Charity moves good intentions into action

Andrew Warner

Just as assuredly as leaves will fall, this season brings requests for donations: United Way, Community Shares, local nonprofits and faith communities. It seems everyone makes an appeal this time of year. 

One could respond to these appeals by weighing the competing needs of the organizations: Which one most needs my donation to do its work? Or prioritizing one charity over another: Which is most important to me? 

But giving to charity is about more than supporting the good work of a nonprofit organization. Charity is about our desire to be generous. We not only ask what a charity will do but who we will be or become by virtue of giving. In brief, giving to charity changes us spiritually. 

It starts with our self-identity. Our American culture encourages us to identify ourselves on the basis of brands. What neighborhood have we bought into with our house? What does our car say about us? What do we wear?

We live in a world of brands, of identities shaped by shopping. 

A gift to a charity is part of basing our identity not on what we own, but instead on generosity. We become people whose wealth is measured not in what we acquire but in what we give away. 

Such gifts move us away from a culture of things to a new sense of connection to people in the past and those yet to come. Nearly 100 years ago, Fannie Wells Norris and her son Daniel Wells Norris gave my congregation the funds to build a gymnasium for the youth in our neighborhood. The gift reflected the commitment of the family to serve youth who were homeless or in difficult situations. They also founded the Norris Center at Lad Lake. 

All these years later, their gift continues to enrich the lives of youth. Every week my congregation partners with a social service agency called Pathfinders to serve homeless and at-risk youth at the church.

The Norris’ gift connected them to people they could never know, 100 years in the future. My own gifts to Pathfinders connect me back to Fannie Wells Norris and Daniel Wells Norris. 

But generosity is not just about the past and the future. It’s also about the here and especially the now.

Dan Savage famously started the “It Gets Better” project, in which people make videos encouraging bullied LGBT people to know their lives will get better.

When we give to charity we move from saying “It gets better” to “I’ll make it better.” Charity moves us from wishing for change to ensuring that it happens. Giving to charity can transform how we see ourselves, connect us to those who came before us, and turn us into people who change the world.

This fall, amid all the charities asking for your help, find a way to say yes.