Should you give money to family or charity?

  • PublishedJuly 11, 2011

Giving money is usually an act of generosity and concern for other people’s welfare. It should give the giver joy and fulfillment that they have done a good act to others. However, it’s not always that giving brings in the desired results. It sometimes creates friction and misunderstanding, especially when the recipient expects more and fails to show appreciation. Giving to family is especially a thorny issue. The only people within the family you may have an obligation and duty to give to are your parents and your children. You do not have the same duty to give to your siblings or other family members. Even though you may love your siblings or other relatives with all your heart, these are different kinds of relationships. When giving to a family member other than a parent, or a person who served in a parental capacity, or your children, there is a real danger of this gift of money tainting the purity of your love, thus tainting the purity of your intentions. You may be thinking that this does not apply to you, given how much you love your brothers and sisters, but you must take heed. Such gifts of money can eventually lead to bitterness.

You should always think very carefully before giving your monthly offering to a family member other than a parent or own child. This is especially true if you have more than your siblings who may think that you owe them a living and therefore ought to give them a fair share of your wealth. Most family feuds arise from money and are often started by those who don’t have their own money and expect to live on other’s sweat. Consider carefully before making family members financially dependent on you. It is best if you could help them become financially independent, say helping them get a job or start a business, rather than making them live on handouts from you. Giving handouts to family may create expectations on both sides, which may ruin the relationship.

For instance, if you happen to have a brother or sister making far more money than you are, you may secretly wish they do a little something to help make your life easier. This is a common thought. Feelings that your more endowed brother or sister should not be spending so much money on a lavish lifestyle when you are scrounging to survive are real. But if your brother or sister gave you some money to help ease your financial burden, do you really believe that no expectations would be attached? Won’t that brother or sister wonder about, or care what you did with the money? Did you pay the school fees for your children? Did you pay the rent? Did you pay the deposit for that plot you wished to buy to build a home? Or did you spend the money carelessly?

If soon after receiving a ‘donation’ from your brother or sister, they met you having an expensive dinner in a restaurant, or shopping for clothes or wearing new clothes you didn’t have before the ‘donation’, would you freeze with guilt in case he or she thought you were spending their ‘donation’ frivolously? Isn’t it expected that next time you ask your sibling for help they will ask what you need the money for and if they give you, will expect more accountability? What if you start doing much better financially? Will you feel the need to give back the money to your siblings? Will your brother or sister who helped you before feel you should? If you find yourself answering ‘yes’ to any of these questions, the money you give to your siblings is neither purely given nor purely received.

Maybe yours is one of the rare families where you truly do see each other as one. But most people can’t open their hands gracefully to give to or receive from family members in a pure way. You should always be careful when giving to family. Relationships between family members are known to be ruined by money. Those giving expect the family member they give to be accountable and show appreciation, while those receiving may expect more and may also not see why they should account for what they receive.

With friends, as with family, care giving is not an inborn righteous duty, which makes it extremely difficult to give money to friends in an appropriate way. While it can be done, it is extremely difficult. If you offer something as treasured to you as your money to a needy friend, say, to pay her bills, you have not really done anything to make yourself, or her, more powerful. In fact, you may have created a problem for yourself – because from then on, whenever you see that person, whether you want to or not, you will remember the money you gave, and so will your friend. You will remember it in particular if you fall on some harder times somewhere down the road, especially if your friend is doing much better. Money can forever alter the love in friendship, so think carefully before you start giving to friends.

The purest gift is one that is given to charity or to church. A gift to charity is the one that truly loosens your cramped clutch on money. With this kind of gift, no debt is created and no bondage. You are faceless to the charity, a name in a donor’s data bank or church records. Maybe you are just slipping cash into a donation box and no one will ever know that you have given. If you give this way, your gift is pure. The most liberating offering of all is one you make to a charity you care deeply about. You are fulfilled when you see this charity making a difference to the community and you know you are part of that success.

Money is powerful when it changes hands, but it feels different when given to an individual person than when given to charity or church. When you give money to the beggar on the street, or the parking boy, you expect them to acknowledge your generosity by either saying ‘thank you’ or smiling, or showing in any other way their appreciation. It is the same when you tip a waiter in a restaurant. The least you expect is a ‘thank you’ and a happy face. When you go to a place of worship and drop money in the offering box, the most you do is say a prayer but you don’t expect a ‘thank you’ or even an acknowledgement because you know your deeds are being appreciated not just by the house of worship, but also by a higher being – the giver of all you own.

Most people feel awkward giving money to an individual person, and most would also feel awkward being the recipient, which should tell you something as well. Remember, the action of giving is meant to open you up, literally to alter how you feel; its power is rooted in your altered state. Most people, too, feel a serenity when placing the donation in the box, for such a gift to charity is a pure one without the emotional baggage of giving to an individual person.

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