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Giving to Charity in Secret…Because It’s Not About Me

Hidden Nuggets Series #29 – “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory before me. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their rewards. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” – Matthew 6:2-4

giving to charityJesus was calling out some pretty crusty characters in the Bible verses I quoted above. The “hypocrites” he mentioned were actually the religious teachers of the time known as the Pharisees. Even though they were the church leaders, they were actually very poor spiritual role models. On this occasion, Jesus was blasting them for their practice of giving to charity openly for all to see.

The Pharisees would give only to get noticed. They would make sure people were watching them at church when they put their offering in the collection box. They looked down on people who didn’t give as much. One could even find them on the street corners bragging about how much they had given, even though it was a small percentage compared to their overall wealth.

To an outsider, their giving to charity looked very religious and sacrificial. Jesus saw right through the motives and exposed their hypocrisy. In reality, he said their purpose in giving was to gain status, power and the favor of men. Needless to say, they didn’t like Jesus much for saying this.

Think this still applies to us today? I do. It’s not like human nature has changed. We battle against the same self-seeking motivations that characterized the Pharisees.

Giving to Charity Privately

I work very hard to keep my giving a secret. Mostly because it’s my own business how much I’m giving and to whom I’m giving it. I have my own giving plan and nobody needs to know what I’m doing.

The bigger reason though is to reduce any spirit of pride that might crop up. I have a selfish nature that loves to grandstand. It’s there ready to bust out at a moment’s notice and shout, “Yeah…that was me!”

Giving to charity shouldn’t be about seeking the praise of men. It’s about meeting a need based on an inner conviction to do so. It’s not about me…it’s about the cause. Forcing myself to privately give continually reminds me of that fact.

Now, it’s impossible to keep giving 100% a secret. Of course the church secretary knows how much we give because she processes our checks every month. I guess we could put cash in the offering plate to bypass her but that would feel really weird – almost like I was trying to get attention like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day.

All organizations keep a record of who sends them money. There are also electronic records of money sent through transactions in charitable giving accounts. And there can be times when somebody has to know about your giving, especially if you want that money designated for a certain project inside the organization. Even then, you can keep those “in the know” to a minimum and ask them to keep the source of the funds confidential.

Of course, you should never give secretively apart from your spouse. Giving strategies and targeting certain causes should be discussed and agreed upon by both parties in the marriage.

Does Giving Always Have to Be Secret?

Are there times when it’s OK to get noticed for or to broadcast ones giving? I’d say yes, as long as the giver remains humble and the focus remains on the cause.

For example, it would be tough to stop an organization from recognizing you publicly for giving. They want to show their appreciation and no amount of “No, please don’ts” on your part is going to stop that. If they want to recognize you, then fine. Accept it graciously and deflect the attention away from yourself and back onto the organization.

Additionally, you may be supporting a charitable cause like I do here with Samaritan’s Purse, headed by Franklin Graham (see right sidebar). My wife and I financially support their efforts in disaster relief, their Operation Christmas Child ministry and their desire to spread the message of Jesus’ love around the world. Their organizational philosophy aligns with our personal vision of ministry, so I’d want to do anything possible to draw others into supporting their efforts. I have more power to draw people into the cause if they know I’m financially invested myself.

The cool thing is that eventually all of this secret giving to charity will really get noticed. The promise from Matthew 6:4 is that one day “…your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” On that day of reward, those who stand before Him in heaven will get the attention they deserve from the one who matters most. And everyone gathered around you will see it.

Then it will be OK to get noticed for giving. Until then, best keep it a secret.

Questions: How do you fight the urge to get the “pat on the back” from giving? Can the knowledge of how much you give backfire on you? Are there any other times when you might need to let somebody know about giving to charity? What’s your favorite organization or charity to support?

Image at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Next Post: Interview With a Centenarian: At 100, My Grandfather Reflects on Life, Faith and Finding Purpose

Prior Post: How Are Various Investing Markets Related to One Another?

