Don’t try to guilt me into giving

January 8, 2010

I’ve often thought I’d like working for a non-profit organization whose work I could enthusiastically endorse. I’d want to do back-office work, however (e.g. computer systems, writing newsletters, accounting). One job I would never want is fundraising.

I don’t like selling at all. I tried selling Tupperware, but couldn’t bring myself to twist arms to get friends to book parties. When I worked as a bank teller, I got more or less comfortable having to interact with the public all day (it helped that it was a small town and I got to recognize regular customers), but I hated having to do sales pitches (for loans, credit cards, etc.) I am unlikely to ever try to become self-employed, because it would require selling my services to people.

I don’t know if I don’t like selling because I don’t like people trying to sell something to me, but I know I do prefer to be simply given enough information to just make up my own mind. I admit I sometimes take a long time to make it up, but pressuring me to decide just makes me less inclined to do so. And one kind of decision I particularly dislike anyone trying to pressure me into is to donate to charity.

I’m sure it’s in part because I’m a saver, not a spender. I want to hold onto my money, and it’s not easy to just pull some out of my pocket and give it away. I need to be convinced that I’m giving a reasonable amount (considering my budget) to the right organization, and making that decision is something I want to do in private, at my leisure. Try to get me to fork over the money right now – or even a commitment to give it later – and you’ll go on my list of organizations not to donate to.

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Merry Christmas from anonymous

December 24, 2009

Yesterday I received a Christmas card with no return address and no signature. There is no personal greeting on the card – other than the pre-printed holiday greeting there is no writing on it. There is nothing on the envelope to indicate where it came from, except that it was postmarked in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My name and address are computer-generated on an address label, no doubt from some large database.

What database, though, I have no idea. I sometimes get Christmas cards from organizations I have donated to, but they always identify themselves, usually both on the envelope and the card itself – trying to appear personal even if it is all done by a computer. I have heard of anonymous Christmas gifts, but this was just a card.

The card itself was made by Heifer International, as I can tell from the back of the card. I was at one point a community representative for Heifer, so I wondered if maybe it came from them. But they’re headquartered in Arkansas, not Wisconsin.

The only time I can think of  that I’ve ever been to Wisconsin was when I was flying from Moline, IL to Traverse City, MI, and I changed planes at the Milwaukee airport – which is a very nice airport, but it could have been anywhere else and I wouldn’t have known the difference. My husband thinks we know – or have at least met – someone from Wisconsin, but he can’t remember who, and I can’t imagine that whoever it is would send an unsigned card with a computer-generated address label.

If I chose to, I could reuse the card, since it is essentially in brand-new condition. But there is something about receiving a completely anonymous Christmas card that seems to have some message hidden in it, even if I’m not sure quite what it is. After all, for everyone except his family and some shepherds, Jesus came into the world pretty anonymously some two thousand years ago.

With most cards I receive, I barely take a look at the card itself, as I’m more interested in the personal greeting inside. This one I examined more closely, because there’s nothing else to look at. It shows a profile of a person, against a starry sky, with one bright star shining down near the horizon. At first glance I assumed it was a shepherd with some sheep, or possibly a wise man with a camel.

But on closer inspection, I see that the animals are varied, including a goat, a cow, a goose (or is it a duck?), a hen, and I think a sheep and a pig – all animals that Heifer gives, through the donations of people like you and me. And the stars in the upper right form a most interesting constellation – I’m pretty sure it’s the shape of a heifer. Perhaps the card is after all from Heifer, a reminder of the gift given to all of us at the first Christmas, and how we can pass along the gift of love we have received. Though I can’t imagine why the envelope wouldn’t identify the organization.

Gifts given through Heifer are essentially anonymous to the people who receive them. Even if some poor villager somewhere knew that the ewe he was caring for had been given in part by someone somewhere named Pauline, my name wouldn’t mean a thing to him. And that is the best way to give gifts, according to Jesus, with no expectation of being repaid.

So thank you, whoever you are in Wisconsin, for making me stop and think a bit more about gifts and giving. And a Merry Christmas to you!

Generous old Saint Nicholas

December 6, 2008

I have no idea whether he was jolly, the Bishop of Myra who became known as Saint Nicholas, whose feast day is celebrated today (on the anniversary of his death, in the mid-fourth century). But according to the legends, he certainly was generous, and in my experience generous people tend to also be cheerful people.

It’s certainly possible to give grudgingly. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to give cheerfully and generously, not grudgingly. I struggle with these verses sometimes as I write out a check on Sunday morning to put in the offering. I give because I want to be involved in what God is doing through our church, and because it is the right thing to do, to give back to God a portion of what He has entrusted to me. But I think of bills and debt and I don’t feel exactly cheerful as I write the check. Since I don’t think giving more or giving less would make me more cheerful, I don’t let that have much impact on what I give, though. And I’m not sure what would make me feel more cheerful as I give.

There are people who tend to be mostly takers, and others who tend to be mostly givers. As a young Christian I realized that I tended to be more a taker – not that I set out to take things, but that I was much more on the lookout for opportunities to receive than to give. I didn’t see myself as someone who had much to offer other people, except monetarily, and I had little enough of that. I tithed scrupulously because that was what I was supposed to do, but I struggled with any requests to give above and beyond that amount.

Over the years I tried to train myself to look for opportunities to give. And I found ways to give other than money – my time and my abilities. I watched other people who were giving kinds of people – what they gave, what they said (or didn’t say) – and how they received gifts from others. I’ve always heard it’s important to be a gracious recipient as well as a gracious giver – and I have to admit I am happy to receive and feel no obligation to say “No, really, I don’t need it/can’t let you give that to me.”

It seems to me that being generous goes along with not worrying about not having enough for oneself – from trusting God to provide and being content with what one has. And someone like this is generally going to be cheerful. Maybe not jolly – I’m not sure how many people I’ve known whom that adjective would fit. But certainly a lightness of soul and a sunny outlook on life are themselves a gift to other people. (A recent study shows that happiness is contagious – hardly surprising news, but it’s nice to see that research bears this out.)

So while I will probably never be jolly like the Saint Nicholas in the song, I hope to develop more generosity and more cheerfulness in my life, to have more to give to others.