The Future of Generosity

“Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know I am moving from fear to love.”

Henri Nouwen

Compass Catholic is a nonprofit ministry that runs on a combination of books sales and donations. For that reason, I spent part of this past weekend preparing our Giving Tuesday Plan to increase our donor base. Our Core Values dictate that we don’t have affiliate agreements and we don’t recommend any financial goods, products, or services to monetarily benefit the ministry so as to remain completely unbiased. For that reason, we are only funded by book sales and generous donors. Our books and Bible studies have affected thousands of people around the world. We need these financial disciples to consider Compass Catholic in their generosity plan. 

While preparing for Giving Tuesday, I watched an OSV talk featuring Nathan Chappel entitled “AI and the Future of Generosity.” In this talk, Mr. Chappel defines generosity as “the outward expression of a visceral reaction.” I couldn’t agree more with this definition. In this talk, Chappel exposes the fact that generous giving has been at a standstill, reflecting 2.1% of the GDP for many years now. 

What’s concerning, according to Chappel, is the demographics of who is being generous. The generosity rate of the middle class is dropping but billionaires are donating at record rates. And while members of the middle class tend to reflect their faith in their generosity, billionaires don’t. According to Chappel, the ultra-wealthy are inclined to give to secular causes…think the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For this reason, Chappel argues, religious organizations will be the ones to lose by these shifting generosity demographics. 

Chappel is right in that religious organizations will suffer under this new generosity paradigm. But this argument is incomplete. The faithful middle class, who don’t see the point in being charitable when their gifts may seem insignificant compared to the ultra-wealthy and won’t get to experience the rewards of generous giving, will suffer as well. This is heartbreaking because generosity is not a luxury for the rich. Charity, one of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, is a spiritual necessity for every individual, no matter their net worth.

Acts of generosity, though valuable to the organizations we support, ultimately benefit the giver more than the receiver. God shows us time and time again that he can’t be outdone in generosity. There is even scientific data that supports this:

  1. Generous individuals report greater satisfaction with lifeAccording to TheFool.Com, 74% of high-generosity respondents reported satisfaction with their lives, compared to 60% of low-generosity respondents. The study also reported that high-generosity respondents were more than twice as likely to call themselves “very satisfied” with life.
  1. Generous people are happier with their careers. In the same study at TheFool.Com, 70% of those high in generosity expressed satisfaction with their jobs. Only 49% of those low in generosity had that same satisfaction.
  1. Generosity improves relationships, including marriage. In a study of generosity and its effect in marriage published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers found that both the receiver and the giver of generosity expressed high levels of marital satisfaction. 

Catholic organizations with fundraising goals need to reframe their understanding of generosity. The “outward expression” isn’t only a knee-jerk reaction to a surge of empathy. Rather, generosity should be thought of as a system that starts with the understanding that God is the true owner of all our earthly possessions. Money is a tool, not a goal. When religious organizations focus too much on fundraising goals (think capital campaigns, annual appeals, and yes, even Giving Tuesday) they may forget that supporting a lifestyle of financial discipleship is where true, compounding change happens. 

Sure, it would be nice if we could “move the generosity needle” from 2.1% of the GDP to 3.1% or even higher. But God is the owner of 100% of the GDP. Every dollar we spend as Catholics should reflect our faith. This not only includes charitable donations but also how we budget our money, what companies we choose to do business with, how we consciously avoid debt, and how we invest our wealth. Imagine what would happen if all Catholics used every dollar in their control as a vote towards the type of world we want to live in. We would very quickly see our Catholic faith reflected all around us. 

Financial discipleship is not a finish line to be crossed or a goal to be accomplished. Instead, it’s a lifestyle to be lived. Generosity is a large part of financial discipleship. It’s a spiritual gift meant for everyone to enjoy. In case you’re wondering, Compass Catholic will participate in Giving Tuesday. But our plan will reflect this understanding of generosity. 

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