Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Generous Heart....

So, this morning I was reading a book.

It was going along well. The author was discussing generosity and how, although it is voluntary, it's certainly a good practice, bringing spiritual merit.

He was quite emphatic on the topic actually. But something caught my eye that seemed inconsistent with his statement of giving without expecting in return. He made it a point to mention that he keeps receipts in case his giving is tax deductible.

I don't know much, but that sounds like commerce to me. Bartering. With whom? And with what? And why?

The author lost a bit of credibility with me at that point and his words seemed kind of hollow.

In all honesty, I believe we should give voluntarily without keeping records. My practice of giving is to do it anonymously with a money order or cash. If I give tangible items, I leave them at a donation station. Again, anonymously.

One time, many years ago, I got into a conversation about this with a co-worker. It was late at night and as we sat at the help desk, we would often chat about various things. My co-worker belonged to a church that requires 10% tithing. It is recorded by the church authorities and a statement is sent to each member so they can send it to the IRS.

I have no idea where my belief came from and I don't think it's something I was taught. It is not a requirement of my spiritual practice. My spiritual practice is rather anarchistic in the sense that there are very few behavioral rules. Generosity is expected and alms are expected but it is not stated specifically how it must be done.

Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity. (Buddha)

The spiritual practice is usually sufficient to modify the behavior. In order to be a kind person, giving is presupposed.

According to Christian theology, giving is to be done anonymously.

"When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (-Matthew 6:2-4)

I'd like to know what you think. Do you believe giving to charities and then taking a tax deduction is true giving?



MsLittlePea said...

I'm pretty much with you on this. If I give, it's because I truly want to and expect nothing in return but the satisfaction of knowing I maybe helped someone. I don't hold it against anyone who does it for 'tax reasons' but to me it would seem less like a gift from the heart and more like a business transaction. I could never be a member of any kind of organization that REQUIRED 10%(or any percent) of my income. That's not charity. That's a bill.

Julie Pippert said...

But, wait...

Giving without condition---not expecting a repayment or return...

How is that mutually exclusive from the infinitely practical advice of being careful with money and keeping receipts for tax deductions?

If we benefit from a donation or offering...does that negate the offering?

Don't we all get something in some way?

A recent study showed that charitable action provided better highs than most things, including chocolates.

I do believe that giving and then logging it for taxes is still true giving.

Now, in a different example, large corporations that donate in exchange for their logo on the letterhead of the charitable, that's a condition, not true's a form of for profit marketing.

I don't blame the group for playing; that's sadly sometimes the way the game is these days.

Julie Pippert said...

Okay and couldn't one argue that getting satisfaction or paying down karmic debt is currency in the same way?

Is there truly a completely and utterly selfless act that regularly occurs?

Anonymous said...

Everything that I no longer need, that is of use, I give away rather than throw it away or trying to sell it at consignment. I am generous with food donations, cooking, and babysitting, etc. etc.

Every year, there are also many requests by friends and acquaintances to give to charities they are supporting. Sometimes I am the one asking. This kind of giving is definitely a business transaction, and I do keep track of the amounts for tax purposes. These times, I'm giving to the friend more than to the charity.

We can claim a parish affiliation to save some money on our tuition costs, but we'd rather just pay the money to the school than have to go to the priest and have him check to see if we've tithed "enough" to get his signature on the paper. That's annoying.

Snoskred said...

I think the reason they made donations tax deductible was so that people would want to give more. I'm all for it if it means charities get more money from people who would have been unlikely to donate if it wasn't tax deductible.

But as far as me myself and I is concerned, I never worry about keeping those things and claiming that stuff. I have a box with receipts in it for things I bought from stores, in case I ever need to take anything back. It's a gold holographic box. It makes me happy to look at it. It sparkles and shines. I could stare at it for hours. Oh, oops, sorry I got distracted there. ;)

We used to have to pay $1 on Fridays at work in order to wear casual clothes which was given to charity. Me, I would have paid $1 every day just for being able to wear what I wanted and not having to worry about the "is this work wear enough" thing, and the whole "what am I going to wear today" wardrobe debates which used to happen in my house. Think of how much the charities could have earned? ;)

thailandchani said...

Okay and couldn't one argue that getting satisfaction or paying down karmic debt is currency in the same way?

One could argue it.. but it would be an incomplete understanding of karma.

