Are We Giving To Satisfy Ourselves?

posted by Andrea | 12/6/2016
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giving

I’ve had this post written in my head for several months already, but I’ve hesitated to actually publish it because it has the potential to come off as snotty and ungrateful. However, I promise that is not my intent.

Instead, I hope it simply encourages you to stop and think for a few moments before you give to charity, give to the food pantry, give to a local organization, give overseas, or even give to your own friends and family.

There are so many times when we (myself included) have our own agendas for giving — we want to give what WE want to give, whether or not it is useful, needed, or appreciated by the recipient.

There are hundreds of examples I could share… but I’ve chosen 7 that hit close to home for me personally. I think they are enough to get my point across!

1. Donation Center Drop-Offs:

I’ve written about this before (read that post here) but I have to mention it again today.

As you probably already know, I’m a HUGE advocate of purging, selling, and donating things we no longer need, use, want, or love. However, just because we don’t need, use, want, or love something does NOT mean our local donation center will want it either.

Please, if your stuff is trashed, if it doesn’t work, if it’s missing important pieces, or if it’s long-outdated technology, just put it in your own trash can or figure out how to recycle it.

One man’s trash is not always another man’s treasure — and bringing our “trash” to a donation center so we feel better about getting rid of it simply creates more work and expense for the organization, meaning less funds and energy devoted towards the overall mission of the organization.

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2. Food Pantry Gifts:

Our church collects non-perishable foods and paper goods on a regular basis, and our family often donates a few items each time — but do you know HOW MUCH MORE these food collection agencies can do with a simple $5 or $10 donation (either cash or a grocery gift card)?

Most food pantries buy in bulk, often get special pricing, and know exactly what foods are needed most. So although they will gladly and cheerfully accept whatever foods we give them, they almost always prefer small (or large) cash or gift card donations as they can really stretch these dollar to buy exactly what they need.

Of course, I am not discouraging anyone from giving food (unless it’s expired food… PAH-LEEZE do not give expired food!) I know giving food is a fantastic tangible way to share what we have with people in our own community (and it’s a great learning experience for children too). However, the next time you run to the store to buy groceries for donation, maybe just get a $5 or $10 gift card instead.

In fact, our local food pantry often has “double days” or “triple days” when we can buy a gift card on certain days and the amount will be doubled or tripled by the grocery store or a local business. This means I can buy a $5 gift card and the organization will get $15 — which is SO much more beneficial than a box of cereal or crackers.

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3. Disaster Relief Donations:

I am not extremely knowledgable on how disaster relief donations work — but I’ve read enough to know that there are lots and lots and lots of very UNHELPFUL donations sent, simply because we are giving to satisfy our own need/want/desire to help.

We hear of a need and we want to help (which is awesome) but instead of pausing and thinking about a logical way to help, we simply do what WE want to do at that moment.

We (US government) spent $300,000 to ship bottled water to West Africa when we could have simply sent water purification pumps for $300 (and not polluted their community with plastic water bottles).

We (Americans) sent winter coats to Honduras in the summer.

We (Americans) sent so many completely useless and unneeded toys and stuffed animals to the children affected by the Sandy Hook Shooting that the local relief organizations had to rent warehouses to store everything (and find extra volunteers to sort through everything).

Just last year, a family in our school community was devastated by a house fire while they were on vacation. They literally lost everything and had very specific requests for donated goods. Yet even still, they ended up with so many random donations of unusable goods and clothing that they simply asked for all donations to stop.

This quote sums it up pretty well: 

“Generally after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and in fact may actually be harmful,” said Juanita Rilling, director of the Center for International Disaster Information in Washington, D.C. “And they have no idea that they’re doing it.”

~ source: this CBS news article (a fabulous read if you’re interested in disaster relief donations)

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4. Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes:

This is another one I’ve touched on before in previous blog posts — but I want to mention it again.

These shoeboxes are so great, the organizations behind them are fantastic, and I’m confident the people sending boxes are doing it with the best of intentions… but so often, the contents of the boxes are not a good fit for the children receiving them.

