What things can I donate, and how much should I donate? What’s the balance of giving of ourselves? A common thought around this is in regards to donating our money and possessions. Does it necessarily mean to give all our possessions away right this moment? While some are called to a vow of poverty or to take a less lucrative path in life, that may not always be the calling. In this post I’ll share some thoughts that hopefully shed new lights for you regarding ways to donate and guidance around how much.
If you feel a call to be more generous (you’re reading this so I’m guessing you are, awesome!), it doesn’t have to be black or white; the choices you have aren’t simply (A) change nothing or (B) give away everything. There’s a lot of good to be had in the middle of those two extremes.
Practical Donation Ideas
Here are some suggestions if you want to start being more generous with what you have.
Donate Neglected Items
A nice seasonal thing you can do is to audit your belongings and donate what you haven’t used in several months. If you open an old box and say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about this,” It’s probably a great candidate for donation. It could be that piece of clothing that you always say you’ll wear but almost never do, or maybe that gift you got that you feel bad giving away because it was a gift.
When you struggle to part with these items, ask yourself this: “Could somebody use this more frequently than I do?” For example, I had a keyboard-case attachment for my iPad that I hadn’t touched in over a year, and while I really liked it and used it for backpacking trips sometimes, it wasn’t essential. I’m sure someone else would love to have it and use it everyday, so I thought of it as a gift I could give to somebody else. By bringing it to Goodwill, it would be sold at a fraction of the retail price to someone who would really give it new life.
For items that are of a more personal nature, it doesn’t make sense to donate those (unless you have family members that want them). If you have physical photos or keepsakes from yesteryear, you can scan/take pictures of them. I downloaded the Adobe Scan app and spent a long weekend scanning my yearbooks and childhood photos while listening to some podcasts. It was a long haul, but the freedom of not having a shelf full of books and photos is so liberating.
You can give of yourself through time in community service. It could also just be giving someone the time to listen to them, and I mean really listening to them. Not half-listening while daydreaming or checking your phone. You can also spend more time praying for others.
If you manage a budget (I use Mint.com and highly recommend it, it’s free), I encourage you to set up a budget line for donations. I have one for recurring donations which are automatically paid to non-profit organizations through their websites, and a separate budget line I just call “Kindness” for ad-hoc, unexpected needs. It could be for buying lunch for a friend, paying for coffee for the car behind me in the drive-thru, a disaster-relief fund, or donating extra to one of the non-profits I support through recurring donations. Mint has a nice “rollover” feature so if you didn’t donate enough last month, the extra rolls into next month.
By having a dedicated space carved out in my budget for being charitable, it gets me out of the mindset of worrying about it. I find myself much more willing to donate when I am asked. By making donations a first-class citizen with everything else in my budget, I eagerly await the moments to use funds from the budget line. If you are one who can donate without a budget, props to you, but I personally need numbers and order to hold myself accountable.
How much to donate? Some religious customs aim to tithe, which is 10% of your pay. That’s an admirable goal to shoot for, and to even surpass if your means allow. Wherever you are or want to go, you can start small and work up as you are able. I bump up the percentage a little more every Lent and whenever I get a pay bump. No matter how seemingly small your donation may be, Jesus smiles upon those who make a concerted effort to donate whatever they can.
And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”—Mark 12:41-44
In Lent 2018, I donated blood for the first time, something that was always scared me after a couple traumatic events as a child. I continue to do so and while I don’t exactly like the physical feeling of it, I think of how it’s helping save lives. As advanced as science is, it still can’t quite figure out how to engineer blood. Donating is very safe and our bodies replenish the blood over time.
Wither American Red Cross, you can do a “Power Red” donation which is twice as helpful and you essentially get back all of the volume you donated (they take your red blood cells and give you back saline solution). It takes awhile longer but is nice if you don’t want to make trips as often. I feel practically the same afterwards. Christ himself didn’t withhold his blood in the Passion, and he continues to invite us to consume his blood in the Eucharist, so donating blood is following the example of Christ.
Money Itself is Not the Enemy
Keep in mind that wealth and possessions itself aren’t the enemy, they are just tools. If you have been blessed with money, Christian life calls you to be generous with that to at least some degree. We always need to place it below our service to God. When we start to place things above God, that is idolatry.
How generous? It depends. I think people quickly assume everything because of the rich young man in the Gospel of Matthew. However, there are a couple other wealthy people in the Bible who didn’t give everything away, but rather gave some of it away. Let’s look at three examples of wealthy men in the Gospels and their responses to Christ.
Joseph of Arimathea
Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who believed in Christ, and provided not only the Shroud of Turin for the Lord, but also a tomb that was hewn out of the rock (Mark 15:43-46 RSVCE). Rock-hewn tombs “resembled small caves, with bench-like shelves cut into the walls, and could be used to bury entire families.”1 This is a generous step up from less expensive tombs of the time, that weren’t cut directly into the rock.
Joseph of Arimathea was a respected member of the Sanhedrin who risked his reputation to give Christ a proper burial and gave generously from his wealth. It’s even possible he was initially reserving the tomb for a member(s) of his own family.
Zacchaeus the Chief Tax Collector
Zacchaeus was a rich, chief tax collector in Jericho. After encountering Christ, he didn’t feel a call to abandon his job and all of his wealth, but rather only some of it:
Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”—Luke 19:8-10 (RSVCE)
Zacchaeus didn’t say he’d give all his stuff away. Half of his goods and 4x repayment was sufficient to receive God’s salvation. He could continue to collect taxes but to set an example that you can do so and be honest at the same time.
For example, for me as a musician, how am I to make music to build the kingdom without any instruments or music equipment? Still, it doesn’t mean I should do nothing, so I have felt compelled to do things like donate instruments and equipment I no longer use.
The Rich Young Man
In Matthew 19, as Christ leaves Galilee and begins to head towards Jerusalem, a young devout Jewish man approaches Jesus asking how to be holier. He is already well accustomed to the commandments and is following them. The next step toward holiness was blindingly hard for him, however:
The young man said to him, “All these [commandments] I have observed; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”—Matthew 19:20-24 (RSVCE)
So this man’s call was a tall order: “sell what you possess.” Who knows what God had planned for him, but I’m sure it would have been epic and beautiful. This also doesn’t mean the man didn’t eventually go to heaven, but his experience there is possibly different than what it could have been.
There is certainly a caution that it’s hard to be holy and rich, but it’s not in and of itself a sinful path, it’s just a hard path. The more we have been given, the more is expected of us. So a rich person needs to keep God very close in their decision-making through prayer, and to ask for help to be gracious and generous with the earthly riches he has enabled them to receive. The very act of donating makes us less rich from an earthly perspective, but it directly makes us richer in heaven. We’re trading in the visible for the invisible, which can be very hard to do.
Both the young man and Zaccheus were invited by God himself to take their next step to holiness. One listened and one did not. Each of us can hear the voice of God if we are open to it and if we listen closely enough. It’s that gentle, encouraging voice we hear deep within us that compels us to do that thing that we ought to do but might be afraid to. It might be mending a relationship, eating healthier, getting more sleep, carving out room in our budget for donating, giving blood, or praying more. Whatever it is, it’s for you to determine with God in prayer.
 Hahn, Scott. The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament. Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition. Location 9574