - budgeting, planning, giving - knowing where your money is going is a great first step.  Ignore this step and you run the risk of undermining everything else you try.  The most generous person in the world can't give much if they're broke.  And not paying attention to where your money is going puts you on the pathway toward being broke.

2) Start small ... and build.

Figure out how much you want to start giving, but please, start small.  Start small and build.  Give yourself time to ease in to giving.  I've seen too many people jump right in at 10%, struggle to pay their bills, then stop giving.  If you aren't used to giving, it will take time to adjust to it. 

Remember, your giving should bring you joy.  It's not a burden or a duty.  God doesn't hold back his love or favor to you until you're giving your money generously.  He himself is our peace, our righteousness.  So, we can start small and build.  $10, $20, $50 ... drip, drip, drip ... small and sustainable, not binges.  We want to become generous people.  Let's pursue giving like discipline.

3) Choose to give to something exciting

This is a fun step.  Pick where you want to give.  Give to something that gets you excited, that makes you happy, that lines up with your values, that fits your relationships.  Give to something you want to give to (ie. not something you feel that you should give to).

Don't be surprised if you're already invested in whatever it is.  Our money isn't the only thing we have to give.  When I first started giving, I gave to the ministry at Duke, where I had been involved as a leader for the past several years.  I had already given hundreds of hours.  It made sense to give a few dollars.

4) Find out what type of giving best for them

What does the organization need?  What is the best way to give to the organization?  Remember, you want to be a blessing.  Often, there are simple ways to be helpful in your giving that you may not realize.

Here's a simple example of this: if you give to InterVarsity, you can save us time and money if you give through electronic funds transfer.  If you give a credit card gift (which takes about the same amount of time), the card company takes a fee.  If you mail a check, someone needs to process it.  InterVarsity runs a national budget of $60 million every year and had thousands of people giving (that's a lot of checks to keep track of ... and think about what a 3% fee means).

5) Give regularly first

I didn't do this, but I wish I had.  When I got my first job, I quickly gave a gift to the Duke chapter, a soundsystem.  It helped the ministry, but didn't get me into a pattern of giving.  It was a year before I gave another gift and another year before I was giving regularly to anyone.

Big gifts are fun to give.  Responding to needs is satisfying.  But if you want to become a giver, someone who lives a lifestyle that supports giving, start by giving regularly.  Give something out of every paycheck.

And most ministries really appreciate regular giving.  The Byczeks have given a gift toward our work every month for the past seven years.  I know I can count on them.  Our regular donors really help us plan our finances as a ministry.

6) Set and communicate a date to end / re-evaluate your gift

Don't lock yourself in for life!  This is an easy mistake to make.  Giving decisions flow out of a complex network of relationships, needs, opportunities and capacity.  Clarity in communication helps everyone.

As someone who fundraises and works at a non-profit, I understand that my donors may not give to my work forever.  Some are passionate about our work with college students because they are sending their own kids off to school.  Others, because they go to church with me.  If my life or their life changes, of course giving would change.  That's okay!

It makes me so sad when people stop giving AND start avoiding me.  I value relationships more than donations.  When I give to people, I try really hard to communicate when I'll be re-evaluating my giving and why.  So far, this has preserved all of my relationships with people and ministries to which I've stopped giving.

7) Start giving

Did you think I would forget this step?

8) Adjust to your giving

The last move to make involves adjusting to your giving.  In our age of credit cards and home-equity loans, of electronic fund transfers and Pay-Pal, giving can be disconnected from your financial reality.  If you start giving, but don't adjust your lifestyle accordingly, you can dig yourself deeply into debt.

Giving is fun ... and addictive.  People are grateful.  Lives are changed, even saved.  It's so tempting to give more than you can afford.  People have even created whole theologies to justify this (have faith to give more than you can afford and God will make up the difference).  But this can be devastating.

Debt turns us into slaves, darkens our hearts with fear, blinds us to God's goodness and generosity.  If all that my students have to show from their management of their finances in their first five years out of college is that they are free from debt, I would be so happy.  Debt-freedom is so rare, so precious.

Don't go into debt in order to give.  Know where your money is going.  Pay attention to it.  And live within your means.  It's okay if your decision to give clips Starbucks from your budget.  It's okay to take a smaller vacation, to drive a cheaper car, to live in a smaller home.  Adjust to your giving or your giving will adjust to you.

For those of you who are experienced givers, what other moves should we be thinking about?  Anything else we need to know to get started?

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