Joyful Givers


Philanthropists we spoke to described financial giving as a core element of practising their faith, and sought a level of contentment well within their financial means in order to be able to give.

When you hear the same thing over and over from people who don’t know each other, you know it’s something you need to heed.

We spoke to 90 Christian philanthropists and one line kept coming up time and time again, almost word for word:

‘It’s not mine though, is it? It’s all his.’

Almost universally, when the people we spoke to professed Christian faith (and this was the overwhelming majority of our sample, given Tearfund’s Christian distinctive), they all said the same thing.

When telling us about their approach to giving, and the way they make decisions and set financial priorities, by far the most common refrain was an understanding that everything comes from and belongs to God, that we are entrusted with resources to steward on God’s behalf, and that generosity was a way to give back to God.

It’s a core part of many Christians’ faith. While people express it in different ways, both in language and in practice, the commonly held view is that God is the creator and provider of all things and that, while the human condition is such that we do not all benefit equally or fairly from the world’s resources, those of us who have had the opportunity to develop our skills and work hard should express our gratitude to him by sharing the proceeds. ‘Giving back’ is seen not only as returning a debt to the society from whose infrastructure the giver has benefited, but to God himself as the one who guided their steps throughout their journey towards wealth.

And the ‘it’s not mine’ line came up consistently when people expressed the view that their assets were only entrusted to them temporarily, for the duration of their mortal life, and really belonged to God. Their approach to giving was therefore one of stewardship rather than donation.

They were ready to acknowledge that this wasn’t always an easy path to follow:

As a Christian, money controls me a little bit too much. Maybe I should apologise for that but it’s got too much part in my life. I’m trying to give more of my life to the kingdom rather than just to making money. I want to do more things like helping Tearfund or whatever it is, and it’s been a decision from giving a few pounds towards a project to actually coming to a stage where, I find this hard to say, but I surrender all. I have to poke myself when I say that a little bit but I’m on that journey.

Company director, Northern Ireland

And this approach is often seen as being one which applies to people of all incomes, not solely a discipline to be exercised after wealth has been accumulated. The Biblical account of the widow who brings two coins to the temple (Mark 12, Luke 21) has Jesus commending her for putting in ‘more than all’ because she gives all she has. For many Christians, the rhythm of generosity is universal to all levels of income and prosperity, and not something that applies only to those with wealth.

One of the philanthropists we met did not profess Christian faith and identified this as a point of difference between themselves and their Christian friends:

Some of my friends who are Christians have been giving money all their lives. They give a proportion, like a tenth. I’ve never done that. I’d like to get into that kind of habit.

Company director who has recently sold a business, London

When seen from a perspective of having been entrusted with resources with which to benefit others rather than trying to keep everything for oneself, generosity became much more about expressing gratitude:

It seems to me if you’re giving as a Christian, you’re giving because you joyfully want to respond to what God has done for you. That’s the reason for your giving, and the way you allocate that giving should be thoughtful and prayerful but actually you’re giving because you’re grateful.

Lawyer, London

Every now and then, now we’ve decided to pause and be thankful that we’re in a position to be able to support these organisations. At the minute, we’re trying not to concentrate too hard on figures and what we could do with that otherwise, more take the time to be grateful that we’re in a position to support Tearfund and a couple of other organisations in fairly significant ways. It’s a privilege to be able to do it.

Accountant, London

God’s been very good to me too, I’ve been very generously remunerated over the years, more than I could have expected, so I have extra reason to be generous. Giving is really very positive. It’s true that you benefit more by giving than receiving, as the Bible says.

Academic, Scotland

The Bible has a beautiful way of living life financially. When you’re blessed, you use it to bless other people. Whatever you’ve been given, don’t hold on to it too tightly. God’s design is perfect.

PR consultant, London

This gratitude translated itself into contentment, and many people had chosen to settle for a standard of living well within their financial means in order to be able to give more.

I think our approach is quite unusual. We don’t really buy things and still have furniture and carpets from a long time ago. It’s been a positive decision from the beginning. We decided we weren’t going to do some of the things that others did - expensive holidays, fancy cars. We’ve still got the same table we started out with, which was my mother-in-law’s kitchen table. We don’t spend an awful lot of frivolities, but we’ve always felt we were rich. I’ve got money in my purse where a lot of my friends don’t. Some of them have five pounds to last three days, but I wouldn’t notice if I dropped a fiver. We don’t go short.

Retired teacher, Scotland

I have a good salary. I have more than I need. I’d love to give more; I’m nowhere near the widow’s mite.

Public sector worker, Scotland

We don’t need all the money we earn, and we want to give as much as possible away. We have food in the fridge, the freezer is full. We were fortunate to buy this house when it was affordable and it’s big enough to bring our children up in, we have a car each and have just taken the children skiing for the first time. We really don’t lack anything. It’s not our money, is it? It all belongs to God.

Corporate lawyer, south-east England

You only need a certain amount of money to live well. I suppose we’re well off. We live in a nice house in the country. We could have a bigger house but we like the one we have. We have cars and I suppose we could have better cars but I just wouldn’t feel comfortable with that.

Academic, Scotland

This concept of sufficiency is hugely important when it comes to Christian philanthropy, because it very much guides both the ways in which people give and the nature of reporting they expect to receive.

We spoke to people about their giving to organisations and charities other than their local church, because there is a widespread Christian understanding that some of one’s financial giving should be directed towards the church where one worships and belongs. We didn’t explore this in depth, partly because it is so much taken for granted among many Christians. Interestingly, it only really came up as something people wanted to discuss when they had experienced problems in their church which had made them question their giving or when they were trying to explain that they had stopped giving to their church for a period of time. Avoiding giving to their church was seen by Christian philanthropists as a sign of a problem; prioritising some (or much) of their giving towards the church is seen as a given.

And then, many Christian philanthropists we spoke to expect to give primarily towards Christian organisations.

The Bible helps in a number of different ways but it’s not prescriptive in exactly how much to give or who to give to. Having said that, there is obviously on Christians an obligation to give sacrificially and in addition to that probably to give to Christian organisations, at least to some extent.

Fund manager, London

It’s absolutely vital that it would be Christian [organisation that I would give to]. Firstly, because I see it as Christian giving so it has to be a Christian organisation, but secondly, I happen to think that Christians do it better. I certainly think that working through the local church is a model that works and… I think there’s less risk of fraud than if you’re putting the money elsewhere.

Accountant, London

We’ve tended to direct towards organisations with a specifically Christian ethos.

Lawyer, London

It’s important to me that it’s a Christian organisation. Lots of other people will support the secular ones, so I want to support the Christian ones and make sure they can continue.

Public sector worker, Scotland

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