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  1. brokeGIRLrich says

    It makes me more anxious when people know I’m giving. A tax return from one organization showed up at my parents house recently and my mom grilled me until I told her I was donating to them. It actually made me very frustrated. I prefer keeping it between me and God.

    On the flip side, when the typhoon his the Philippines this past fall, I went out of my way to sort of advocate for that and definitely mentioned that I had donated to one of the programs I was emphasizing. Not the amount, but that I had. Even that made me a little uncomfortable, but I figured that discomfort was worth it if it encouraged others to do the same.

    • “I prefer keeping it between me and God.” I think you hit it right there…as much as that is possible to do, we need to only be accountable to God for our giving. I encourage people to give as well especially to a cause, but I don’t make it a practice to broadcast the amounts I’m giving.

  2. Done by Forty says

    I avoid that pitfall by not giving! Just kidding, kind of. We don’t give nearly enough…I suppose it’s all right to be open about that.

    Good post, Brian: I think pride plays a role in a lot of what we do.

    • I’ve found that when I’m not giving like I should there is some negative emotion or attitude blocking me from doing so. The situation won’t improve until I handle whatever it is that’s affecting me.

  3. Emily @ evolvingPF says

    I like to talk about our giving (particularly the discretionary offerings) on our blog. My hope is that it encourages other people to believe that they can give even when they have a tight financial situation. I get a bit uncomfortable when a commenter may compliment me for my efforts, so I think my motivation is in the right place.

    • I think that’s a good sign Emily…that you get uncomfortable. I feel awkward sometimes to when people gush all over me. Not that I don’t appreciate it. I do. But I have to fight against my spirit to want that just for the sake of getting it.

  4. The only time I have include my name in giving is when they have that scrolling thing sometimes on charity pages. I don’t include the amount, but sometimes I think in that case the “peer pressure” might be good. It might benefit the charity. But I don’t need it for praise.

  5. I am a big believer in sharing! While I don’t actively seek recognition for any giving we do as a family, I also am very open with others that sharing is a big part of our life without going into the financial details or because I want a pat on the back from them. We, as family, decide together who will share our money and time with and I think it’s important for kids to see how we give back to others … whether it’s money and/or time. I spoke in front of group of 10 year olds and I asked them how their family shared their money and time. Silence. I knew for a fact that many of their families were very philanthropic but obviously their kids weren’t aware. So if they don’t know sharing/giving is an important family value, why would they make it a part of their life when they get older? Some of them won’t.

    • I’m all about talking about sharing and giving. We do with our kids and they are actively giving themselves. My main point I guess is the overt, public display of giving being all about personal gain and self-promotion. That’s what the issue was in the Bible and I think some people still do that today. Maybe “secret” wasn’t the right word to use. 🙂

  6. I don’t think I’ve ever given much thought to whether or not I’d be recognized for making a donation, but I’ve never made any effort to keep a donation secret. I don’t know that being recognized for it (or even wanting to be recognized for it) is inherently selfish, especially if you turn that recognition into a tool for encouraging other people to get involved as well.

    • We know in our heart when we’ve crossed the line into selfishness. If I get ticked because I made a big donation and nobody said anything about it or thanked me, then I think that’s a big indicator I was only donating to get a personal ego boost. Your last sentence is the key to the whole selfish/non-selfish equation…it has to be about others.

      • I think that’s why I tend to take a fire-and-forget policy when it comes to donations. I don’t try to hide my identify when donating, but once I’ve made my donation, I step away from it and don’t worry about whether or not anyone recognizes me for it.

  7. I just finished the book “The Fish That Ate the Whale” about the (in)famous corporate banana titan Samuel Zemurray, and one of the parts I found so interesting was how even though he wasn’t particularly spiritual, he still very much abided by the Jewish ideal of giving without recognition. And that it’s only been after his death that institutions have named buildings, etc after him for the giving he made in his life, and really in contrary to his wishes to be anonymous.

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