They get XL t-shirts left over from events because in our minds “these shirts are better than nothing”. They get toys with English instructions, markers and crayons with no means for acquiring paper to use them on, and personal hygiene and cosmetic items that are not culturally appropriate.

The boxes are packed and shipped with love (based on what WE would like), but without stopping to think through how they will be received.

I read this article a couple years ago and have remembered it ever since. It has such great eye-opening advice and practical tips for sending useful and culturally appropriate items in an OCC shoebox.

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5. Mission Trips and Service Projects:

I’ve heard countless stories from pastors, missionaries, and non-profit organizations about mission trips and service projects that are executed with the best of intentions… but really do nothing to serve the community in need.

They serve OUR need to feel like we are giving back and doing something helpful… but that’s not really the point (at least it shouldn’t be the point).

In Jen Hatmaker’s book (For the Love) she talks about an Ethiopian community that put dirt and mud on specific buildings every single year because there was one church group who insisted on cleaning and repainting these specific buildings year after year. The building did not need to be cleaned or repainted and the community asked the church to do different acts of service — but they wanted to paint… so they painted.

A little closer to home, I’ve heard first-hand how so many people in my own community want to “serve” but only if they can do it “their way”. So they serve, and feel great about their service… but they were the only one who benefited.

Not exactly ideal!

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6. General Gift-Giving:

So far, all my examples have been focused on giving in the form of donated goods and services to those who are less fortunate; however, I think this principle certainly applies to general gift-giving with friends and family — especially at Christmas time!

I love giving and receiving gifts — but I know not everyone feels the same way. That said, I have gotten my fair share of “are you kidding me” gifts from people who clearly don’t know me as well as I thought… and I’ve even received several “what were you thinking” gifts from people who DO know me but just didn’t put much time or consideration into the gifts they gave me.

As I get older, I can more easily shrug my shoulders at the lack of effort, but there are still times when it really bothers me (especially when it’s a gift from someone who knows me well).

I question why they would give me a gift card to a place they know I would never go, a regifted item that certainly isn’t my taste — like random chachkies I have no use for but were likely found at bargain prices, or something “similar” to what I asked for but not really what I wanted.

I know this is verging on “ungrateful”, and I promise, it really doesn’t bother me that much anymore. I’m simply using it as an example to show how easy it is to get sucked into giving to satisfy ourselves. The givers probably thought “at least it’s something” to justify their last-minute gift — while I was left feeling underappreciated because they didn’t put any thought into my gifts.

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7. Everyday Gifts of Service:

Last, but certainly not least, I want to touch on general everyday gifts of service to local people, groups, and organizations very near and dear to us (not overseas mission trips or disaster relief).

I will be the first to say that Dave and I are the recipient of MANY MANY amazing gifts of service from our family members, church friends, neighbors, etc. The good gifts of service FAR outweigh the not-so-good gifts… but for the purpose of this post, I’m focusing on a couple not-so-good gifts of service 🙂

For example, when you say you’ll bring a meal to someone at 5:00, but then forget and simply pull something out of your freezer and bring a completely frozen meal to a hungry family with crabby kids and a new baby at 5:00, that is not a great gift of service. It would have been much more helpful to come with a $5 Little Caesar’s Pizza.

Similarly, when you say you want to “help” by watching my children for a couple hours while I work from home, it is not helpful to sit and chat with me the entire time while my children run around trying to get someone to give them a little attention. If you want to chat, wait until Dave is home and we’ll go somewhere quiet. If you want to help, get the kids out of my hair for 45 minutes.

And finally, if you want to volunteer, please just do whatever they ask you to do (even if it’s not glamorous). In my pre-tiny-children-who-need-me-ALL-the-time life, I did a lot of volunteer work and was always amazed how many “volunteers” had their own agenda. They wanted to volunteer, but only if they could do the jobs they wanted to do — which really didn’t end up helping or “serving” these organizations all that well. If anything, it put more work on the people in charge because they often ended up doing all the little jobs no one else wanted to do, instead of overseeing all of the other work.

 

I realize that in all of these examples, the intentions of the givers are almost always good, kind, and sincere.