A lot of people in my spiritual tradition do get that confused and look at karma in a commodified way ~ and that offering dana (generosity) gains merit for the next life. Many people will tell you that is exactly what it is.

But here's what it really is: dana is a way for us to understand and internalize the fact that we are not separate from others.

In some ways, the commodified view is a misrepresentation of the tradition, just as some Christians misrepresent Christianity for their own gain. Unfortunately, there are people in my tradition who will twist the truth to feather their own nests.

The most egregious example I can think of offhand is some monks in Thailand who claim that you'll get more merit from offering money to build a temple than you'll get for giving food and shelter to the poverty-stricken people of Isaan.

It's disgusting!

The more traditional branches don't accept the idea of making merit by offering alms as a means burning off karma for a future life.

"Making merit" in its correct interpretation is simply gaining spiritual wisdom and growth.

Alms are an acknowledgment that we are all one.. and when one of us suffers, we all suffer.

That's the best I can come up with off the top of my head. If you have any other questions, I will be glad to research it or ask my own spiritual advisor if necessary. :)

Good question! :)



thailandchani said...

Oh, one more thing... :)

As for being an entirely selfless act, no, I don't believe making merit qualifies because we do gain that spiritual wisdom and growth.. and as we gain that, eventually, we become enlightened and are able to stop cycling.

In that regard, I would have to say it is not entirely selfless.

But, like everything else, intention plays a large part. There's selfish reasons.. and there are selfish reasons. What manifests as a result of an action is important, too. (And I know all the wide-open variables in my statement but addressing each one would require a master's thesis. :)

Sorry. I got carried away and forgot to answer the second part of your question.


jen said...

i don't mind if people use it for a deduction. but i don't like it when people lie on the donation receipt they fill out when leaving stuff at the THAT is super uncool.

i give, but i am not organized enough to keep the receipts...for better or for worse.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

At first flush, it does look as if saving receipts of charitable contributions for tax benefits is contrary to the practice of giving from the heart. However, on further examination, I don't think that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive.

In the case of very large donations, tax benefits can help to ensure that the giver will be able to give again. The more money one has, the more he or she is able to help others.

Such practicality does not in my view make a gift less generous, and is infinitely preferable to one who gives publicly to impress others. Although moneys given in that manner still help their recipients, they do not benefit such givers spiritually.

But sometimes that is all some people can manage. Money of itself is not pure or impure, and even if the impulse to give it is not altogether pure, the help it provides to others purifies it and justifies it.

Doesn't the Bible also say that "beggars cannot be choosers?" The bottom line is whether or not a person in need receives help. When one is hungry, it matters not from whence comes food.

thailandchani said...

Susan, I can see what you're saying.. and sometimes getting the resources needed to help people has to take priority over gnarly ethical questions. I'm with you on that. :)

As for the "beggars can't be choosers", I'm not sure if that's in the Bible. I certainly hope it isn't.


Jen, yeah... putting a higher amount on a receipt would be .. tacky. And I'm trying to be kind. :)


MsPea, I agree with you fundamentally. All I can speak to is what I believe is necessary for my spiritual development and giving without expectation of any return is the only thing that works ~ for me.

I would never join a spiritual organization that told me I had to pay a certain amount per month. Passing the hat doesn't bother me a bit.. but, no, no tithing under authority.

Won't work. At least not for me.


De, I agree with you, too. I'd rather just pay the money in a straightforward contractual manner than have my contributions evaluated in that manner.

I don't get very many requests from people I know because everyone's aware of my financial situation. I do give a lot of my time though.. and my personal energy to others.

We all give what we can.. and luckily, I'm presented with plenty of opportunities to give what I can.


Snos, I suspect that is the motivation behind it ultimately. It is a way to encourage people to give.. but I'm just not so certain it's sending the right message about giving.



~Chani, off to lay in front of the TV for a few hours

Joy, of course said...

Chani-I have been pondering your post today. I do tithe to my church and they give me a receipt to submit to the IRS which I use. I will be honest and say I do not always tithe out of the goodness of my heart though, I do it because the Bible is clear on it and I believe the Bible, even when it is hard for me to do so.

I have turned in my receipts for other charitable givings to our accountant as well without it ever occuring to me that it diminished the gift. I think it would only do so if that was the reason you gave. And that's fine too if you need the tax write off, I just wouldn't consider it generosity at that point, I would consider it business.

flutter said...

I think giving should be for the sake of giving, but I see no problem with a tax deduction.

