How to give -- a quest for the right strategy
Posted by Kevin Salwen on 02.13.2010Share

A little while back, I wrote about how much giving is enough (that post is here). Quantity makes for an interesting debate, and it's one that CBS Sunday Morning explored nicely in this 8-minute segment.

But the second big question is how to give. We've all been approached by the person on the street, sometimes with a clever story, sometimes with little but a heartfelt ask. We want to help but we know that the dollar we might extend will do nothing to ease any long-term issue. As we describe in the book, our family carries McDonald's Arch cards or Chick-fil-A cards in our vehicles to give out -- that way, we are more comfortable the money goes to food not booze or cigarettes.

A few days back, I saw a man holding a sign that stopped me cold. It wasn't the Hungry, Homeless, Please Help that you usually see. It had these simple words: So little to you means so much to me. Please help. God bless. Wow. "So little to you means so much to me" rattled around in my brain, and still does.

He was right of course, so little to us can mean so much to others. But HOW? How could I really help that man long-term? How do we actually help others if they want to change?

We don't presume to have all the answers -- particularly in the case of people (we can clean up a park or adopt abused pets, those solutions work great for non-human endeavors). But in our year of studying the topic, certain tenets became clear about helping other humans build a better life.

-- First, hand up works better than handout. Always. We can't make the change. It must be about the people building their own future. You want to build the well or school, go for it. But if the individuals in those communities aren't full partners (or more), it's a flop in the making.

-- Second, people must be the authors of their future. If you bring the answer and they are not involved, forget it. That's why bottom-up almost always works better than top-down. The best fixes are often entrepreneurial.

But there is another very cool way of looking at how to give. The 12th-Century rabbi Maimonides created a ladder of giving, from the least charitable to the most charitable. I'd love to know what you think of it. (remember, it's from least to most, with annotation from Book on Life.):

8. “Gives Unwillingly”

Lowest on the ladder is the person who gives only because he is forced to do so.

This is the gift of the hand but not of the heart.

7.“Gives Less Than He Should, But Cheerfully”

The person who gives less than he ought to, but with a smile.

6.“Gives After He is Asked”

The person who gives cheerfully, and as much as he can, but only after being


5.“Gives Before He is Asked”

The person who gives before he has been asked, but who puts it into the poor

man’s hand, embarrassing him.

4. “Giver Does Not Know Receiver”

The poor man knows from whom he takes but the giver does not know the


3.“Receiver Known, Giver Unknown”

One who knows to whom he gives, without the poor knowing from whom they

receive. For example, in olden days, our ancestors brought gifts into poor

people’s homes and left without being seen.

2. “The Giver and Receiver Unknown to Each Other”

One who gives charity to the poor without knowing to whom he gives and

without the poor knowing from whom they take.

1. “Help a Person Help Himself”

Prevent poverty by giving someone a gift or a loan or finding work for him so

that he will not need to appeal for help.

I'm not sure I agree with the order or all the philosophy. What do you think?

Dear Kevin and Hannah, Such a wonderful way to spend Valentine's Day. It was a pleasure to meet the book last night and plan to share with my students. "So little to you means so much to me.Please Help." Check out "The Cathedral Within" by Bill Shore. Best, Linda
Posted by Linda at 09:34am on 02.15.2010

Sorry, thats practical NOTE!
Posted by Norm at 10:34pm on 02.14.2010

Kevin..Just heard your interview on Radio New Zealand...nice one! As for the Ladder of Giving, (most interesting,) and we think it likely that people move up or down the ladder depending on their understanding and passion level! The secret is how to help them find the PASSION to give. May we suggest you and others read Luke 6:38 about give and it shall be given back! On a practical not: Do you think we should each start our own project to channel giving or work thru already existing efforts (like yours) ?
Posted by Norm at 10:33pm on 02.14.2010