"God Loveth a Cheerful Giver" 4 Tips for Giving to Charities

"Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul is writing to the people living in Corinth asking that they help those in Jerusalem suffering from the effects of the famine in Judea. He points out the people in Macedonia, although struggling themselves, are giving what little they have to help their brothers and sisters in the gospel. 

I got my master's degree in public administration and emphasized in nonprofit finance.  I taught a fundraising course at BYU.  I've been consulting for nonprofits for over 12 years training them on how to reach their fundraising goals.  I have put on my own fundraising events and have helped others do the same.  So yeah, I have something I'd like to say about this.  

In the United States, charitable giving is complicated and confusing.  We live in an age when we instantly hear of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Within seconds we are given ways to donate to help out victims on the other side of the world.  

If Paul had written this epistle today, it might have been something like 

Because it is so easy to donate thanks to modern technological advances, it's also really easy to get scammed.  


It can be hard to follow Paul's admonition not to give grudgingly but to be cheerful.  It's easy to become a skeptical giver wondering if our money is really going to a good cause.  

I'd like to share some tips and suggestions for charitable giving so that we can do it with a happy heart.  


When I took a nonprofit finance class, I was taught the concept of warm glow.  This is an economic theory that basically says when we donate our money we are purchasing "warm glow." 


We all know that old adage, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime."  

But this is the one I teach to nonprofits.  "We can give a man a fish, teach them to fish, or change the rules so that everyone is allowed to fish." In other words, we can offer aid, education, or advocacy.  

AID = handing out fish
EDUCATION = teaching how to fish, providing poles and bait 
ADVOCACY = making sure they are allowed to stand at the water's edge and fish like everyone else 

Over the years I've come to learn that some people get warm glow from aid, others education, and others advocacy.  I call it our Giving Personality.  

My Giving Personality falls in between aid and education, but closer to the education side.  That's where I get the most warm glow for my donation dollar.  I love to teach the helpers.  

What do you think your Giving Personality is?  Would you rather write a check for the American Red Cross (aid) or the Children's Defense Fund (advocacy)?  There is no wrong answer.  The world needs all of it.  

Unfortunately, I see some organizations trying to guilt donors into caring about their cause as much as they do.  Some just aren't going to get the same warm glow.  It's really about trying to find those whose Giving Personality is a match.  Don't be afraid to say no to an organization, not because they aren't a worthy cause, but simply because you would just rather see your donation dollars go somewhere else.  We can't donate to everybody! 


In order for an organization to be considered a charity, meaning your donation is tax deductible, you can't donate to a named individual.  Your money has to go into a "cloud" or a pool that benefits all the recipients.  

Let's say a cute high schooler rings your doorbell.  They are selling chocolate bars to raise money for their band trip.  


If you write out your check to the student directly, that's not tax deductible.  Your check has to go to a 501(c)3 organization that then will distribute the money to all the band members.  They might have a condition that the more candy bars a person sells, the more money they get towards their trip, and that's okay.  

Let's say that you are checking out at the grocery store and you see a large container with coins.  Someone is taking up a collection for a local resident who is battling cancer.  

I have a personal policy that I do not donate to open containers.  I have no way of knowing if the money is actually being collected appropriately or being spent where it says it will be.  The grocery clerk could easily reach in and grab a few coins when no one is looking.  Or the person collecting the containers could just take them home instead of delivering them to the family.  Or the family could decided to go to Disneyland with the collections.  There is no way to find out where the money actually goes.  

GoFundMe and other similar collection sites are similar but with the intent to eliminate some of those unknowns.  But it still cannot be considered a public charity nor tax deductible.  I'm not saying don't donate to these to accounts, just don't try to deduct it from your taxes.  Also be sure that you have a personal connection to the one asking or the one in need.  If you aren't sure, try a reverse Google image search to see if the picture shows up in other places.  

Here's an article about how to tell a fake GoFundMe page from a real one. Click here. 

Some get their warm glow giving to a cloud, others to a named individual.  And that's okay.  Just be sure you know the difference and be careful not to get tricked.  


When I was in grad school, we had a guest lecturer come in who ran the Utah County chapter of the United Way.  He told us not to give in a way that says, "I think you are poor."  Many call it giving a hand "out" instead of a hand "up."  

This can be a controversial topic in our political climate when we look at generational welfare.  I have lots of opinions about it and I'm sure you do too.   The more I study about the cause and effects, the more I realize it's way more complicated than I thought.  As much as politicians like to claim they have the simple solution to make it all go away, we really can't know how to fix it until we are willing to dive deep into the problem and its ramifications.  

We see lots of nonprofits pop up who think they have figured out the problem and the solution.  Take Toms Shoes for example.  

In 2006 Andreas Widmer awarded Toms Shoes a prize for their innovative enterprise solution to poverty.  


A couple years later, he had second thoughts.  Their one-for-one business model turned out to be a winner as a marketing strategy.  To fight poverty?  Not so much.  

Widmer says that the model creates dependency, saps local initiative, kills demand for local businesses, and makes buyers in developed countries complacent about taking other actions to address social needs.  

To learn more about the unintended consequences of the one-for-one business model, click here. 

Sometimes people truly need a handout.  A family whose home was destroyed in a fire, for example.  But usually what people need is a hand up: a path to help them help themselves.  

My Giving Personality leans towards giving a hand up, not a handout.  When I'm asked for donation dollars, I usually ask myself something like, "How will this person be different tomorrow because of what I give him or her today?"  My warm glow comes from knowing that I'm making a sustainable difference.  

Some get their warm glow from giving an individual a handout.  And that's okay.  But make sure you are not creating unintended consequences that can actually harm the individual or keep them in a cycle of poverty.  


What is the one airline safety rule that we can recite from memory?  "In case of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you."  


It's easy to get so caught up in the warm glow that we give away more than we can afford.  I don't mean we shouldn't sacrifice or go without in order to give.  Absolutely we should.  I have made it my goal in life to follow C.S. Lewis' advice.  

I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. 

I agree.  If our comforts and luxuries remain the same after we have given to others, than we probably are giving away too little.  I personally have gone without some necessities in order to give. We will be blessed if we do so.  

What I'm talking about here is making sure that we are aware of what we can give.  We need to have our own supply of oxygen.  

A great example to follow is that of the Good Samaritan.  In the parable, he did what he could do for the man lying on the side of the road.  Eventually he took him to a place that could care for him better than he could himself.  

And so should we.  We need to know our resources and our limits.  It's easy to become consumed with another person's troubles to the point that our own family's needs are neglected.  It's happened to me and I've seen it happen to many others, especially in the nonprofit world.  

We can always make more money.  Physical and mental health and relationships are harder to restore.  I think the best tip I can give here is to learn to be in tune with yourself, your surroundings, and the promptings of the Spirit.  I have learned through the years that the Spirit will never tell us to run faster than we can.  He knows our limits, sometimes better than we do ourselves.  Sometimes the Spirit will tell us to do more, and sometimes he will tell us to do less.  My advice? Trust the Spirit to manage your resources.  

Just like the people in Macedonia, we too should be moved by the plight of others.  Hopefully Paul's pleas to the Corinthians is heard by us as well.  We should always be looking for ways that we can help others, even when we are struggling ourselves.  But we need to be giving cheerfully, not grudgingly.   Hopefully these tips will help you to become more aware of how you can give with a cheerful heart.  

This article is to coincide with the Come Follow Me 2019 lesson for September 16-22. 

Not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.