How Much is Enough to (Give) Live?

The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies produced an Examination of Tax Deductible Donations made by individual Australian tax payers in 2007-08.

Just 35% of taxpayers gave tax-deductible donations in that year, averaging a contribution of just 0.43% of their annual income.

Certainly the resulting $2.35 billion did make a difference to many deductible gift recipient (DGR) charities, but think how much more could be done if we could increase both the percentage of donors and the percentage given.

Many religious traditions require a gift of 10% of income (see Christian tithing, Jewish ma’aser kesafim, Islamic zakat, Sikhism’s dasvand, etc.)

Nowadays, it appears many individuals give 20 times less than a traditional tithe (though the figures do not include contributions given to non-tax-deductible causes) and almost two thirds of Australians give nothing to DGR causes.

Of course giving 10% is easier for some than others.  Counter-intuitively perhaps, tithing is easier for the millionaire than the low-income earner because though they give more, they are left with much more after their contribution.

A person earning $100,000 would have to give 55% to reduce his remaining earnings to the level of a person giving 10% of their $50,000 income.

This truth has been known for many years, as shown in the story of the poor widow’s offering (Luke 21:1-4), though we still seem to value generosity in terms of quantity given rather than quantity remaining.  C.S. Lewis puts it in a very challenging way:

“I do not believe one can settle on how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, … they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them.”

As an interesting contrast to giving 10% (or indeed 0.43%), Palms volunteers commit to living two years on less than 10% of the average Australian wage. While difficult at times, few volunteers would claim that they gave “more than they could spare”, with most reporting “I received so much more than I gave”.

As the new financial year begins, perhaps we should think not “how much should I give?” but “how much do I need to live?”  Considering this question, the time has come again for Palms Australia to ask “Can you live on 99%?”

If just ten average Australians can conclude that 99% of their income is enough to live on, the remaining amount can place a volunteer teacher in a Kiribati school; a volunteer doctor in a New Guinea clinic or Ethiopian nursing college; or a volunteer agriculture teacher at a Ugandan secondary school; each one sharing their skills with many others and contributing to sustainable poverty reduction.

And what did it cost our ten? Nothing really. They could afford to live on 99%.

Please visit to take the 99% challenge.