My friends who observe Lent are already talking about what they’re going to give up for this annual 40- day season. They plan to surrender things like chocolate, coffee, shopping and other pleasures and substitute prayer or reflection. Whether or not one is Lent-observant, the notion of thoughtfully giving up something to achieve a greater good is at the heart of effective charity.
When we talk with people about disaster donations, we usually start with how unsolicited material donations can hamper relief efforts on the ground, so that people will better understand the most effective ways to help. But around major holidays, we are reminded that smart compassion—or giving wisely— is also about thoughtfully and intentionally doing our best to improve the lives of people who suffer.
We’ve all heard that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” a biblical quote that is a staple of charitable thinking. This is ancient text, but much has been written more recently about the physiological and psychological benefits connected to the act of giving—coming soon in another blog! Giving feels great for givers, but in order to be great for those who receive, a gift has to be targeted to actual need. This is where thoughtful givers succeed—in focusing not on how good it feels to give, or on the gift itself, but on the person who will receive the gift.
At the heart of smart compassion is a deliberate focus on recipients. It is also the core of one of our favorite tag lines—“connect before you collect”— encouraging a link between giver and recipient and between the giver’s mind and heart. The conviction and urgency we feel to help others is a beautiful expression of heart that takes us halfway. The rest of the journey is a mindful focus on people’s needs; not what we think they need but what they actually need. Whether during Lent or year-round, getting this right connects us to those we wish to help in the best way, and achieves that higher good.