Anonymous said...

no, to answer your question. I believe giving is giving. Even public recognition is getting something back. However, if one gives with the intent of getting back, wether it be a better community as the goal or a tax deduction for donated food, it doesn't take away from the fact that they were a contributing factor in the betterment of something.

Mary said...

It has always disgusted me to have a church representative tell me how much I shall donate - on a weekly basis, in those little personalized envelopes they use for keeping track of your obligation No contracts for me, no agreements, just leave me alone.

I give when I can, as much as I can.

Anvilcloud said...

It's an odd sort of viewpoint in my mind. AFAIK it's always more efficient NOT to give because the tax break is never even close to the full amount of the gift (at least up here). So, if you give, you do so because you want to help, and then you get a small compensation in return. Besides, what's the sense in throwing away receipts? I confess to not seeing the point of today's thesis. :)

mitzh said...

I believe the true essence of giving is not to expect anything in return..

Anonymous said...

I don't bother with receipts, because I don't submit an itemized return to the IRS.

I purposely keep my income low so that I pay fewer taxes. Any money the government gets they're going to spend on bombs. If saving receipts means the government gets a little less money, then I'm all for it.

One thing that really made an impression on me was a show I saw where people were reminiscing about Johnny Cash. They said things like, "When Johnny saw that I didn't have a winter coat, he gave me one of his." "When I was on tour with Johnny, he saw that I was sleeping on the floor and made sure I got a bed." "When I got out of prison, Johnny came over with a basket of home-made biscuits." Nobody said, "Johnny wrote me a big fat check," although I'm sure he wrote his share. What had an impact on people was the little things, personal things.

I don't really give a lot of money to charity, mostly because I don't have much. I concentrate on doing things; helping a stranded motorist with a jump start or tire change, helping a mother pick up a store display her rambunctious child just knocked down, picking up litter along the road.

Bob said...

I don't have the knowledge to truly debate the issue, but I do have an opinion.

I think the heart of the matter is intention - why are you giving. If you are giving for selfish reasons (one of which being a tax deduction - which in and of itself is a losing proposition) then as you have said it means nothing. If you give out of charity for others, then I see no reason why you shouldn't take advantage of it.

doesn't the root of the word tithe mean a tenth? isn't there a passage in the bible somewhere that is somewhat specific about this? I think the jewish religion uses this rule as well.

meno said...

I am a practicalist. If charities or people get what they need, i don't much care about the motivations of the donors or the machinations of the government.

See how i got out of answering? But i don't keep reciepts for my donations.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Oh, dear God, what was I thinking? Of course that proverb is not in the Bible, although I am far from an expert on such things.

Somewhere in the Old Testament, though, (Leviticus?) God directs the Jews to give generously to strangers because of having been strangers, themselves, in the land of Egypt.

Suzy said...

I don't have much, but I try to give money when I can, and also try to be generous and give my time and services with a glad heart. I do not keep my receipts, but that is because I am disorganized, not out of any philosophical belief. I do not necessarily think that getting the tax deduction mitigates the gift, but giving just to get an offered premium, political advantage, free advertising ... that is something very different. So I would agree that it is about intentionality.

Interestingly enough, the workshop I took last week at my Quaker gathering was about Quakers and money, and many questions came up about "right giving". I plan to blog about it, but haven't sifted through enough of my thoughts yet. Once again, Chani, you have your finger on MY pulse.

slouching mom said...

Haven't read through these comments, so someone might have written this already, but:

If people who would not otherwise donate will do so because they can take a tax deduction, then I'm all for it.

QT said...

I have to say it is true giving - I don't think the motivation to deduct it from taxes is "sounding trumpets" unless someone is publishing their tax return in the paper.

The amount you have to give for it to make a difference on your tax return is pretty sizeable. I save my receipts every year for cash donations only - the used clothing, etc, I don't care about. I have yet to see my charitable donations make any sizeable dent in my taxes - and I can tell you I give over $1000 annually.

So for someone to give enough money to have that be the sole motivating factor - it has to be a pretty decent chunk.

Emily said...

Maybe they take the tax deduction so they can have more cash to give. In the UK, I have suddenly found that you can agree to donate your tax deduction to the charity, as well.

Carla said...

I believe that when we give it comes back to us in some way. If part of that is a tax return, so be it. If one is really adamant that they want the money given to a certain organization, then they can simply re-donate the return. I see it as the people's way of determining how some of their tax money is spent.