Perspective

5 common obstacles to generosity (and how to overcome them)

When it comes to generosity, what’s standing in your way? If you’re like me, there are certain habits, thought patterns, and emotions that threaten to steal the joy and impact of leading a more generous life.

The good news is I have seen hundreds of individuals, business owners, leaders, and families rise above these issues and step into God’s story for their giving. And you can, too! Here are the five most common obstacles to generosity, along with key resources and ideas to help you overcome them.

1. Your consumption rate is too high

One of the most common barriers to generosity is spending too much in other areas. If you don’t have margin in your budget, it’s difficult to be more generous in charitable giving. In other words, your consumption rate is too high. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

“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

As Lewis suggests, if you’re living up to the same standard as those around you, you are probably giving away too little. Taking a hard look at your consumption habits can be a valuable exercise. Look at your budget: what changes could you make? How would you describe your generosity? This is a good time to examine your presumptions and priorities. 

Some people have not lived on 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. 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 on giving.

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 for maximizing giving for eternal impact.

2. You lack alignment within your family

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 consider your family’s legacy and values as soon as possible. It can be tough, but there are several resources that can help.

Our team can help you create a Giving Strategy with a framework to guide you. It can help you discover what you’re passionate about. What are your goals? Where are you going? What are you giving? Be sure to talk about these with your family – family discussion can bring family unity. Give your kids assignments and find activities together to drive unity in your passions and in your giving. We’d love to start a conversation with you as you think about these questions.

You can also go through a Journey of Generosity (JOG) on your own or with your spouse. It’s free, and it’s vital. You’ll walk away ready to go. If you’re interested, contact our team 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 our Generosity Library, including Gospel Patrons by John Rinehart. I also recommend Rinehart’s Giving Together: An Adventure in Generosity for ideas on activities to do. 

3. You don’t know how to give effectively

Another barrier I often see for people who have been very good at making money is that they can struggle to give it away effectively. Most families 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 may be 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 researching charities. Read through our list of grantmaking causes to 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 your NCF team to tell you about organizations that represent the causes you’re interested in.

4. You struggle with a scarcity mentality

Fear can be a barrier to generosity. That is particularly true if you live with a scarcity mindset instead of one of abundance. You may have a budget and be doing well managing your consumption, but viewing what you have through the lens of scarcity may be holding you back. 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.

At different phases in your life, your 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 set aside 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 give 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 the thinking that it will be easier to give at the next stage of life … when you get there. But here’s the thing: it’s not going to get easier. Whatever stage you are in, now is the time to start being generous. 

5. You’re not dreaming big enough

At the beginning of the year, I set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for our Rocky Mountains team and for the givers we support. And you can do the same, too. Maybe you’re not dreaming big enough? Say you support your kids with great devotion – what would it look like if you supported your community in the same way?

What if your family combined resources with other families to do something really big for a cause that you all care about? Or what if you did this with a group of friends? (Some are already.) Perhaps create a giving circle. Open a Giving Fund (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. He 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. Let’s go after some of them!

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. It was a great big idea, but he didn’t have $25,000. When he made the commitment, he didn’t have the money. But, very quickly, God provided (watch the story).

If you struggle with these common obstacles or other issues, I encourage you to pray and seek God for the wisdom to take a step, whether it be big or small. Nothing is impossible with God. So, what are you waiting for?

Learn how a Giving Strategy can help you overcome obstacles to generosity.

Photo: Gaurav K

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