A Taxing Question about Giving

Federal taxes were due this week for Americans, so here’s the question I think we all should be asking: “How did I do as a giver?”

Not, “How much did I pay?” Or, “How much more did I owe?” Or, “How much did I get back?” But, “Did I give enough?” Not to Uncle Sam, but to the world.taxes-646509_1280

Most of us, I think, would say something like, “I gave what I could” and we’d feel pretty good about that. But what if your friends, neighbors, enemies and the media took a look at your tax returns? Would they conclude that you are a generous giver? Would it change how you describe yourself as a giver?

Pretend, for instance, that you are the president of the United States. Last week, the current president and vice president released their 2015 returns, and their giving is pretty consistent with what they’ve done in previous years. The Obamas donated $64,066 to 34 different charities in 2015, so that’s nearly 15 percent of their adjusted gross income. The Bidens gave about $6,600 to charities, which is about 4 percent of their earnings. Neither “tithed” to a church. The Obamas gave $1,500 to a church. Nearly $4,000 of the Biden’s contributions went to one of three churches.

What about the current crop of presidential candidates? The most recent information is on their 2014 taxes. The Clintons gave away about 11 percent of their income to charities, while the Sanders donated about 4 percent. Donald Trump hasn’t released any of his tax returns, although he says he will. Ted Cruz didn’t disclose his charitable giving for 2011-2014, but previous returns indicate he and his wife gave away less than 1 percent of their income in 2006 and 2010.

It would be nice to think our political leaders are generous with their money, and it’s easy to judge them for not being more giving. But it’s the log in my own eye that is the real issue. The fact is, our political leaders are a reflection of our society. And the statistics indicate we’re not very good givers. Americans gave $358.38 billion in 2015, or an average of $2,974 per household (source). That might sound like a lot, but it amounts to only about 2.9 percent of our adjusting gross income (source). The “tithe,” of course, is considered 10 percent, but very few people donate 10 percent of their income to charity, much less to their church.

When I look at the statistics, I think my wife and I are pretty generous. When I look at my heart, however, I realize we’re not giving enough. And God is looking at my heart. I want us to give more to the church we attend, more to other churches we support, more to missionaries, more to worthy para-church organizations, more to worthy organizations that aren’t considered “faith-based.”


Why? Because we’ve been given so much.

We can’t count on our political leaders to lead the way on this, but we can do our part. We can search our hearts for what God is asking of us, and then we can act in obedience. The old saying is true: We can’t out-give God.

Note: Randy Alcorn wrote two of my favorite books on giving. The Treasure Principle is a short, easy read. Money, Possessions, and Eternity is long but worth it. You can find both of them here. Also, click here for a good website on generous giving.