These words from the Sermon on the Mount are very challenging. There is no qualification: give if you can afford it; give if you think it’s a good cause; give if you are feeling in the mood. Like many of Jesus’ sayings, it is a simple command and there is no escaping it.
There are, of course, very good reasons why we should give. There is a negative one first of all. We give to keep money in its proper place, which is out of our hearts and in the world, circulating and doing some good. It is so easy to build up a trust in money, rather than God. Particularly in these uncertain times we feel we must have the security of money for our future. Prudence we must have, but money should not be so important to us that we must keep every penny. Give some away to show it who is master! And not just a token gesture either. Give enough that you notice it has gone.
The positive reason for giving is simply that there is need. Think of the poverty and illness and ignorance in the world and simple compassion should surely make you want to give. Really, the problem is in thinking about it as a sacrifice, rather than buying good things. I want to spend my money on good things and I can’t think of a more desirable thing to buy than a bit of happiness to bring in to the world. Surely you want to buy some freedom for the captives, some bread for the starving and health for the sick?
As a church, we try to give away 12% of our regular income (that is, income excluding special collections). That income is part of other people’s giving, so why are we giving it away again? If people wanted to give to charity they could do it without giving it to the church first.
The reasons for people work just as well for organisations. It is very easy for us, as a church, to think that the reason for the church’s existence is to keep the church going. It is easy to think we must be fund raising all the time, to keep the building up and to lose sight of why the church is here. And it is here to change the world. We need to be outward looking and demonstrating a trust in God. We must be prudent and responsible, but that doesn’t mean we have to be misers on the church’s behalf. We give money away because that is what the church is about.
As individuals, that is a matter between you and God. It is difficult to give rules because people’s situations vary so widely. One good rule of thumb is what I said in the beginning: give enough so that you notice it. And that is probably a bit more than you are currently giving. It is very easy to forget how the value of money changes. I remember thinking a half a crown was an enormous amount to give and as for giving folding money away, my goodness, that was only for the rich. But times have changed. We really need to compare what we spend with what we give. And you do not need to be terribly rich to start thinking in terms of thousands of pounds for your annual giving, not hundreds. The old rule was a tenth of your income: it’s not a bad guide.
Now if the church is all about changing things, then there is an argument for saying we should be giving perhaps half our income away. And in the old days when the church ran the village school and provided for the destitute and sick, that is what would be required. But now we act differently, by trying to make things happen rather than doing them ourselves as an organisation. That is why we need to think about our own giving when we think about the church’s. We should all be spending time and money on changing the world and the church’s own giving is part of that overall effort.
So the amount the church gives away needs to be thought of within this wider context. And churches differ in their situations in this respect. A small country church, struggling to keep a roof over its head, cannot afford to give a lot of money away. But on the other hand, a relatively rich parish like Colwall, really ought to have no problem in giving 10% and perhaps even more. Going up to 20 or 30% could perhaps be justified in special cases, for particular projects, but at this level it is probably better to hive off any projects needing special expenditure, so that they can be supported by those who are particularly interested. The church should inspire people to do things, rather than doing them itself
Giving is an investment, and like any other investments you need a portfolio. Your investment advisor will tell you that each portfolio has to be tailored to the individual and the same applies to your portfolio of charities. What you are looking for in investment is balance between the different fields for investment and the same applies to charitable giving.
Everyone will want to have their own fields and you need to decide what to spend in each of them: then select the charities which appeal to you. It is important to follow your own interests. As a scientist, I support the Intermediate Technology Development Group which tries to develop appropriate technology for third world countries, because I am interested in the problems they are trying to solve and it seems to me that you always ought to have an interest in what you are supporting. The main thing is to think about it. Once you have decided on your strategy, both the amount of your giving and who it should be given to, then you are quite entitled to put other charity appeals in the waste paper basket. But if you haven’t then you are not! In any case your strategy ought to be reviewed every so often, so perhaps you ought to read them before throwing them away. For occasional donations, things like door to door collections, it seems to me that you ought always to give something - and with a welcoming smile too.
So what fields does the church support? There are three essential principles. We give to charities which we think everyone will be happy with; we give according to need and we give to meet the aims of the church as a whole and particularly to support those charities which an individual might miss. These decisions are made by the Outreach Committee, following a three year review of our annual giving.With these criteria we miss out on some worthy causes: like Amnesty, because not everyone is happy to support them; like Cancer Research because that is not one of the aims of the church and they are well supported already; like environmental campaigning because this is not a direct concern of the church; and like the Children’s Society which is well supported in general. These are very good and worthy causes which individuals can and should support. But the church ought to particularly select those causes which might be missed by individuals. Typical examples are the missionary societies and the Clergy Orphan Corporation. If we don’t look after the widows and orphans of clergy, who will?
The overall strategy has been to split the giving 60:40 between overseas and home charities, although of late the balance has changed slightly in favour of home charities. The individual charities we support are listed in the PCC annual report, which you can find in the "About us" section of this web site.
Our giving ought to be thoughtful, wise - and tax efficient! In most countries it is accepted that charitable giving is for the general good and ought not therefore to be taxed. As a result, most countries provide some mechanism of giving from income before tax is applied. In England, this mechanism is rather complicated and involves recovery of tax already paid on gift aid donations or payroll giving. If you pay tax, it is worth doing this because it increases the benefit of giving by the amount of standard rate tax which has been levied. And to simplify things even more, you can make a single gift aid donation to the Charities Aid Foundation who will open an account for you from which you can give money to any number of different charities. This way, you only need to make one gift aid donation, which simplifies the tax return.
And you have not forgotten to make a will have you? Everyone should have a will to make sure their dependants are properly provided for: and while you are doing that, you can make sure that some good causes benefit too.