ALS and the Courage to Ask

Yesterday was Giving Tuesday. Lots and lots of us made gifts to various charitable organization – relief agencies, social ministries, colleges, seminaries, animal shelters, our congregations, and more.

But did you ever wonder what inspires generosity? Or – and we probably talk about this less – have you ever wondered what inspires the people who ask you to be generous?

That’s an interesting question, because if you’ve never done that – asked someone to give of their time, energy, or money – you might not realize how challenging that can be. It can also be wonderful, and we’ll get to that, but it’s also challenging. Why? Because to ask for something is to make yourself vulnerable. They may, after all, say no. And while they may be rejecting your offer, or not want to support your organization or cause, it feels like they are rejecting you…personally.

Moreover, to ask is to make yourself not only vulnerable but dependent. It is to recognize that you can’t do everything on your own. That you need others to accomplish a particular task or goal. And admitting need – being what I would call “faithfully dependent” – is also to make yourself vulnerable.

So I’ll ask again, what motivates people who ask you and me to give of ourselves and our money to support their causes?

Interesting, the answer includes many of the same things that motivate people to give. In short, people today often give because of personal investment. We give to those agencies and causes that we believe in and to which we feel most connected.

That wasn’t always the case. For generations, we gave out of a sense of duty. To our local congregation, our alma mater, local civic agencies. We gave because we were expected to. But increasingly we want to give to those causes that we believe affect us and make a difference in the world. And we want to give to those causes that touch us, that we believe in, that we care about and in which we can participate.

And all these same reasons – believing in a group’s mission, feeling invested and connected, wanting to make a difference, tapping into our passion – for all these same reasons, people ask you and me to give as well. And that is what makes asking as wonderful as giving. Because when you ask for help, and when you can give it, you are connected to something bigger, something holy.

I thought that the following 18 minute TED Talk shares one powerful story of people who cared enough and were invested enough to want to make a difference by asking people to contribute. I won’t say more, except that if you were paying attention at all to the culture this summer…especially to people who were dumping buckets of ice water over their heads and then inviting others to do the same…you’ll know something already about the tremendous success of this particular “ask.” Now you get to hear the story behind it, as you listen to Nancy Frate share her experience with ALS, family, hope, and the courage to ask people to be generous.

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