5 Common Barriers to Generosity — and How to Overcome Them

By Eric Most, VP Rocky Mountains Region

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

C.S. Lewis,Mere Christianity

Often we find ourselves facing challenges or barriers to achieve our greater goals. This is true even in our desire to lead more generous lives as stewards of God’s resources. Here are the top five common barriers I have seen to achieving greater generosity, and the ways in which we, as believers, can overcome them.

  1. The Consumption Rate is Too High

Take a look at the C.S. Lewis quote above. One of the most common barriers to generosity is spending too much in other areas of our lives. We don’t have the margin in our budget to be more generous in charitable giving. In other words, our consumption rate is too high.

As Lewis suggests, if we are living up to the same standard as those around us, like our neighbors, we are probably giving away too little. Taking a hard look at our consumption habits can be a valuable exercise. Look at your budget: what changes could you make? Are you being significantly generous? Or just average? Or not at all? This is a good time to examine your presumptions and priorities. 

Some people have not lived off a budget for a while. Maybe this is an opportunity to change that practice so you can be more generous. My wife, Jacqie, and I hadn’t used a budget for a long time, and we weren’t necessarily being unwise with our money. However, once we instituted an official budget, we found ways we could spend less on ourselves and more in generous ways. Perhaps you can do the same. What can you pay off or sell to give you more room to be more generous? Ron Blue’s book, Never Enough, is a great resource for tackling the push-and-pull between the budget necessary for life and maximizing giving for Kingdom impact.

  1. Lack of Alignment within Families

Another barrier to generosity can be a lack of alignment within our families about our intrinsic values and goals for giving. This is so important, and I would encourage you to start the conversation as soon as possible. It can be tough, but there are several resources that can help.

The Giving Strategy Guidebook can give you a structure to work through. It can help you discover what you’re passionate about. What are your goals? Where are you going? What are you giving? Talk about these with your family. Family discussion gives you family unity. Give kids assignments and find activities together to drive unity in your passions and in your giving. 

You can also go through a Journey of Generosity (JOG) together with your spouse. It’s free and it’s vital. You’ll walk away ready to go. If you’re interested, contact us, and we can facilitate a JOG for you or direct you to one that’s already planned. Read a book about generosity together and discuss it. There are many great resources in the Generosity Library, including Gospel Patrons by John Rinehart. I also recommend Rinehart’s Giving Together: An Adventure in Generosity, which gives you ideas for activities to do. 

  1. Success in Making and Saving Money, but Struggling to Give it Away

Another barrier I often see is people who have been very good at making money, then struggle to give it away effectively. Families generally have a saver and a spender. For example, spending is easier for me than it is for Jacqie. The Saver in the family might not be the best one to serve as the driver when it comes to giving – even though they are often largely responsible for your ability to accumulate wealth. Instead, pull in the partner that’s really good at gift-giving and spending money and let them lean into those strengths for generosity. 

There are some great tools for learning generosity. The Gathering is an interesting ministry and conference for families with great capacity for giving. They have very practical steps and experiences to learn how to give effectively and responsibly. Again, the Giving Strategy Guidebook section on “Passions” has a great list of causes you can prayerfully consider as you reflect on where God is pulling your heart. Invite the ministries you know into deeper conversations. Or, if you’re looking for ministries to support, ask friends or folks at your NCF office, and we can tell you about organizations in the areas you’re interested in.

  1. Living with Scarcity Mentality Instead of Abundance Mentality

Your mindset can be a barrier to generosity. That is particularly true if you live with a scarcity mindset instead of an abundance mindset. We may have a budget and be doing well controlling our consumption, but that could be because we are living with a scarcity mindset. Abundant by Todd Harper addresses how to develop and live from an abundance mindset. Spoiler alert: it involves being a courageous risk-taker who seeks first the Kingdom of God. If you’re interested in a copy, reach out to us, and we can send you one. 

At different phases in our lives, our desire to be responsible can feel restrictive to giving and generosity. When you’re starting your adult life, the risk-averse mindset tells you to sock away savings for a home or a wedding. Then you have small children, so you want to put money away for emergency medical expenses, insurance policies, and education. You tell yourself you can save later. When the kids are in school, you might be concerned about having enough for retirement and helping your kids get on their feet after they graduate. 

These are worthy goals, but they lead to a mentality where we tell ourselves that “when we get to that next stage of our life, it will be easier…” Here’s the thing: it’s not going to get easier. Whatever stage we are in, we must start being generous now. 

  1. Not Dreaming Big Enough

At the beginning of the year, I set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for our office and for our givers. We can do the same thing as families, too. Maybe we’re not dreaming big enough. So many of us support our kids with compassion. What would it look like to support the community that you’re a part of in the same way you support your children? Your family could decide to save and do something really big for a cause that’s meaningful to you. You could even do it with family and friends. Perhaps create a giving circle. Open up a Donor Advised Fund together as a group so you can give and distribute together for even greater impact.

These big dreams are for God’s glory and our joy. We serve a big God who has all the resources necessary. So what would it look like to make a really big commitment? We have Big Possibilities in the service of our great God. 

Financial advisor Tim Mohns has a wonderful story about setting “big dream” generosity goals. He proposed a matching gift for his church to encourage new first time givers, up to the amount of $25,000. Great big idea, but he didn’t have $25,000. When he made the commitment, he didn’t have the money. But then God provided (watch the story). The easiest way to overcome the barrier of not dreaming big enough is to start dreaming big. Nothing is impossible with God. Dream big and trust our big, great God!