Blog author: kwoods
by on Thursday, December 28, 2006

The “10 years after welfare reform” articles of this past summer are old news, of course. Not surprisingly, indications were that, like any public policy, reform hadn’t been the all-time poverty solution, but that policies had, in fact, helped a significant number of people to move themselves to self-sufficiency. A recent Wall Street Journal series highlighted the broad range of issues related to moving out of poverty. A companion piece to the December 28 entry, “Economists Are Putting Theories to Scientific Test” notes that MIT has set up a center called the Abdul Latif Jameeel Poverty Action Lab focused exclusively on using experiments to study poverty.

Revisiting public policy and referenceing research can be insightful, especially as we attempt to make responsible end-of-the-year financial contribution decisions. What did pundits and experts alike argue is effective compassion, and how far on or off the mark are they in comparison to our own giving standards?

There is an abundance of good how-to-give-responsibly material from varied sources. With the Buffet donation and the Clinton philanthropy meeting in Little Rock, even recent international stories, Big Donors are making their legacy marks. Few of us have such resources, however. Does that mean that very limited, perhaps virtually unnoticed giving is any less valuable?

Less self-focus and more other-focus is a good thing, approached differently but consistently across the world’s faith doctrines. A New Testament Gospel parable underscores the relative value of giving…..not relative to world impact but relative to the personal sacrifice required of the giver.

The story of the Widow’s Mite is worth revisiting. Interestingly, Wikipedia reports: “This tale is held by most modern Christians to mean that a gift should to be judged not by its absolute value, but by how it compares relatively; that it is not the impressiveness or purchasing power which matters, but what it means.” There is theological debate about the ‘true meaning’ of the parable. I’ll leave such to the theologians and consider a ‘face value’ interpretation. There is a quality about sacrificial giving that facilitates my being a better person. To give sacrificially rather than from abundance means that I probably considered my own needs (wants, most likely), weighed them against neighbors’ need, and determined to put the others before myself.

It appears that ready sacrifice isn’t so especially American these days. Unlike the American culture that marveled Tocqueville, twenty first century America is ruefully referred to as the “me” culture–me first, me now, more for me, is there any other consideration except me? Brokaw referred to Americans of World War II era as “the greatest generation.” Sacrifice was a way of life–literally of life, of resources, of simple sacrifices such as sugar and gasoline. But just as our growing abundance has empowered Big Donors to make a Big Impact, has personal sacrifice for others been eclipsed? Arthur Brooks certifies that Americans remain the most generous, and more interestingly, those with less give more

But I’m not just musing over personal sacrifice in the amount given. Am I deferring to personal comfort and ease, i.e., online giving, vs. my having to make a more concerted effort to determine both program and financial effectiveness of a charity helping needy neighbors?

I questioned a Generation Y colleague, who of course is technically astute. Was I reflecting my age, working from an assumption that personal connection was of higher value, that deferring to click (Internet) donation was a contender to Subsidiarity? He offered some insights about the ease of accessing global information about need, that my “needy neighbors” now could reasonably include global neighbors vs. only those in my own community. And I’m not pushing facilitators of online giving in to a questionable position. Many of the charities that we know well now have the capacity to accept online donations.

So this is the recommended benchmark: Give sacrificially. Make the personal effort to discern your need from want and then compare to your neighbor’s need……next door or across the globe. If possible, use the Internet to investigate how well your charity of choice invests resources that you give them. Investigate just how much an Internet “giving intermediary” takes for processing. Don’t ever discount the needs of your own community, those perhaps with no Website, not in high profile charity registries, but helpful to your neighbors with food and health needs, challenged teens, people who simply need a friend.

Those personal expenditures are the epitome of personal sacrifice……and worthy of being categorized with the widow who gave her mite.