Alms-giving is one of the most vital spiritual disciplines, one of the "three pillars" of the Orthodox Spiritual Life, alongside prayer and fasting. As with prayer, it is a great temptation to give haphazardly, "when we feel like it." Giving without intention and planning is not a bad thing - to give at all is helpful - but it won't help us build a discipline and a habit of cheerful giving, or a habit of good stewardship - using the gifts that God has given us for the glory of His Kingdom and the salvation of all.
It is good for us to think of giving - whether to the Church or to the needy - as philanthropy. Philanthropy has become a "professional word" for giving, even in some cases becoming an actual career. Philanthropy simply means "love for humanity," and it is a basic part of what it means to be a Christian, and is modeled for us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and summed up by Him in His saying "greater love has no man than this, than that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Giving is both how we love and how we learn to love our fellow man, in the same way and to the same degree that God loves us.
Courtesy of the Lake Institute in Chicago, here are some resources to help families and individuals start to build a more intentional and regular habit of giving. These are good resources to go through as a family, taking your time for each one. Click each link to download each document, and feel free to share these resources with others!
1) Philanthropic Autobiography - This is a series of reflection questions, asking us to pause and think about things like: "How did I learn to give?" "Who taught me to give?" "Why do I give?"
2) Assessing your Financial & Philanthropic Capacity - This reflection helps us look at how much we have been able to give in the past, how much we can give now, and how much we will be able to give in the future.
3) Assessing your Spiritual Capacity for Philanthropic Giving - Building on the reflections from the previous two questions - why and how do I give? - this reflection helps us answer the question, "why should we give?"
4) Personal Philanthropic Mission Statement - This is where we tie it all together. Now that we know why we should give, how much we can give, and how much and to whom we want to give, we can use all of that to write our own personal mission statement - a plan for learning to love God and our fellow man through the gifts that we have been given.