‘Tis the season to give and give some more! I budget for annual donations to several charities. And, like a lot of people, I usually put off making some of those donations until December. I have thought a lot about my approach to supporting charities, and this is my system:
In my best philanthropist daydreams, which charities would I support? How much would I give them? What can I give them this year, next year, and in 5 or 10 years as my life changes? I need to take the first step now and work toward my dream giving goal, even if it’s nowhere near the millions I’d like to bequeath them!
Know your reasons.
Do I give to solve a problem? Reduce suffering? Build something up? Make myself feel less guilty? Out of obligation? To belong to a group? Ultimately we feel “rewarded” by giving to charity, either through recognition, inner satisfaction, or even tangible perks. I try to be aware of what motivates me and what turns me off from giving.
WHO AND WHAT
I choose 3-5 charities that are in line with my values and support them every year. All other requests get a “no.” When I explain that I’ve chosen 4 charities to support for the year, the askers tend to be accepting and not to wheedle so much!
I check if my favourite groups are registered charities, how much of their fundraising is spent on administration, and if they have been involved in any scandals. In Canada, you can check here and here. If my favourite efforts are not registered charities, I might support them anyway – such as a lobby group on an issue I care about.
Set some mini-rules.
- I buy fundraising items from your kids and you buy from mine.
- I attend your home party and set a $10 limit on what I buy.
- I keep $5 in change by the front door to buy kids’ raffle tickets.
- I offer to buy a sandwich for the first panhandler I see on my Saturday shopping excursion.
- I budget $50 a year for on-the-spot charity requests that are not on my list.
HOW MUCH AND WHEN
Create a charitable giving “master budget.”
My current goal is to donate two weeks take-home pay each year. This is enough to make me feel I’m making a difference, and to pinch, but not create deep deprivation. I don’t want to feel resentful that charities are taking all of my entertainment money away, but I’m not going to go to a concert or a movie every week and have nothing left over to give.
Through budgeting, donating is not left to chance or to “leftover” money. I budget ordinary paycheque money to charities, and I don’t set conditions, such as “If I have any money left over after buying my new tablet, I’ll donate it” or “If I get a tax refund this year, I’ll give away half.” I could end up giving nothing that way.
If I’m an official member of a group, there might be expectations, or at least guidelines, as to how much they need from me to keep going. Churches, especially, are likely to urge their members towards greater pledges or a tithe. I actually find it helpful to know about the operating budget of an organization so I can figure out if I’m paying a “fair share.”
Choose a strategy.
- If I had $500 to give, I could say yes to every request until it’s gone, and then stop.
- I could give large amounts to efforts that have personal meaning for me.
- I could keep funds in reserve to respond to natural disasters.
- I could act like a big benefactor and give it all away in one pop!
Think about timing.
Some donations are intended to be monthly or annual, like sponsoring a child. Relief efforts spring up when needed. Some organizations, especially grass roots ones, struggle to pay their bills all year and appreciate donations spread out through the year instead of in December.
MIX BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
Enjoy the perks.
Paying a membership fee supports an organization and often gives access to pre-sales for special events, access to workshops and conferences, and voting rights. If I support a museum or art gallery by buying a membership, I’ll get in free all year. And of course, I can receive tax receipts for charitable donations.
I leave enough room in my budget to occasionally afford tickets for a concert, dinner or auction sponsored by a favourite charity. It’s a fun night out, and they benefit too. I chalk this up under entertainment.
Make in-kind donations.
While I don’t have unlimited funds, I can sometimes donate items I already have. Whether it’s old towels and blankets to the SPCA, kitchen items to help set up house for a refugee family, or new re-gifted items to put into a raffle basket, everyone wins.
I’m not slinging around big bucks, but my favourite organization has received 4 hours a week of my time for the past 18 years. Hopefully it has done some good! I’m not one to volunteer “all over the place”, but one big, continuous commitment suits me.
No cost, big impact.
Signing a petition, sending an email, putting up a poster, or educating a friend about an issue take no money and minimal time. Building these activities into my everyday life is the number one thing that makes me feel I am living ethically.
Every year I think about how much I can donate, whether I want to change where I donate, and whether I should give more time or goods instead (or in addition to). Every year I have to live with myself, knowing I did the best I could, and I hold myself fully accountable for my decisions. Happily, it doesn’t feel like a serious obligation – it makes me feel a sense of kinship and belonging. Giving within one’s abilities feels great!
Here are the charities I support regularly:
Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders)
Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax
Canadian Down Syndrome Society
I’ve been thinking of buying livestock through one of the charity programs for 3rd world countries and having the kids involved by having them understand that we would put money towards it that we normally use for gifts. As it is, we mostly stick to the something you want, something to read, something to wear, something to read rule.. So it might be a bit of a sell.
I agree that could be difficult if it means cutting back on gifts. How could they decide whether to give up clothes, books, etc? Ouch. One possibility, if they get an allowance, might be to allocate 10% of their allowances to charity throughout the year and save to buy the livestock with that?
What a well timed post! On my return from my holidays, I wrote some goals, including the un-SMART ‘be more generous’ – which I then tried to SMARTen up. You’ve provided some useful considerations as well as some of ‘you’ and your way. I’m astounded how generous and giving people have been to my head shave fund – raising more than $4000 when I started with a target of $800 (which I based on $10 I’d give someone x 80 people – seemed fair! Except the average donation is more like $50!) I’m trying to ‘spend’ about 10% take home on generosity – so not just charity. Some of that is to church (which interestingly I’ve not yet ‘upped’ from where it stood pre-holiday pledge). But I have ‘given more’ back to others – fundraising; refilling my brothers HUGE tank of petrol, saying yes to a payroll giving plan to the PCYC (that was coincidentally introduced by a copper I know from another sphere in my life – my colleagues think it might be cause I was ‘one of those kids’ he spoke about!) etc. I have two charities mailers in my fruit bowl, for consideration this Christmas. Just trying to decide whether I should sign up for weekly/monthly, or do a one off.
$4000 – that’s amazing – congratulations! As for the rest, yep, lots of decisions to make! I like your idea of generosity rather than specifically charities. That’s smart!
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