Starting a Practice of Giving: Why We Give, And The Importance of Reflection

Note: This post is part 1 of a series, you may want to start with the introduction.


When Paige and I started our giving practice, we already had many reasons to give. And our reasons to give ultimately influenced how and why we gave.

We both gave our time through volunteering as teenagers and young adults. Our reason at the time was the general sense of it being good to help people. We aimed to help with the opportunities that were readily available and interesting to us at the time.

As we got older, and our giving practice developed, we began to explore and expand our reasons of giving. What in particular were we hoping to achieve with our giving? What inspired us to give deeply and often? What ethical views help us align our actions with our motivations?

Many conversations, people, classes, books, and hours of reflection have developed, and will continue to develop, our views on giving. These hours of exploration are what has grown and maintained our giving practice more than anything else.  

The important step to us was making discussion of our giving a priority in our life.

Taking time to explore our life, values, and motivations helps us better understand our giving practice and its role in our life.  We find it important, meaningful and also joyous, reflecting how we can do the most good, with our time and money.

Reflection has been so important to us, I want to focus on some of the ways reflection has improved our giving practice.

Three Ways Reflection Has Helped Our Giving Practice

1. It helped develop our motivations to give.

Reflection can reveal or develop your motivations that will support every other part of a giving practice.

Over time we have developed a deeper understanding of why we give. While we have many reasons to give, we consider our cornerstone reason: the importance of helping others.

Much of our reflection has gone into understanding what this means to help others and how to maintain this motivation. One source of inspiration in this area has been the book “Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World by Matthieu Ricard.

2. It helped us change the focus of our giving to better align with our motivation.

Reflection can change your ethical and philosophical views of the giving, possibly changing where you give.

Although we had the motivation to help others, it was through ethics and philosophy that we found a framework to improve our giving. Through considering ethics we began to ask: who should we help? How much we should help?

We have been inspired by Peter Singer’s writings on global poverty and effective altruism.  His essay Famine, Affluence, and Morality, which covers points more fully elaborated in his book The Life You Can Save, helped us steer us towards global health and poverty reduction opportunities.

We began to see our giving as a limited resource, and the importance of using this resource wisely. We began to look for the areas our money could not just do good, but do the most good, and to learn from other people looking to do the same in the Effective Altruism community. As it highlighted our privilege and relative wealth, we also started to consider giving much more than we would have otherwise.

3. It helped us understand the impact we can have on others, helping us to keep giving.

Reflection can help you see the difference you are making in the lives of others. This helps keep you motivated.

We began to learn that by using research and by targeting high need, neglected, global issues, we could make an even larger difference with our giving.  This made us even more excited to give.

The more great opportunities we learned about, the more we wanted to give. Finding resources like Givewell, which evaluates global health charities by evidence backed impact, allowed us to feel confident that our giving would likely have a large positive impact.

Also finding communities, such as Effective Altruism, exposed us to new ways to help others we may have never considered.


Some simple things you can try to reflect on giving and helping others:

  • Journal about your giving
  • Read a blog post about giving (we recommend “Can One Person Make a Difference?”)
  • Read a book about giving, (we recommend starting with Doing Good Better)
  • Talk with people who are close to you about helping others & giving

 

Just a few moments of reflection can be enough to spark a lasting change in your giving practice.

And when these changes can save someone’s life, it is worth finding a moment to reflect.

 

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