R4 Thought for the Day – Charitable Giving

In case any of you missed it, Saturday morning’s Thought for the Day was Vishvapani’s Buddhist reflection on charitable giving. I thought it was interesting and of course directly relevant to our work. The text is here:

On your way through the town centre you catch the eye of a young man wearing a fluorescent top emblazoned with the name of a well-known charity. You try to avoid his gaze, but he steps right into your path, smiling broadly and holding out a brochure. A flurry of thoughts goes through your head. They want your money. You don’t have time. In any case, whatever you give is eaten up by bureaucracy and corruption. Just look at the alleged scandals about Live Aid money.

Despite the fact that charities hotly contest the accusations that were made this week, such stories have an effect. On one hand, they check the naive belief that it’s straightforward to get help to victims of a disaster; but they also reinforce our cynicism. They give us the relief of having a reason to say no.

Although I don’t like being stopped by on-street fundraisers, I sympathise with them. Some years ago, I spent eight weeks going door-to-door asking for regular donations to a charity. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because asking again and again meant getting rejection after rejection. But that was offset by the good-heartedness of the people I met, which I often sensed, whether or not they actually gave something. I saw the value of a generous attitude, and realised that a gift benefits the donor as well as the recipient.

According to Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, the origin of suffering is craving. Turning that around, happiness comes from contentment and generosity. That’s why giving is the most fundamental Buddhist practice. It expresses a healthy attitude to life because it connects you to others. It recognizes that we depend on other people. And if you want to create a better society, Buddhism says, you should give, because a good society is a generous one in which people care for each other.

There are endless reasons not to give, and if you wait for a moment of spontaneous generosity, it may never come. An alternative is to think of giving as a practice you can undertake whether you feel like it or not. We tend to think that giving means donating money, but you can also give time and energy, or be like Walt Whitman who said:

“Behold, I do not give lectures or a little charity, When I give I give myself.”

You can give kindness, or affection or, come to think of it, you can give a Mother’s Day card.

(Please note that the text is © BBC)

I particularly like the comment about the good society being a generous one: the research team here at NCVO has long wanted to do something about the charitable giving as an act of citizenship, rather than simply as a financial transaction. As important as the latter is to the sector and fundraisers we shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of charitable giving being a majority activity, a commonly shared experience. Our tracking research suggests it is not a certainty that a majority of the population will always continue to give money. NCVO’s campaign – What do you believe in? – for me is therefore more important in building the good society than about any additional money it might raise.

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, leads NCVO's volunteering, policy, research and campaigning work in the UK and internationally. With lead responsibility for shaping the external environment for the voluntary sector, he blogs about the big issues facing voluntary organisations.

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