We generally agree that giving is a good thing. After all, Jesus is quoted by the Apostle Paul as having said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Still, it is quite easy for giving to go wrong. To avoid each pitfall below, the golden rule of doing to others what we would have them do to us is instructive.
1. Giving can become a matter of pride
When one is in the position of being able to give to another, it is possible to look down upon the recipient of that charity as being less valuable. The "needy" can be made into an object rather than being seen as a human being with feelings and dignity. The giver should call to mind that everything with which he or she has been blessed ultimately came from God and is not to be a matter of pride. In our lives we will experience times when we need the help of others and times when we can provide help for others. Seeing everyone, no matter their level of need, as someone created in God's image will help us avoid becoming arrogant.
An example of a good practice I am aware of is that performed by the development agency World Vision. Every community where it seeks to work by bringing relief and development, its representatives meet with community leaders to determine what assets the community already has. It consults them as well as to what their hopes and dreams are for the community so that a true partnership is forged based on humility and mutual respect.
2. Giving can be thoughtless
Thinking that people in need should be grateful for any old thing given to them can lead to thoughtless giving. Such giving is seen during food drives when dented cans and products past the best before date are donated. Clothing given to the needy is sometimes ripped, soiled or missing buttons. Whatever a person plans to give should be something they themselves would be willing to receive.
I am reminded of an episode in a radio drama where a young boy wins a new bike. He knows of another child in need of a bike, so he plans to give him his old bike. As a surprise, he leaves it at the curb of the needy boy's laneway only to have the garbage truck take it away. In the end, he is convicted to give his brand new bike to this other boy, and he follows through. It is a great story because it challenges one's natural inclinations. It's easy to give away what one doesn't really like or need anymore. The attitude of "What's mine is mine" can be overcome by living out the golden rule.
3. Giving can be impersonal
When we give a monetary donation, it can easily become another financial transaction, not unlike paying the utility bill. When an amount of money is given through an agency, the personal impact of that gift is often brief and momentary. A computer generated thank you letter telling how much the gift is appreciated does not genuinely allow the donor to see who benefited or how.
The fourth grade class at my school recently learned how giving can be personal and more authentic. The framed photos of two Ugandan girls are front and centre in their classroom as a reminder of the reason they raised over $2,500 CAD: to sponsor their life-saving surgeries. Not only was money sent, but notes of encouragement and many prayers for their recovery and well-being continue to be offered. A long-term personal connection has been made between the donors and the ones they helped.
Having the right posture when giving makes all the difference. Humility, thoughtfulness and relationship elevates any gift from being a mere transaction.