Day 45: Tithe Me Up!

Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.

Francis of Assisi

How much do you give to charity? Is it a little, a lot?

It has recently come out in the news that young people don’t give nearly as much, proportionately, as older people. What is the long-term impact of this on charities? Will they be sustainable?

To me, it seems that asking how much one gives to charity is akin to asking someone’s salary. In Britain, at least, still taboo.

Historically, religions have provided a guide as to how much to give. In Islam, zakat, the third pillar of Islam, requires an annual contribution of 2.5% of an individual’s wealth and assets. Tzedakah is the name for compulsory giving for Jews; Deuteronomy commands ten percent of earnings to be given away every three years.

Perhaps the decline in religious affiliation correlates to the fall in giving by younger generations.

So, when I’m in debt, and trying desperately to scramble out, what should I give? Nothing? A little?

When I started work, I signed up to Give As You Earn or Payroll Giving. It’s fantastic for charities, because their income is steady, and guaranteed. It’s also great for you, because deductions are made pre-tax, which means that (if you’re a basic rate tax payer) giving a tenner to charity effectively only costs you eight quid.

As a church-goer, how much I give to charity is based on a guideline from my church. Guidelines are useful; in schools there are rules to teach children how to behave, in society we have laws to keep order. In religion, alms-giving commandments are similar. If it’s a law, rather than a choice, there is no alternative. That’s not to say that we should feel forced into giving, just that it makes it the happy norm; it would be abnormal not to give.

Zakat, tzedakah, tithe. Do we need religions to impose rules on us, to behave charitably? In one American study*, religiosity and charitable giving were causally linked, and across the web many seem to think the same. Of course we don’t need these rules. Of course atheists, agnostics, and so on, give to charity, and do not need the threat of eternal damnation or an angry god to compel them to do so.

For me, it’s just useful having someone to tell me how much is a reasonable amount. At the start of the post, I asked you if you give a little or a lot. Who knows?

I like this quotation and I hope that, whether religiously inclined or not, you do too (non-believers can just ignore the last six words!):

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver

(2 Corinthians 9:7)

*Wolfgang Bielefeld, Gifts of Money and Time: the Role of Charity in America’s Communities, ed. Arthur C. Brooks (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).


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