“There are, monks, these five gifts of a superior person. What five? He gives a gift out of faith; he gives a gift respectfully; he gives a gift at the right time; he gives a gift with a generous heart; he gives a gift without denigration.” (from AN 5:148, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)
The sutta above goes on to list specific benefits of each type of giving. In the first case, where faith is the motive, giving to virtuous people (maybe especially monks and nuns or other renunciants) one’s faith becomes apparent as a radiant physical beauty. We might recognize this as the inner beauty we easily perceive in people who are generous by nature.
What does it mean to give with respect? We thoughtfully consider the needs or desires of the recipient and select the most appropriate gift or gifts. We can demonstrate our respect by showing that we know and understand the recipient, for example with tuition support, a bicycle for transportation, or regular flowers or cards for someone who is shut-in. When one gives respectfully, one result is that others listen to the giver, and try to understand and apply what they hear. We can observe that respect begets respect.
When one gives at the right time, one of the results the Buddha mentions is that the karmic benefits of the gift will arrive “at the right time”. One example here is the gift of space for someone who needs to be left alone for a while. Another might be reaching out to a bereaved or neglected person.
“Because one gives with a generous heart…his mind inclines to the enjoyment of excellent things among the five cords of sensual pleasure.” This section is open to interpretation. It could mean that when a person has a generous heart, she is likely to enjoy the less crude and more refined of available pleasures, for example, inspiring entertainments vs. violent ones.
“Because he gives a gift without denigrating himself and others, wherever the result of that gift ripens he becomes rich, affluent, and wealthy, and no loss of his wealth takes place from any quarter, whether from fire, floods, the king, bandits, or unloved heirs.” The Buddha is referring here not to specific, instant causes and results, but to a larger karmic flow. If we understand that we cannot personally own anything in an absolute sense, then our attitude towards sharing will naturally be free, and we may not feel we have to struggle to hold on to what we have. We will give and receive happily as a normal part of living.
Giving in any of these ways will bring joy to the giver and the receiver.