Sometimes, it pays to give

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Andrea O’Driscoll on how there’s more to giving than just money

We finally moved to a bigger house last month – one where all three children don’t have to be crammed into one room with all their possessions. I love everything about it: bigger bedrooms, bigger garden, bigger kitchen, and a toy room for the kids. However, sadly, it also means bigger mortgage. A much bigger mortgage.

My husband sat me down with strict instructions to cut our monthly spending down to as close to nothing as is humanly possible. I was fine with it all – I think it’s good to redefine your definition of essential now and then – until it came to our charity contributions.

He was right, we couldn’t afford them any more. However, of everything we had to give up, they were the only things that didn’t sit right. My mother and my grandmother are both cancer survivors. I made a promise to myself, a long time ago, that I would give as generously as I could for the rest of my life to the organisations that helped us through those terrible times.

The next week, I mentioned it to a girlfriend who had been through something similar. She’d taken a pay cut at work and was a passionate advocate of animal rights. She suggested that instead of struggling to make my monthly donations I join her on a fun run and raise the money that way instead. Can I just say that one piece of advice has, quite literally, changed my life?

Giving can take many forms

Of course part of that is the running itself. Since having the kids, far too much of my time is spent sitting on play park benches or ferrying them around in the car. Taking up running was long overdue. I’m not sure I would have found the motivation if it didn’t have some broader purpose. It’s a lot easier to put in the extra effort when you think it might help save a life.

However, an even bigger part was how it changed my relationship with the charities I wanted to help. I met other donors (many of whom had been through similar experiences to myself), and I felt motivated to give more of myself. I felt more generous giving my time and my effort than I ever felt handing over money at the start of every month, and I felt part of something.

Now, I’m happy to admit that I’m a carrot person, not a stick one. Moreover, as happy as I am to put the effort in, I like some sort of recognition for it. At the same time as she signed me up for my first run, my girlfriend also put me onto an organisation called Everyday Hero. Everyday Hero recently launched a programme called Everything Counts that tracks every aspect of your contribution to your chosen charities, from kilometres run to hours spent and dollars earned. You can take a look at it here.

It’s perfect for someone like me. I get to see the contribution I’ve made, and I get to show it off to my husband (what’s a good marriage without a little one-upmanship?). They even have a fitness app that helps you track your training hours so you can upload them to the site.

It helped me realise that I have a lot more to offer than the money in my bank account (or lack thereof). Moreover, it made all that sweat and toil worth it.

You have to give to get

Now, there’s no stopping me. Another friend volunteered at a local hospice and suggested I apply. I had two free afternoons a week that I could give and the staff there were happy for me to start straight away. That was two weeks ago, and I have to say, I love it. I’ve also signed up for another two fun runs later in the year and a 50 km bike ride (I’ll admit to being a bit nervous about that one).

My husband asked me the other evening whether I’d still put in all this time and effort if we had more money. I had to tell him that, if anything, I’d give more.

I say give, but the funny thing about this whole experience is that I feel like I have got so much more out of it than I have put in. My life is so much richer for all the people I’ve met and the events I’ve joined. I now even understand why you’d put the words ‘fun’ and ‘run’ together.