Generosity Changes Everything—An Overview—Part 2

GIVE - Generosity Changes Everything - Part 2

Generosity: What is it?

by David Hazzard

Generosity includes much more than the giving of finances. It is the tangible expression of a mature heart and healthy spirit that seeks the benefit of others. It is more than mere intent. Most people want to be generous, like the street urchin in the 1992 Chicken Soup for the Soul classic, “A Brother Like That”[1].  When he learned about a man who had given a car to his brother, he said, “I wish that I could be a brother like that.” Generosity is always active and proportionate to one’s resources, not contingent on the possession of great wealth. 

Generosity is also understood to be more than a social investment as it does not seek anything in return. This does not mean that the generous person is not rewarded. They are. But the reward should not be the motivation for expressions of generosity.

A recent study at the University of Notre Dame explored yet another dimension of generosity.   In 2009, Notre Dame initiated a unique area of research called The Science of Generosity: Exploring an Essential Human Value.  The intent of this research was to integrate various disciplinary streams (human and social sciences, medicine, business, etc.) to increase understanding of what encourages and inhibits generosity in individuals, in communities and in societies as a whole. The ultimate goal was to encourage even greater generosity. 

Introductory historical research indicated that, according to Aristotle, generosity is one of three essential virtues of character along with courage and temperance. The generous individual, according to Aristotle, is one who gives of his or her possessions in a way that charts a reasonable path between covetousness and wastefulness. So the truly generous person not only gives, but gives responsibly. They thoughtfully consider how to give the appropriate commodity to the right people, in the right amounts, at the right time, with pleasure, and without looking out for oneself. Consequently, giving to those who lack character may not be seen as appropriate generosity. 

Thus, generosity must be seen as a complimentary virtue that is fully appreciated when exercised alongside of other necessary virtues. It only stands to reason that any expression of generosity would be tainted if the goods or funds donated were received from dishonest activity or less than honourable business practices. The virtues of honesty, integrity and diligence accent the beauty of generosity.

Charitable giving in Canada

The Fraser Institute recently updated its annual research on Generosity in Canada and the United States for 2012 [2].  This data, available over several years, provides valuable insight into the giving activities and trends of North Americans. The following results indicate that many have captured the value of generosity, but we still have a fair amount of work to do to encourage everyone, especially following generations, of its significant importance.

  • Manitoba had the highest percentage of tax filers who donated to charity in Canada (26.2%), followed by Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island (25.2% each), Ontario (24.5%), and Alberta (24.2%).
  • Manitoba also leads the provinces and territories in terms of donating the highest percentage of aggregate personal income to charity. Citizens of Manitoba gave 0.92% of aggregate income to charity, followed by Prince Edward Island (0.83%), and then the two westernmost provinces, Alberta and British Columbia (0.81% and 0.80%, respectively).
  • The research also indicated that, compared to our neighbour south of the border, Canadians are not quite as generous. In the U.S., the extent of generosity is about three percentage points higher: 26.7% of U.S. tax filers donate to charity compared to 23.3% of Canadians.
  • The gap between the two countries widens significantly when the depth of generosity is compared. In 2010, Americans gave 1.38% of their aggregate income to charity, resulting in a total of US$170.2 billion in donations. This rate of giving is more than double that of Canadians, who gave 0.66% of aggregate income (C$8.5 billion in total) to charity in 2010. If Canadians had given, in aggregate, the same percentage of their incomes to charity as did Americans, the Canadian charitable sector would have received an additional C$9.2 billion in privately donated revenue (a potential total of C$17.7 billion).

Generosity is especially important in today’s world and it does indeed change everything. It certainly changes the situation of those who are in need of some expression of generosity.  It changes the atmosphere of a family, business, corporation, church family, fellowship or nation that practises generosity. However, perhaps the most profound change is experienced on an individual level by in the person who simply chooses to give freely. Like Cornelius.  Like the widow Jesus honoured.

Individuals who live generously imitate a dimension of God’s life and character, and in doing so, experience dimensions of blessing that are only available when we are generous. In Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give…”  Proverbs 11:24 in THE MESSAGE paraphrase elaborates on the blessing, noting, “The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.”  

Generosity frees us from the ever present temptation to live primarily for ourselves. It enlarges our hearts and spirits, expands our horizons, and deepens our relationships with God and others. People who live generously have discovered that God is well able to more than replenish whatever they have chosen to give away. Their resource pie is as large as their understanding of God. They embrace risk and live optimistically believing any investment of time, love, laughter  and finances actually makes a significant difference.  

In 2008, a business couple I know prayerfully decided to generously fund an orphanage, school and clinic project in central Africa. Even though the project is still being completed, it has already produced so much change. The destiny and future of hundreds of children and numerous staff have been forever altered, simply because of their generosity.  In fact, that Village of Hope is bringing positive change to the entire community that it is located in.  The clinic itself has opened up new synergistic relationships with faculty and students at the University of Alberta. While funds have not been solicited for this project, a business colleague and his wife asked for the opportunity to join in giving generously to the project. The initial seed of generosity has yielded a harvest of additional generosity, producing heart transformation in another couple and family. It would take an entire chapter to share how their step of generous faith has affected their lives, the lives of their children and grandchildren. And that is just the beginning.

It is true. Generosity really does change everything. 

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Read the first part of the chapter here. This article is an excerpt of a chapter that appeared in Generosity Changes Everything – Even Us (Mississauga, ON: The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, January 2014), 13-20. David Hazzard is the executive secretary of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. To order this book, click here or call 905-542-7400 ext. 3223. Photo © istockphoto.com.

[1] Dan Clark, “A Brother Like That,” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Soul, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (New York: Simon & Schuster,1992).

[2] Fraser Institute, Research & News, “Generosity in Canada and the United States: The 2012 Generosity Index,” December 13, 2012. (Also see “Manitobans are the most generous Canadians but Americans far more generous overall.)

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