Saturday, March 3, 2007

Giving - The White Elephant of Finance

I always love to bring this topic up in RL.

It doesn't matter if I'm at a cocktail party or at a Bible study. The reactions are always passionate, often defensive & downright fascinating.

How much should we give? By "we", I'm referring to lower-middle to upper-middle class individuals with (perhaps) a smattering of the lowest tier of the upper class. No Bill Gates' and only a few financially struggling households.

For those who have a household income that puts them in the top 25% of the most prosperous country in the world (more on this in another post), what level do you consider right?

I don't have the links at this time (regretably), but surveys I've run across on several occasions consistently show that Americans give about 2% of their income to charity every year. For the median salary of about $46,000, this translates to $920.

Interestingly, the percentage of income given declines as income increases. Nominal dollars, of course, rise, but folks making < $25,000 per year give almost twice as much proportionately as those who make > $125,000.

The burning question: Why? And why don't all of us, from richest to poorest, give more?

The simplest answer is... well, duh. It's the disposable income, stupid. And that's true as far as it goes. But what's really interesting is this: I've received more joy from the money I've given than just about anything I've bought for myself. Let me correct that: more joy than anything I've bought for myself, period.

It hasn't always been a big item (a stuffed animal for a child without gifts for Christmas) but sometimes, it has (a house for a homeless family in Haiti). The unabated joy of giving was note by no less a theologian than The Reverend Stephen King, who had time to ponder such philosophy after almost being killed in a hit-skip accident. Putting aside his political slant, he hits the centrality of giving dead center: nothing is more important, and nothing else will outlive us.

The irony is that giving never seems to put people in the poorhouse. I've never met a huge overwhelming giver that was dirt poor.

Scratch that. This lady was poor... but then again, she's now richer than any of us will ever be.

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