Charity Giving – Charity is an essential part of a spiritual life.
It is so central that Allah, in his wisdom, cast it into the very central core of our faith, depicting it as the third of the Five Pillars of Islam.
Yet as central and vital as it might be, it’s also not remotely easy.
Our natural tendency is to cling stubbornly onto that which, from a purely material perspective, we see as ours and thus rightfully in our control to do with what we wish.
While we have Ramadan, and Zakat ul Fitr as a natural requirement of annual generosity, if that is the whole extent of our giving we might be able to say that our spiritual life is alive, but is it truly thriving?
Just like so many other aspects of our lives in both the spiritual and material world, our charitable behavior is governed by cognitive biases.
For example, repeated studies have shown that the so called ‘denomination effect’ holds sway all around the world, in that we are far more likely to spend five one-pound coins than we are to spend a single five-pound note.
Many can read this and despair, fearing that their own minds and the tendencies therein will just prevent them from living truly active spiritual lives.
But with careful structuring, forethought, and planning, you can circumvent the brain’s normal lazy tendencies and live a truly and exemplary generous life.
Make your charity unthinking
One of the biggest road blocks in the way of many people being more charitable is the sheer mental and moral energy it takes to make the right decision – that being the decision to give.
With Zakat we have some of the decision taken out of our hands, but with Sadaqah the sheer act of making the choice takes work.
Solution – Don’t make the choice so often, make it once and let it keep going.
Instead of consciously going to your bank or to a charity’s website every time you want to make a donation, talk to your bank about setting up a standing order.
This way you only need the energy to actually make the decision to be charitable once, and every other time it just happens without your direct input.
Seek out impact information
A big problem we often have with charity giving is that even if we see it as something beyond our mere obligation, as Sadaqah is to Zakat, is that even then it can just be seen as money vanishing into the ether.
That’s not something we do with the rest of our money when we spend it.
We like to know our purchases to be useful or pleasurable or in some other way beneficial to us.
This attitude is something that would perhaps be helpful to adopt in our charitable giving.
While it may seem mercenary and churlish to treat a charitable donation like an investment, from a motivation standpoint that’s an ideal thing to do.
If you give someone money with the intent of them making the world better, you deserve to know that you got a good return on that investment.
While it might be tempting to just leave it be, and feel somehow more detached and serene about the whole affair, serenity is often not productive.
Oversight, planning, research, effort.
All these things are spiritual too.
Look deep into what is being done with your money.
Don’t just look at the charity’s own sources too.
Go in depth.
Find out more.
Make the most of this information.
Know exactly what you have done, and take a private pride in that.
When you know the good you can do, you’ll want to do more.
Look for specific goals
When we want to be healthy, but we don’t have any particular desired weight or plan, we tend to be lazy in our thinking about food and drink.
We call them “cheat days” and laugh off our dietary intercessions.
But when we have a goal, an aim, a target – then we pay close attention.
The same is true with our money and charitable giving.
When we know that our gifts have moved the needle and have allowed a charity to make another step towards a particular goal, then we feel motivated.
We develop a sense of community, even if we have not spoken personally to other donors or the wider charity that we’re supporting.
History has shown dozens of wondrous examples of these sorts of efforts producing fantastic levels of motivation in the wider public.
When during the Second World War people in the United States and Great Britain knew how many bonds it would cost to buy everything from an M1 Carbine to a Supermarine Spirfire, their donations skyrocketed.
The single donation as part of the larger whole is so much easier to conceptualize as valuable when you know exactly what the wider whole looks like.
When you see yourself as a team pushing towards a particular goal, your motivation will burn brighter and go further.
Don’t be too rational
It is tempting when trying to think about charitable donations to do research to the Nth degree, and indeed research is valuable for motivation as previous points have discussed.
But when you are struggling with the energy you want to maximize the charitable steps in your spiritual walk, research is a tool better used after you make your donations, rather than before.
In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, researcher Deborah Small found that a key motivating feature in people’s charitable giving was what she called “spontaneous affective reactions”.
In blunt terms, when it comes to charity if you want the most from yourself, don’t be afraid to lead with your heart rather than your head.
You can examine relative effectiveness and study the extents to which a charity’s overheads really limit them, but then factor in how the overheads impact giving structures in the long term, and then consider all that in the light of cultural imperialism and the role of generosity in… ad infinitum.
The fact is if you feel an affinity for a cause, and the most cursory examination tells you its worthy, you should feel empowered to donate.
Now once you have donated, research, study, examine, and ensure you get your charitable gift’s full worth, but don’t let questions of the head overrule the heart’s desire to better the world.
Know your own losses
Charity is about giving, but to give something you must have it in the first place, which means when you give, you are giving something else up.
This is something you should embrace.
The aspect that in giving money to charity, you are denying yourself something else.
Often we like use rhetorical techniques to circumvent this.
We tell ourselves that we are buying something for ourselves, or that we get a much greater reward later on.
While these things are certainly true to some extent, the attempt to deny how much we cost ourselves with our charity just puts a greater cognitive load on our good works, and makes it less likely that we will give more in the future.
Not only does this denial have a negative effect, but also embracing what some researchers call the “martyrdom effect” in our charity will actually make us more willing to be giving.
In a set of five experiments, researcher Christopher Olivola of Carnegie Mellon University found that the idea of suffering or struggling to reach a particular goal as part of a charity made the giving feel more meaningful, and the people who gave in this way often gave more money.
Find a way to record just what you could have gotten with the money, resources, or time you give to charity.
Write it down, list it, make it clear to your own mind just what it is your giving.
It’s not just numbers.
It’s so many other things.