Where I grew up in Leicester there was an odd turn of phrase that many of my classmates used. Like schoolboys then and today, many would come to class with nothing to write with. You would hear whispers or shouts of “Can I lend a pen?” At this point many of the teachers would go into meltdown on the correct use of the verbs ‘To lend’ or ‘To borrow’. Like these schoolboy grammatical errors, there are many words in the English lexicon that are often argued as being misused or misunderstood, and I would like to add another to that list.

I was a talking to a friend recently and we got on to the subject of money and people’s perception of generosity with the filthy lucre.

If someone earns, let’s say, £10m a year, most of us would consider them wealthy with no small amount of jealousy on our part. If they give away £1m of said income to some good cause, worthy institution, or favourite political party, we might consider them generous. Of course we would only know of the donation because there would be the inevitable press release to make sure all-and-sundry were aware of their generosity. And they would have to survive on just £9m for the year!

If they repeated this process multiple times over some extended period, it is fairly likely that at some point they donor would be referred to as a “Millionaire Philanthropist” by the media, either in print or broadcast.

Now that is all very good, and which organisation would turn down such a donation assuming the donor was a good and upstanding member of society. They are likely to try to encourage further future donations by cosying-up and telling everyone what a great friend and benefactor they were to the organisation.

Of course this cycle of donations may go on for some time, and eventually they may even have an honour bestowed on them by the Queen, for ‘services to charity’.

Oh my, how happy they will be that their effort has brought them such rewards!

Now, let us go back to my friend. Not a wealthy lady, she has a gross annual income of about £30k. However, each month she donates £380 (including Gift Aid element) to a selection of charities she has supported for many years. Some of you may be ahead of me here: If you do the maths on that you will find she donates over 15% of her income. Gross income, before any taxation, before any other things she has to pay. Before mortgage, council tax and food. The first 15% of everything she has….not of what she has left over.

She does not put out press-releases, or cosy-up to the charities. There is no publicity, and not likely to be any honour – well to be fair, I don’t think she would want them anyway.

She is left with around £25,500 each year for all other those bills – but still considers herself rich as so many of her friends earn even less than that. She has never gone hungry, missed a rent, mortgage or council tax payment. Her kids always looked smart in their school uniforms, and the car is not so old.

She is as much a philanthropist as the millionaire, but no-one will ever know and she will never be given that soubriquet. Not that she seeks fame or fortune, but rather that in some small, personal way she seeks to be silently reckoned with the widow spoken of in Mark’s Gospel:

41Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Mark 12: v41-44

She also was not called a philanthropist, just a widow who gave of what she had – not of what she had left.

No doubt we would all say we too would be generous if we had the income of the millionaire. We would likely also argue to be more generous once we earn a little extra. That widow, and my friend, are a lesson and example to us all. Stop making excuses, and we can all be secret philanthropists.

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