Article by R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. CFP® EA
“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.” Ben Carson
“When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her.
It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.” Mother Theresa
There is a Biblical topic known as “liberality” under which Bible verses centered around charitable giving are categorized. The primary verse in the Bible from which “liberality” is derived is Proverbs 11:25: “The generous (lit. soul of blessing) man will be prosperous (lit. made fat), And he who waters will himself be watered.”
Liberality according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “liberality” is “the quality of being generous.” As the notes in Proverbs 11:25 point out, however, generosity is not simply an act for which you are guaranteed something in return. Liberality has “liberal” as its root, which refers to freely acting. The emphasis on “liberal” is the voluntariness and willingness with which we act. Our act is voluntary and free from self-serving motives and anything we may receive in return.
The translators of Proverbs 11:25 have noted that “generous” is derived from the literal “soul of blessing.” In other words, generosity comes from within, from the very fabric of our character. It is an expression of who we are.
There are two sides to freely giving. One the one hand, it is free from a begrudging and resentful spirit. On the other hand, it is free from selfish motives. Liberal generosity does not leave a person with a grudge or a feeling of resentment. Liberal generosity is the oppositive of feeling obligated to act or that the gift was an imposition. Liberal generosity also does not give for the sake of receiving in return. The gift is given with no expectation of a return someday.
At least in Christian circles, and perhaps other faiths as well, there is a myth known as the prosperity gospel. It is the mistaken belief that being generous with our wealth results in greater prosperity. A very quick reading of Proverbs 11:25, especially without the notes, could leave one to believe there is truth to the prosperity gospel. After all, it does say that the generous shall be made prosperous.
With a little wisdom and discretion in deciding to whom we give and with a more complete understanding of generosity, myths such as the prosperity gospel are quickly debunked. There is no promise that one who is generous for the sake of becoming prosperous will actually realize any prosperity. In fact, the opposite is quite often true. This is because the giver did not exercise judicious discretion in making the gift and has become poor through unwise acts.
For the most part, anyone who promises prosperity if you give to his or her organization is only abusing principles of generosity and seeking prosperity for him/herself. Their methodology is eerily similar to the pyramid scheme, which has been used by countless people to bilk untold millions out of unsuspecting donors lured by the prospect of greater wealth.
There can be no doubt that charitable giving yields great blessings to the donor, beginning with the knowledge that the gift is making a difference in the life of someone deserving. As you plan out your charitable giving, whether it be lifetime gifts or bequests in your estate plan, I hope you will first consider how your money will be used and what you expect from it.
Please also consider that many charities allocate a significant portion of donations to overhead and administrative expenses with very little money actually going to the cause. Before you give, ask questions about the salaries of executives and how much money is allocated toward expenses. Also take some time to learn and understand their mission and how your money will be used. If the organization is uncooperative or does not fully answer your questions, there is information available publicly. Finally, you should also understand why the organization desires to have a bequest in your estate plan. There may be more advantageous alternatives than an outright bequest that should be explored before making a commitment.