Following is Part 2 of a special Giving 2.0 blog series on Expressing the Divine, highlighting the intersection of religion and giving. My hope is that the ideas, resources, knowledge, and tools presented on my website (www.laaf.org) will inspire, educate, and empower your philanthropic journey. This blog series aims to provide actionable ways to connect your giving and your spirituality.
“Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us.”
– Sir Thomas Browne
The fact that 35 percent of all American giving went to religious organizations in 2010 reflects how closely bound many of us are with our place of worship. The power of this personal interaction cannot be underestimated. Sharing values of any kind brings people closer, and when those values are religious, they not only express fundamental beliefs but also reflect ways of living—and that includes giving. Giving is an expression of gratitude for our blessings.
So how can you harness this powerful connection to enhance your giving? First, attending religious services provides a regular reminder of the importance of helping others and making the world a better place. After all, the nonprofit organizations to which you have the strongest emotional connection are probably those you visit most frequently—your church, synagogue, or temple (as well as your alma maters and children’s school—gifts to education make up almost 15 percent of all American philanthropy).
There are many ways that we can give to our religious communities. We can put dollars or checks into the weekly collections basket. We can contribute to capital campaigns for new facilities or building repairs. We can teach in the children’s or young adults programs. We can volunteer on trips to serve under-privileged communities around the world or take on a leadership or governance role for our congregation or membership.
But another way to take religious giving to a whole new level—increasing not only your social impact through your philanthropic activities, but also your spiritual impact—is by starting new giving activities at your place of worship (or enhancing existing ones). Here are some quick and easy ideas:
- If you’re part of a group that studies religious texts (such as a bible or torah study group), ask members if they want to add a giving component to the sessions. Members can pool financial resources and to meet a specific need within their place of worship, or volunteer shared time and expertise to help further other parts of your religion’s mission. (Customizable giving circle materials will be available for free every month at www.laaf.org in 2012.)
- Organize and chaperone a hands-on volunteer activity for the teen group at your place of worship.
- Suggest to your religious leaders that they might start offering advice on giving—including discussions on tithing (donating 10 percent of a monthly income), volunteering, and creating a philanthropic budget—through their pre-martial counseling program. Find out if a few philanthropic married couples in your place of worship might volunteer to meet with newlyweds or couples about to marry to discuss their values around giving.
- On existing volunteer days, serve as a liaison between your religious institution and the nonprofits it supports. Find out from the nonprofit leaders whether what members are providing (in terms of time, activities, and skills) is what that organization most needs.
- Hold a strategy session with a few of your congregation’s member-leaders about how you and other members might share their business and other expertise to help build the organizational capacity of your place of worship.
- Once a year, organize a “giving fair” and invite local nonprofits providing critical services—such as job training, at risk-teen counseling or homeless shelters—to set up booths and talk to congregation members about their work and the potential volunteer opportunities they could offer. This kind of awareness building could have a powerful philanthropic ripple effect.
- When celebrating a confirmation, Bar or Bat Mitzvah, or other similar religious celebrations, encourage your children and others to put their checks—or some of them—into a donor-advised fund (at a local community foundation, financial institution, or religious organization such as the Jewish Federation or Catholic Charities) so that they can give some of their funds to nonprofits. Create a family activity focused on researching and visiting nonprofits that your child is interested in to help them decide where to give the money. Invite their close friends along, too.
- Encourage people to make donations in lieu of gifts for all “life celebrations,” or choose to make a charitable gift as a family (whether monetary or volunteer time) in honor of special occasions such as holy days, holidays, births, deaths, or weddings. If the occasion is a birth or a death, encourage friends and family to participate.
- Organize a speaking series at your place of worship that invites local experts to talk about practicing effective philanthropy. You could introduce your congregation to a different social issue every month by bringing in a panel of experts who work in that particular field.
- Start a book club at your place of worship with a focus on reading books about giving.
- Partner with a sister church, temple, or synagogue and organize a “philanthro-cation” (a volunteering and learning trip) for families.
When you share giving—especially with those who share your core values—you demonstrate collective gratitude for the blessings you have. Giving together can reinforce religious bonds and strengthen the connections of communities and individuals to their place of worship. Since giving is a core element of all major religions, it’s a way to express your belief in the divine—whatever that means to you—by bringing light and love for humankind to your world.
Have a blessed Holiday Season!