Is it better to give my money, possessions or time?
My church operates an Outreach Center in a nearby inner city. We run a thrift store, teach English as a second language, and offer a kids club. We use volunteers to run the store, teach our classes, play with kids, and provide our guests with a hot meal.
Over 2,000 people attend our church, but only about 30 people volunteer at the Outreach Center on a regular basis. Plenty of people donate money to the church that pays our budget. More than enough people donate their clothes to our thrift store – so much so that we have over 100 totes full of surplus used clothes in our storage space. When someone at church asks about the Outreach Center, they are usually not looking to volunteer, but are wondering when they can bring their used clothes.
While I appreciate people donating money and clothing, (we wouldn’t have an Outreach Center without them), we really need people to donate their time. We need people to sell the clothes to poor families who can’t afford to shop at a more expensive store. We need volunteers to teach English to parents so they can help their own kids with homework. We need helpers to do crafts with kids and to teach them about Jesus.
So, before you think about giving your money, possessions, or time to an organization that cares for the poor, please check to see what they need most.
No non-profit organization is likely to turn down a monetary donation in any amount. But check your motivation when you give money. Some people only give money because it’s the easiest way to give without having to go anywhere and get their hands dirty serving. Others give money because health issues or life circumstances make them unable to go out and help. Whatever your motivation, please only give money to an organization that is forthright with its finances, a group with some kind of accountability and oversight. Money keeps non-profit organizations in business, but please consider giving in the following ways as well.
There are probably more than just a few thrift stores and food banks in your town, all of which would love to take your food, clothes, or other donations. Food banks depend on donations to fill their shelves so they can give free groceries to families in need. Homeless shelters and missions depend on both food and clothing donations to feed and clothe the homeless in their city. Clothing and canned food drives are always a great opportunity to give in ways that can really help others. Some non-profit organizations use thrift stores to subsidize their other costs to help the poor. Consider asking them what they need and donating any possessions you may have accordingly.
Donations of money or possessions should never be used as a substitute for giving your time. While non-profit organizations need money and donations, most could never operate without volunteers. Volunteers are needed to do simple things that save their staff multiple hours of time, like cleaning, sorting, and work projects. Volunteers are also needed to bring a personal touch to the organization and to build relationships with both the staff and the people they serve. Every organization needs friendly faces to come with energy and excitement that often only volunteers can bring.
A Warning About Giving
People mean well when they give money to a homeless person on the street, but this may not be the most helpful thing to do. Because some people will lie and take advantage of you, the best way to give to the poor is through a well established non-profit organization in your city. They will know best how to use your resources to help the poor. Hopefully, they have programs that will help get someone off drugs or off the streets in ways that just giving away money or food could never do. A good non-profit organization will not allow people to take advantage of them. They will use your resources to raise people permanently out of poverty.
- Invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- What could happen if you just gave money to a homeless person on the street?
- When has someone taken advantage of your generosity?
- When was the best time you ever gave money towards a person, event, or an organization? How did you see your money making a difference?
- When you give away your possessions, do you give out of your excess or is it a sacrifice? What’s the difference?
- Name some places where you have volunteered your time. When have you had a bad experience as a volunteer? When have you had a good experience?
- How could giving your time be just as valuable, if not more valuable, as giving away your money or possessions?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.