Most people do not intend to create more work for nonprofits, burden victims of disasters and developing communities, or even give unwelcome gifts to our family and friends — but without realizing it, this is what can happen when we “give to satisfy ourselves”.

Please keep giving… but also, please take a few minutes to think (or even ask) how our gifts can best be used by the recipient to create a win-win situation for everyone! 

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38 comments

  1. Catherine

    12/07/2016

    Another great post. Thank you 🙂

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  2. Jennifer

    12/07/2016

    Thank you for this important information. A little more thought can make our efforts go a longer way. My own mother is so generous but she constantly buys and donates things for others that SHE believes are useful or necessary. When I try to talk to her about it she just says things like, “No one can have too many ___,” or “This is the best ___ for ___.” People can really get stuck on what works for them and believe it must be best for everyone. I want to be more conscious of my gift-giving and donations, so thank you for bringing these points to my attention.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yup! I can totally relate!
    Part of me thinks “well yes, the giver should get joy and satisfaction from their efforts” but the other part always comes back with “but we’re supposed to be helping OTHERS, not ourselves.”

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  3. Bonnie'sMama

    12/07/2016

    The Hobbit calls obligatory little junk gifts “mathems.” These were often passed around throughout the community and were just a fact of life.

    But I’m not a hobbit and I hate mathems! They are a waste of time and money, and they clutter up my life.

    Andrea, my love language is also giving, and of the 7 motivational spiritual gifts, giving is definitely mine! For givers, unwise giving at all levels is a big deal because it is such a core part of our design. We are designed by God to care deeply about the wise use of resources; we get such a charge out of connecting people to the resources they need or would enjoy. So it grieves us deeply to see time, energy, and stuff wasted.

    You preach and I’ll holler “Amen!”

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  4. Nancy Pease

    12/07/2016

    Great article, Andrea. Several months ago, one of my relative’s first child was born at 28 weeks and spent almost 3 months in the NICU across the country from their home. I think she’s doing pretty well now, but I read up on what preemie parents go through, need and want and so glad I did. Perhaps if the situation is one we’ve not experienced, hearing from others who have could be a helpful first step before we act. BTW, my mom just told me she’s giving them a gift certificate for house cleaning!

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  5. Susanne

    12/06/2016

    Very good article! Here is what I learned by working at our local food closet. The local food closet buys food VERY inexpensively from the regional food bank and can certainly buy more with a specific dollar amount than I could buy with the same amount of money. However, our local food closet cannot buy personal hygiene items, laundry or dish detergent, toilet paper or paper towel products. When I buy items for donating, I always buy shampoo, soap, dish and laundry detergent because these items are not plentiful and have to be rationed.

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  6. Jen

    12/06/2016

    But I want to say that our local Salvation Army does get money for rags/cloth- they bale all the cloth items that are not sellable, wearable, or useable and get money from factories that make carpet padding. So just check about if there is anyplace to donate rags before throwing them into the landfill trash!

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  7. Julie V.

    12/06/2016

    This was a much needed blog post Andrea. You hit on many of my pet peeves of giving and service. Many times the subconscious reasons for serving and giving are only to make ourselves feel better/helping etc. We also need to figure out why we teach our children to help others thousands of miles away when we have needs in our own community. A few years ago I read a small article in our local newspaper about a youth group in Wisconsin that was coming to our town (full of churches) to paint and clean some properties in our town. I thought what a waste of resources for our youth groups to travel to other cities to do service projects when they could just stay local. Sometimes there are just more efficient ways to serve.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I agree! I also appreciate that our church often focuses on meeting the needs of people in our own community and even our very own congregation on a very regular basis. It might not be glamorous like an overseas trip, but it sure is helpful and appreciated!

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  8. Emily

    12/06/2016

    Great article Andrea! I can tell you put much thought into it and the information you shared is very insightful. And it did not come across as snotty or ungrateful. 😉 We all need wisdom when it comes to how we spend our money and resources and giving to others is just another part of that.

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  9. LISA ANDERSON

    12/06/2016

    SUPER article!

