Sometimes Trust is a Green Garbage Bag

Girl holding garbage bag

An Unexpected Lesson in Trust and Giving

Lori Reesor knows that trust is a key component in donation decisions. While completing her doctorate thesis on Christian giving, she spent many hours sitting on a variety of plastic stacking chairs in a multitude of church basements exploring this connection.

Her research process was the same in each location: administer a prepared questionnaire to the men and women contributing to her research, and then spend unstructured time listening to their stories. It was during one of these interview sessions that Lori received an unexpected lesson in trust and giving.

It was getting later in the afternoon. The questionnaires had been administered, and most people lingered, chatting with Lori and one another. Soon, the discussion turned to helping others. Lori expected to hear the typical “church talk” about stewardship and giving, but the conversation began to paint an incredible picture of generosity.

The conversation began to paint an incredible picture of generosity.

Lori remembers, “They casually explained that when someone in the community is in need, they put up a sign at the side of the road advertising a dinner in support of those who need help… just the sign and word of mouth.” With no flashy marketing or complex system to invite everyone, Lori was amazed to hear that hundreds of people usually turn up.

The people described a big pot luck dinner followed by a “pass the hat” collection. Lori wondered aloud how much money they usually raised.

“I was taken aback when they answered, ‘We don’t really know?’” She remembers. “They said, ‘We never count it. It might be $50,000 or $100,000, but we just take the cheques and cash and put them in a garbage bag that we give to the person.’”

Coming from a busy city, Lori couldn’t imagine the purchase price of a car or a modest home being carried away in cash. With no counting, security, or fanfare. Tucked into a green garbage bag!? “This was such a different approach to giving than I was used to, especially coming from the Greater Toronto area,” she says.

Radical Trust

And yet, the people in the community didn’t think their homegrown fundraisers were remarkable. Earlier, they had given quite typical answers to Lori’s interview questions, and yet it was obvious that the way they handled their donations was anything but ordinary.

What set this community apart? Lori determined it was a matter of radical trust. The men and women of the prairie parish trusted one another to show up and give generously, and they trusted the recipients of their generosity to use the money wisely. “I have never forgotten their example,” says Lori.

What sets this community apart is radical trust.

Certainly, most of us don’t live in a small, tight-knit community like the one Lori encountered during her research. However, we can cultivate a trusting relationship with the charities we choose to support. As we take the time to get to know and trust our favourite charities and fear and cynicism fall away, we may find there is even more room for our generosity to grow.

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