The adult Sunday School class waited restlessly one recent Sunday morning as I fumbled with my books, papers and notebook on my way to the podium.
I guess I was more nervous than usual because, as the teacher, I was about to launch a discussion on the one subject that usually makes all but the most ardent churchgoers slink down into their pews. I was about to talk about giving.
The lesson ultimately would examine many of the Biblical principles on this touchy subject. But not being the preachy type, I thought I'd begin with one simple question: How much should you give?
Several people mumbled to each other before one said, "As much as you can." Another added, "Ten percent, of course." Then, in the back corner, a tall, bald guy with glasses and a simple grin leaned in toward the table to speak.
This was Deacon Dave, a young guy who spends much of his free time quietly patching walls or painting or wiring or helping to lead a small team of Mr. Fix-its in church renovation projects. Most of the time, you won't even know he's been there, except for the work he and others like him complete during the off hours.
But at this brief moment, he decided it was time to be heard. As the others paused to listen, he half-jokingly offered this simple lesson in giving:
"You should give 'til it hurts," he blurted. "And then add another five bucks."
The rest of the class laughed a little, but only until they -- and I -- realized that, maybe, he had the right idea. And it's an idea that fits rather nicely, and perhaps even profoundly, in everything we do, even in business.
Most of us can say we give, at least a little. When the fireman with the boot knocks on our car windows, we give him a buck, if only to get that plastic helmet to hang from our rear-view mirrors to ward off other firemen. Many of us participate in corporate giving programs to United Way, if only to get that free day off from the company. If you give like that, it doesn't really hurt to give, does it?
Deacon Dave certainly doesn't believe giving should be painful in any of its forms. But to truly give -- to give back to the community and the people who have helped you prosper, how can you really do it without making some kind of sacrifice? And a sacrifice, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is the "forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim."
In other words, giving should cost you something of value, such as time or money, if it's to be meaningful to you and those you give to. It should hurt a little.
As we approach this traditional holiday season of giving, maybe it's time to think like Deacon Dave. Consider these simple principles of giving as you look toward the new year, with a sense of purpose that extends beyond profit alone.
Can you say selfless? Don't give to get. Weekly, I get press releases from companies humbly proclaiming a good deed or sizable donation to a local good cause. To you, my question is this: Did you do it because you felt strongly about the cause ... or for the publicity? To give for publicity's sake is to merely trade. It's not giving. Give without expectation. Give because you care.
Be a cheerful giver. The same passion that drives you in business should motivate you to give. If you've agreed to serve on a nonprofit board, sacrifice your heart and soul and not just your high-profile name. Work hard. Put in the hands-on hours. If you've agreed to mentor others, give that person your best in both time and guidance. If your heart's not in it, then you shouldn't be in it.
Do something. If you're too busy to help others or to contribute your time and expertise to local economic development efforts or the countless charities serving the region, you're simply too busy. Pittsburgh is blessed with dozens of giving opportunities, from the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Pittsburgh Cares, to SCORE, Powerlink and dozens of other entrepreneurial assistance organizations trying to foster growth. And many of them are in dire need of selfless volunteers who can lead and provide vision.
As you approach the new year, make this your year of giving. And take Deacon Dave's simple advice. Give 'til it hurts. And then add another five bucks.
May God bless you during this holiday season and into the new year. Daniel Bates (email@example.com) is editor of SBN.