In ancient times, tithing was a common practice in Jewish and Christian communities. People would be required to give a tithe, equal to one-tenth of their income or in some cases agricultural produce, to the church. While not as common today, some people still practice tithing voluntarily by giving to religious organizations or for charitable purposes.
The appeal of tithing is its simplicity. It provides clear structure to one’s giving, leaving no wiggle room for digression. A tenth is a tenth, plain and simple.
But does the age-old practice of tithing still have value today? I wanted to find out for myself. So with the fresh start of the New Year, I decided to try my hand at tithing for all of January.
Intent on finding a modern, secular version of the practice, I consulted the book The Power of Giving by Azim Jamal and Harvey McKinnon. The authors describe three types of tithing that can be used by almost anyone (thankfully, none of them involve harvesting crops):
- Money tithing: give away one-tenth of your income.
- Time tithing: give one-tenth of your free time to others or to causes.
- Idea tithing: share 10 percent of your good ideas with others.
Doggedly, I vowed to complete all three forms of tithing as part of my experiment. I would give 10 percent of my income, free time and ideas to others for the month of January.
First up, giving away one-tenth of my income. I opted to base my calculations on after-tax rather than gross income, which resulted in a more achievable albeit conservative tithe. I won’t disclose exactly how much money I gave away; let’s just say it was not a game-changing amount, nor was it pocket change.
Of the three types of tithing I test-drove, this one was the easiest to complete. In less than five minutes, and in only a few mouse clicks, I made a one-time online donation to a local charity called The Lipstick Project.
Based in Vancouver, TLP is a volunteer-run organization that provides free, professional spa services to patients who are in recovery or approaching the end of their lives. On a personal note, I witnessed first-hand the calming and comforting effect that gentle physical touch had on my own father in the last stages of his life. So I can attest to the benefits of TLP’s work. Their services make an enormous difference in people’s lives, and they do it all on a very lean budget.
My donation to TLP was fairly painless. Sure, I would have to pinch some pennies to mind my budget, but it wouldn’t require too much sacrifice. I’d just have to skip out on a few restaurant meals or some other discretionary purchases during the month. Hardly the realm of Mother Teresa.
The minor sting from parting ways with my money was soon displaced by a deep sense of fulfilment from making a positive contribution to a great cause. According to The Lipstick Project’s 2013 Annual Report, my modest donation represented almost 5% of their annual operating expenses for all programs, administration, and marketing. Knowing that my gift will make a meaningful impact to the charity’s work is the ultimate payoff of goodwill.
Tip: If you live in Canada and want to donate money to a good cause, check out Money Sense Magazine’s rating guide of Canada’s biggest 100 charities. This guide uses data from the Canadian Revenue Agency to assign grades to the country’s largest charities based on their efficiency, transparency and other key factors. While the guide excludes smaller local charities, it does provide an insightful look under the hood of the larger charities in Canada.
Before I could start tithing my time, I first had to calculate how much free time I had available in the month. Thankfully, The Power of Giving provides easy-to-follow instructions for doing the math.
According to the book, you start with the total number of hours available in the month, and then subtract the time needed for sleep and other essentials, such as work, commuting, preparing and eating food, performing toiletries, cleaning clothes and doing other household chores. The tithe is 10 percent of the ensuing number.
Based on my calculations, I had about 320 hours of free time in the month, resulting in a tithe of 32 hours. I split my time more or less evenly between formal volunteering (with a charity) and informal volunteering (outside of any organization).
My formal volunteering was done with a local organization called Community First Foundation. I helped out with their Backpack Buddies program to deliver healthy, nutritious meals to Vancouver’s inner-city school children. Now in its third year, the program supplies over 400 kids with enough food to last the weekend throughout the entire school year.
Informal volunteering generally includes any unpaid help given to people who are not relatives. For example, one evening I helped a friend to de-clutter her home; another day I offered free babysitting for a friend’s birthday; and on a few occasions I assisted colleagues with their job searches.
Needing to give away a few remaining hours at the end of the month, I decided to undertake a fun experiment on social media. I posted on Facebook that I was looking to donate some time to anyone needing help with anything, anything at all. After weeding out the obligatory jokes, I was pleased that my offer was taken up by two people. Somewhat surprisingly, they were both loose acquaintances – people I hadn’t seen in person for a decade or more. It proved to be a lot of fun reconnecting and helping them out in a small way. It also goes to show that social media isn’t all bad; these experiences wouldn’t have been possible without Facebook.
For many people, giving time is a challenge. We live busy lives, and volunteering your time means you have fewer opportunities to do other things you enjoy. However, I believe it’s better to think of volunteering as an investment rather than an opportunity cost.
Investing your time in a cause or in others helps to build up the social capital of your community. Not only does your investment help to make the community a better place for all, but it can lead to a healthier, happier and more fulfilled life for you too. And in my books, that’s time well spent.
I was looking forward to trying out “idea tithing.” It was the first time I heard of the concept, and it sounded like a fun and creative way to practice giving.
My plan: I would carry a pocket-sized journal wherever I went and, whenever an idea struck, I’d take a moment to write it down. Thinking of myself as a big ideas guy, I envisioned a long list of thought-provoking ideas flooding the pages of my leather-bound notebook. For every ten new ideas I dreamed up, I’d dole out one of the better ones to someone who might benefit from it.
Wake up Walter Mitty. My harsh realization from the month: I’m not a big ideas guy. In fact, at the pace I was going, I’d be lucky to give away one idea by month’s end. I needed to change tactics, and quickly.
So early in the month, I amped up the challenge. Instead of a mere 10 percent, I’d now give away every single one of my ideas. No messy calculations. No need to select which ideas I would pass along and which I would keep for myself. They would all be set free.
I’d like to say all my ideas were mind-blowing brainwaves – perhaps a new way of solving a problem or an innovative break-through that would improve someone’s life. Again, delusional thinking.
Most, in reality, were run-of-the-mill suggestions to help friends and colleagues in small practical ways. Over the course of the entire month, I thought up one or two ideas, tops, that I would classify as good. The best of the lot, in my view, was a new idea for an article, which I passed over to an editor at The Vancouver Sun.
So what did I learn?
The bad news first: You don’t dream up nearly as many new ideas as you think you do. And most of those you do come up with aren’t especially profound. We can’t all be Sir Ken Robinson. Bummer.
But, here’s the good news: It’s easy and it feels great to give away an idea. It’s free to do, and even the smallest germ of an idea can grow in the right hands.
That’s the true value of giving – whether it’s your time, money, or even an idea. Your gift represents possibility. Just as a single seed can bloom into a flower, so can a simple generous act blossom into something special in the right circumstances. But that’s only possible if you freely share your contributions with the world, no matter how humble they might be.