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  10. Brooke Shindler

    12/06/2016

    Thank you for this post! I’ve volunteered with food banks and with a local children’s charity, and I’m always amazed at the junk people donate. It’s takes volunteer resources to sort it, and then the garage bill! The agency I volunteer at has the trash 6 car seats every week because people drop off expired seats. The folks we give the goods to have dignity, and don’t deserve badly stained and ripped clothing, or unsafe products.

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  11. Katie

    12/06/2016

    There is a fascinating book on this topic I read recently. It is called Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton if anyone is interested in diving deep on this topic. Your points were great and it did not come across as snotty or ungrateful. Thank you for the reminder about being thoughtful with our choices and good stewards with our (God’s) money.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing this book Katie!

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    Julie Reply:

    Great post! I too immediately thought of Robert Lupton’s book and his work here in Atlanta. It will change your perspective on giving. A must read for anyone who loves to help others!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Ok thanks Julie — I’m going to check if our library has this book and reserve it!

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  12. EI

    12/06/2016

    Andrea, PREACH! I love your no-nonsense attitude and this post just absolutely nails it. I’m sharing this far and wide.

    happy holidays to you and your fam. I feel weird saying this b/c we don’t know each other, but I can’t believe Nora is five! I still remember anxiously awaiting the post that she had arrived!

    Keep up the great work!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much 🙂
    And don’t feel weird — I have people stop me in the grocery store all the time. They often admit to recognizing my kids first 🙂

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  13. Avia

    12/06/2016

    This is a really well thought out post. I’ve had similar conversations recently with friends and family members as we have a friend who has been suddenly diagnosed with a terminal illness. Everyone wants to “help” because everyone feels terrible for the person and wishes they could do something to make it better. But most of the “help” isn’t help at all and just puts pressure on the family when it’s the last thing they need. It’s sometimes harder to just step back and do nothing (or do something that really does help but isn’t at all glamorous).

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, exactly — especially about the “do something that’s not glamorous” part!

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  14. Beatriz

    12/06/2016

    This was a really thoughtful post, thank you for that. I know I’ve been guilty of that sometimes and I have definitely seen that behavior in people I know.

    In 2017 I want to be more involved in my community and I will definitely keep this in mind, thank you.

    [Reply]

  15. Julie S-H

    12/06/2016

    Dear All,

    All good points, thank you Andrea. Also I wanted to add if you adopt a family for Christmas with an agency or non-profit- awesome!- but be sure you bring in the items according to instruction. I worked in a domestic violence shelter and we had many many beautiful gifts (firemen bringing in the Christmas tree was always fun!) but people who brought gifts for Christmas at the closing of the day on Christmas Eve were so unappreciated by staff. By then the staff has already scrambled to cover the family for Christmas, and of course the staff is ready to go home to their own home. Also, sometimes people would bring gifts wrapped if they are supposed to be unwrapped or vica versa. I don’t think people realize we were dealing with hundreds of gifts to multiple homes and families, it’s a big job. Last minute extras or wrongly timed gifts rarely get to the intended recipient and then have to be stored. Of course the thought is always appreciated, but it is such a shame and a waste and with some more thought or better timing the gift could have been fantastic. Happy Holidays everyone!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh such good points here Julie!
    Once again, I think so many people just assume that ‘something is better than nothing’ when really, in this case, “nothing” might be prefered over late gifts that don’t match up with the rules or guidlines.
    Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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  16. Lydia Senn

    12/06/2016

    Yes! Resounding yes! However, our food pantry does ask for diapers, toiletries and baby formula because those things often cannot purchased through their funds. So it’s a good idea to ask organizations what they need directly.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, ours always asks for diapers! We also have a local organization who JUST donates diapers — lots and lots and lots of diapers!

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  17. Stel

    12/06/2016

    I agree with so many point, but specifically with aid to Africa. I’ve been involved on the fringes with water supply projects, where a team of people are sent to South Africa, they stay in expensive guesthouses, they trample around because they don’t know the communities, he infrastructure, the geology and in the end subcontract a local professional to do what they were sent to do…if only they contracted the professional in the first place. And so millions are wasted. And likewise with toy drives by churches and well-meaners.
    Here I can get a list as to what a person would need at the night shelter: practical stuff, soap, lotion, feminine products.

