Songs of Joy

 In Books, Charity, Foundations, Fred's Blog, Giving, Identity, Money, People, Philanthropy, Relationships, Scripture, Transitions, Uncategorized, Wealth

Listen to “Songs of Joy” by Fred Smith


Studies are showing that giving, especially smaller gifts, has increased substantially during the pandemic. In fact, donations to food banks and other assistance programs has increased by 667 percent nationally. While experts predicted it would go in just the opposite direction, the CARES Act has expanded the amount of giving individuals may take as a tax deduction and the giving by private foundations and donor advised funds has surged during the coronavirus crisis, eclipsing donations during the 2008 recession and after the September 11 terrorist attacks. As one person described it, At the beginning of the pandemic, I did the same thing everyone did: I looked at the stock market and said, ‘Oh, my God.’ Then I held my nose and said, ‘Forget that — the money isn’t mine anymore. It will do more work out there.’”

I received a letter from a long-time friend that has me thinking about the variety of ways we respond to changes in fortune — especially in our ability to give. 

“Over the past couple of years, my interest in, and enthusiasm for, our foundation’s giving has been waning. I have been just going through the motions — and sometimes not even that. This has occurred during the time when the size of our foundation’s giving potential has decreased considerably.

Several weeks ago, I began to really focus on what the Lord had to say to me about my lack of enthusiasm and interest in the foundation. I have reached two conclusions.

First, the financial size of our giving potential had caused me to fall into the ‘bigger is better’ mentality — if I can’t give as much as I could in the past, any giving is without ‘significance.’ This clearly is outside of God’s will — and I have repented. The second conclusion is that there are almost uncountable ministries and organizations that do not seek or want big grants. All they need is a little — and that a little can help in a big way.

 I am more enthusiastic about giving than I have been for a long time. It feels good!”

Ironically, an interview with another friend we did years ago on the challenges of a sudden increase in assets revealed some of the very same themes as this letter. They are important to remember in each case. Here is what he said:

“It startled my identity.” In both cases they had to deal with how they saw themselves and how others were now going to relate to them. Having more to give and less to give are exactly the same in this. Knowing who you are outside of your assets is the place to begin.

“There was a sense of grief in that because I liked that level of giving and was not comfortable with this new level.” We certainly understand grief when the assets decline, don’t we? There is no better word to describe what it is like to lose the ability to continue to give as we have in the past.

“I found I had to make the transition and then get comfortable with it. I had to find a level of trust with people and the future.” It is so tempting to delay making the changes or putting off communicating those changes to people. What will they think? Will we still have a relationship? What does a future without invitations to leadership conferences and major donor treatment look like?

“What is the best that could happen and what is the worst?” It’s hard but important to think that way when there has been a sudden change that likely will last for a long time. We want to hold on to what we have had – the associations, the friendships, the acclaim and the sense of making a difference. But, as my first friend has discovered, there is a future for smaller gifts. He has found ministries and organizations he never would have seen in the past and, I suspect, found ways he can make contributions other than money.

In 1973, British economist E.F. Schumacher published the book, Small Is Beautiful. One of the memorable quotes is, “The art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing.” It’s true, and it is an art.

Thousands of years ago Psalm 126 put it this way:

“Those who sow with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping,

carrying seed to sow,

will return with songs of joy,

carrying sheaves with them.”

There is sadness and uncertainty when we experience financial changes – both loss and gain. However, when it is loss there are places to sow we might never have noticed and returns we might not have experienced otherwise. Sometimes we just hold our noses, make the difficult changes, and give.

Art by Hilda Belcher


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Showing 6 comments
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    Bill Weary

    Not just a question of size of gift but also of recipient : smaller gifts may have far greater impact in a small, local nonprofit than in one accustomed to the very large donations.

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    Joseph Wu

    Action (or inaction) based on how we process a decision or how we feel about a situation is often not synonymous with faith. Often faith requires putting aside what we think or how we feel but to act in simple obedience to God’s command and promises (Ps. 82:3-4), then stepping aside to see how our offering is transformed to bring glory to His name. Thank you Fred for reminding me that as with the mustard seed, the size of our giving is not what’s important. What matters is our obedience and the size of our God!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith

      That is sometimes the definition of courage – and it does not mean what we do by faith will always be successful. We do it anyway.

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    John Sims

    Thanks, Fred — lots to be learned here. By the way, great column in the paper today!

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