First of all, a slight disclaimer: Sam would want everyone to know that he is actually four and a HALF years old, not four.
It just made the title a little unwieldy.
With the legislative session in Kansas (and many other states) pretty recently concluded, and the damage wrought by the devastating budget cuts only beginning to take hold, and nonprofit organizations around the country struggling with the combination of public cuts and declines in private donations, I was struck by my oldest son’s reaction to a recent giving campaign at our church.
After the pastor explained that we were raising money for community development activities that help families living in poverty in the U.S. and around the world gain the skills and assets they need to live healthy and sustainable lives (livestock, small business capital, clean drinking water, core health services), he carefully assembled his cardboard bank, like kids have been doing for decades in the developed world.
And then he proceeded to put all of his allowance, saved from the past few weeks (not in anticipation of this, but just because he hadn’t gotten around to spending it yet) in the bank.
I reminded him that he gets $1 each week specifically to “share”, and that he could use that money instead of his spending money. And then I realized what I was doing and stopped talking.
He hadn’t forgotten about his “sharing” money. He was simply recognizing this giving opportunity as a good way to spend his allowance, more worthy than any of the ideas for personal consumption that he might have had. He gave joyfully, and rather effortlessly, with no angst over what could have been or what might come, but with an uncomplicated embrace of this chance to be part of something bigger than he.
I’m not suggesting that state legislatures, or even individual adult donors, give exactly like a preschooler. I mean, Sam’s basic needs are obviously all taken care of, and he gave out of truly disposable income that’s admittedly limited in many households and state capitals.
Except there is something to learn from his approach to money. It reflects a philosophy of abundance that’s not, really, unrealistic at all, but rather a hope-filled and somewhat self-fulfilling attitude that treats money as a tool (which it is), rather than something to be revered in its own right. He knows that he’ll get more satisfaction from hearing those coins clink in the big jar at church, and from hearing the stories about communities his money has helped, than he does from seeing the money sit on his dresser. And he knows that, quite honestly, other people need and can use that money much more than he.
And he’s right.
It reminded me, in a perhaps odd way, of a legislative forum I attended early in this session, where one of my favorite Kansas Senators lamented how we’re approaching the whole budget quandry from the “wrong end”, asking not “what are the functions that state government should perform, in order to achieve the prosperity and health and security and quality of life we desire (and deserve)”, but, instead, “how much money can we rather painlessly come up with, and how should we divide those limited dollars?”
Which question we ask does matter, and which question we choose will determine the kind of state government we end up with. The first looks at outcomes and believes that investments create abundance, while the latter approaches governing from a scarcity mentality and likely sows more scarcity in exchange.
And a similar cycle plays out in nonprofit organizations, too, even those that don’t rely on government funding. As donors, we more often give from what we think is left over, rather than starting with a question about what we want our donations to accomplish and what support we think the organizations to which we give really deserve.
Nonprofit organizations that depend on our gifts know that this is the giving reality, and they respond in kind: figuring out what they can possibly do with the money they can find, rather than setting goals and pursuing revenue that makes those dreams possible.
None of this is designed to berate nonprofit administrators, who confront nearly impossible choices these days when they do their books. Or even state legislators, who receive scarcity messages as they door-knock in their campaigns and find it difficult to imagine operating from another perspective.
It’s just a reminder, that perhaps we could build a better world, the world we all imagine if we allow ourselves that luxury, the world we know that we really deserve, if we approached the prospect of sharing, whether our public funds or our charitable contributions, with the gleeful abundance of a four-and-a-HALF-year old, who seems to know instinctively that, indeed, much is possible.