    [Reply]

  18. Cathy

    12/06/2016

    Andrea,

    These are such good points but one thing I’d like to add is that if you are on the receiving end how important it is to accept these gifts as graciously as possible. I haven’t always done so and I really regret it. It’s a lot trickier when it’s a charity or volunteer situation, but when it’s a truly well-intentioned friend or family member, expressing more gratitude than you really feel may be the best gift you can give in return.

    [Reply]

    ShellyL Reply:

    I agree with this. i still have memories of when I, as a new wife, got gifts for my sister-in-law. They were not great gifts because I didn’t know her very well. She reacted poorly more than once, and even 23 years later, I hate shopping for her. Actually, I don’t even get her anything anymore. I just get for her children. It causes hard feelings within families. They often miss the mark with my gift as well, but I think it is important to respond with grace and appreciation for the thought.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh that’s sad 🙁

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes for sure! I’ve definitely been guilty of not receiving gifts as well as I should have, but I’m getting better 🙂

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  19. Mary Ann

    12/06/2016

    This is good! Along with #7, I had to think of something my Mom told me about when my brother was little. Once he was diagnosed as deaf, he began going to speech therapy and “school” around age 2, not to mention all his appointments. We lived quite a ways from his therapy so Mom ended up spending several hours on the road each day. This took a toll on her with a newborn (Me!) and a kindergartner. Our church family helped by bringing in some meals, which Mom says was a huge help and she graciously accepted them. But since she loved to cook, cooking meals was a stress-reliever and a relaxing activity for her. And she needed that time to help her cope with her daily life at that time. Offering to run errands, do housecleaning, etc. would have been a better choice. Asking her what would be most helpful would have been nice. Later on, some friends helped with driving my brother back and forth to school so she wasn’t having to do every trip and that was very much appreciated!

    I always think of that when I want to help someone. What would actually be helpful to them? Obviously sometimes, we don’t know what to do so we do it with the best of intentions and hope it will be a blessing as we intended it to be. But other times, finding out what would be most appreciated can make all the difference!

    I read that article about OCC gifts last year and it really opened my eyes to packing a box that is more beneficial to the recipient.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I have lots of similar stories from friends or acquaintances — everyone just wants to help, which is great. But so often, they “help” in ways that aren’t useful or needed.

    That said, there have been a few times when I have specifically asked people how I could best help them, only to have them reply with “whatever you want to do is fine.” In one instance, I suggested bringing a meal on a certain day and they agreed that would be helpful. However, when I brought the meal I realized they were just getting ready to fly out the door for newborn family pictures and wouldn’t even have time to eat it. I asked why she didn’t request a different day and she said “because I didn’t want to bother you”.

    Sigh… what’s the point of offering to help if they don’t even let me know the best way to help. So I “wasted” my afternoon making them food they weren’t even going to eat.
    Oh well… at least I tried!

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  20. Leanne

    12/06/2016

    The OCC info was excellent!!!!! thank you!! I pinned that article for next year!

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    ShellyL Reply:

    This is excellent. I’m going to pin it also.

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  21. Meghan

    12/06/2016

    This is all so true! However, the “givers” who do the things mentioned in the article do so because think of themselves first before they think of others. I would be surprised if someone with these traits recognized their behavior mentioned in the post, reflected on it, and changed, but we can hope!

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    Jessica Reply:

    Agree 100%. At the beginning of this holiday season I sent an email to DH and I’s 6 siblings and parents about what our 4 kiddos could use, things they didn’t need, that they didn’t need to buy them gifts just because they are supposed to (2 siblings live states away), etc. My own mother called me ungrateful and asked how I could take away the joy it brings HER to shop for her grandchildren. Obviously, her needs come first, and it doesn’t matter the way we are choosing to raise our family . . . . .

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    Meghan Reply:

    I’m in a similar situation. I’ve asked my mom to only buy my kids 1 toy and 1 clothing item (plus she insists on doing stockings), and she acts
    like I am so unreasonable and am taking away her joy.

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    Jenn S. Reply:

    That’s appalling! It is obviously your and your DH’s choice on how to raise your family. If she can’t respect it, that’s a problem!

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