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Posts Tagged ‘philanthropy’

Following on from my previous post about how to prise a few pennies from my friends for good causes, Jonathan Ruffer writes here about the joy of giving.

[Last year Jonathan Ruffer paid £15 million to save 12 paintings by Francisco Zurbaran in Bishop Auckland castle. He plans to spend a further £18 million turning the castle into a centre re-telling the history of Christianity in the Northeast.]

Not many of us will have the problem of what to do with a great amount of wealth; but his thoughts about how to free oneself from the ‘burden’ of riches are a healthy challenge to any of us who have any savings stashed away for a rainy day.

The great calling to mankind is that we love one another, and it is in giving that we find its clearest expression. It is more blessed to give than to receive — and the reason is that ‘where your treasure is, there is your heart also’. We have the capacity to love — to have treasure — but we can’t be trusted to treasure the right thing. Personal giving releases our grasp on material things, and gives us compassion for people, and they become our treasure.

What does this mean in practice? There are only three things we can do with money — spend it, save it or give it away. For the rich, saving is more dangerous than the emptiness of spending: big money not only defines a person, it shackles him. We are not designed as creatures to store our wealth, or for that matter, our food. They are there to pass through, and if there is a blockage, the goodness turns to poison. Currency is a Miltonic word from the Latin, currere, to flow. So don’t hoard it — give it away!

And this has to be done by example. It’s no good a poor man telling a rich man to change his behaviour — he cannot match his words with actions. So it has to be the rich — the very rich — who must state this blindingly obvious truth if it is to have any force. But the words have no meaning without the action; it is the rich who have to give it away. And if their wealth is fabulous, that probably means most of it.

This sounds as much fun as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or a Methodist sermon, but, believe me, it is the most wonderfully releasing thing — life as a colour film after black and white: life in all its abundance. If this sounds strange, it is worth remembering that wealth has all the character of a bully: whack it away, and it turns out to be a very insipid adversary. I know that at first hand! There is no sacrifice in it at all. I once asked one of the great northern wealth-creators why so few people followed his example of beneficence. His answer, with cheesy grin, was that people had no idea what fun it was. Saying boo to the bully is a great freedom, and keeps the money circulating.

In today’s world, a lot of good can come from this. One rich man giving it away has all the feel of a futile act, but it’s not. The demonstration of a truth always has power; moreover, it can show others the way. It is lack of imagination, not meanness, which shackles the common-or-garden multi-millionaire. Show a better way, and a trickle, perhaps a flood of givers will emerge, blinking from the dungeon darkness.

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I had a fascinating conversation with friends yesterday about money. I’m about to do an appeal for a charity I’m involved in, and I was asking their advice about the best way to go about this. Do I gently ask everyone on my email list if they’d like to help out with this worthy cause, and let them get back to me if they would? Do I just send them a link to the ‘donate’ website and hope for the best? Do I ask them, American-style, if they would like to pledge a certain amount – even before they have reached for their cheque-book – in the hope of encouraging them to make a commitment, and to solidify that commitment by telling me?

Lots of cultural and psychological issues come up here, and many of them touch on the strange nature of being English. Our awkwardness in talking about money – we hate to reveal our bank balance, our salary, our debts, our charitable giving – even to close and trusted friends. It’s just something you don’t do.

I was saying how much I admire the American instinct to praise, publicly, those who give generously to good causes. Yes, there are risks: it can encourage pride, jealously, etc. But why is it that we would happily praise those who give their time in volunteering, or their wisdom in teaching, or their patience in suffering, or their good example in leading – but we feel there is something rather grubby about putting the spotlight on someone’s generosity in giving some of their hard-earned cash, even if it is making a huge difference to the lives of others? My friends didn’t agree – they thought if you are going to give in this way you should do it humbly and quietly, without drawing attention to yourself, and without others giving you special attention. Of course I can see the truth in that, I just think there is something we are missing here.

These are just some of the questions that came up over coffee yesterday morning! Now I must work out what to do myself, and write the email appeal.

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