WEDNESDAY WISDOM: What Makes a Gift "Great"?
Part 2: Giving More with Less
“You give but little when you give of your
possessions. It is when you give of
yourself that you truly give.” Kahlil Gibran
As an estate planning attorney, I have from time to time been privy to, and in some cases a facilitator of, some very substantial charitable gifts. I applaud the generosity of those who make such gifts, and I appreciate the tremendous good they accomplish.
But my deepest fascination in the world of charitable giving is with people who have relatively little and yet make meaningful, life-altering gifts. The Oseola McCarty story is a prominent example. Another is the widow and her two mites in the New Testament. I had always pictured that woman as being elderly and alone, until I encountered another depiction — that of a young widow with her brood of small children who, in Jesus’ words, “cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury” because she donated “all she had.” The image above definitely changed the way I looked at that event. But whatever her age or circumstances, her story has touched millions of hearts over the centuries.
There is another tender account of a destitute widow in the Bible, this one from the Book of First Kings in the Old Testament, who also “cast in all the living that she had.” That woman, known as the widow of Zarephath, likewise showed exceptional faith and generosity. In addition, she demonstrated that rendering service is another way to make a Great Gift.
Her husband had died, and she and her son faced the grim reality of starving to death, victims of a long, grueling famine. She was making a small piece of bread for her son and herself with her last bit of flour and oil, and then afterwards they would lie down together to die.
Into this tragic setting the Lord sent the prophet Elijah, himself starving from hunger. He asked the widow to make the bread and give it to him. He wanted her not only to donate her remaining flour and oil, but also to actually bake the loaf for him. The scripture recounts that she did as asked and gave away her last morsel of food. In response to her gift and her service, she was blessed miraculously — she never ran out of flour and oil during the remainder of the drought.
This story illustrates the principle that giving of ourselves can magnify — or even supersede — giving our financial resources. Our monetary donations are far more powerful when they are accompanied by gifts of our time, talents, and physical labor. Or even if we have no money to give, we can give our service. The widow of Zarephath baked a small loaf for a hungry man of God. The little drummer boy in the Christmas carol, who thought he had no gift to give that was fit for a king, played his drum for the Christ Child, playing his best for him. I like to think of these offerings as a form of “philanthropic sweat equity.”
When we render service for a worthy cause, what is best for us to give?
Each of us has certain capabilities and skills that can be considered our Unique Abilities, things we’re really good at and that seem to flow easily for us. These talents feel natural to us and we enjoy doing them. Sometimes when we’re using these gifts, we feel energized and more alive. When we’re operating in our natural areas of strength, our “philanthropic sweat equity” donations of time and effort can have far greater impact than our normal efforts.
My friends Yale Levey and Ryan Ponsford of Gateway for Good and Main Street Philanthropy have catalogued 16 useful talents or skills that can leverage or amplify a person’s service to a charitable organization, beyond money. Do any of these Unique Abilities apply to you? Could you make a significant difference for your favorite causes or charities by giving in some of these ways?
- I am a helper. When I volunteer my time, talents or
treasure, I am living my higher purpose.
- I am a listener. I get energized when talking to new people and hearing their stories.
- I am a professional. I enjoy sharing my experience, business acumen, and wisdom with others.
- I am a connector. I make introductions and help new relationships thrive.
- I am a creator. I recognize the need for tools or processes that make things better.
- I am an influencer. I can describe a vision and people follow my lead.
- I am a craftsman. I enjoy doing projects and working with my hands
- I am a teacher. I have a unique ability to communicate in a way that people can understand.
- I am a host(ess). When people get together, I provide an environment for the best experience.
- I am a great story teller. I can hear a story and re-tell it in an energizing and compelling way.
- I am great with technology. If you need help with your tech issues, I’m the one.
- I am artistic. I create visual images that touch people and move them to action.
- I am available. I make time to be available and I’m happy to apply my time in ways in which I can be of most value.
- I am an organizer. I enjoy ensuring everything has a place and is well organized.
- I am a facilitator. I have a skill for helping others think through issues and come to conclusions.
- I am imaginative. I like to find creative ways to express
information or deliver messages.
Can you find your unique talents, skills, and strengths in this list? And when you do, how can you benefit your favorite charities more effectively by focusing your service in the areas of your greatest strength?
When we serve using our unique abilities, we can make miracles happen. The desperately poor widow of Zarephath combined service in her unique area of skill — baking bread — with a miniscule donation of flour and oil. With no money but with an enormous endowment of faith and service, she blessed both the prophet Elijah and her family, immediately and long term.
We can make exceptional gifts to the charities of our choice when we give of ourselves, using our unique talents, skills, and strengths, EVEN WHEN WE HAVE LITTLE OR NO MONEY. As I wrote in my previous Wednesday Wisdom article, “the dollar amount of our charitable gifts doesn’t matter. What makes a gift GREAT is not its size, but its character.” I challenge all of us to identify our personal gifts and talents, and then give them away in a cause greater than ourselves.
Shakespeare wrote: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” To me, giving more with less is the key to miraculous gifts and lasting joy.