This year. Whew! Am I right? It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own physical stuff and mental stuff. Focusing inward can really be a bummer. This time of year, many people think about making year-end donations to causes we care about. Focusing outside of ourselves is the surest way I know of to gain some much-needed perspective, even if you aren’t sure how to best organize charitable giving. Be an Outie.
TL;DR: You don’t have to be wealthy to be a philanthropist. Plan and follow through on year-end giving.
How to Organize Charitable Giving
Organizing charitable giving is always a fun project for us. It’s such an important part of our client’s character that it often takes over an entire corner of their desk or even a whole room. I’ve shared with you how to organize a simple file to keep track of charity appeals. (<<Download your free charity tracking sheet.) Whether we are helping client send out $5 checks or $15,000 checks to charities, their spirit shines through no matter how big or small the gift.
On the other end of the scale, some feel like they would be more generous if only they could be sure it was “going to the right place” or if they knew “it was really making a difference.”
HeartWork Organizing has contributed financially primarily to two organizations in 2021: the local Habitat for Humanity MontDelco and to Philabundance which leads the fight against hunger in the Philadelphia area. We also supported some smaller groups, including The Wardrobe, bikers for the NMSS City to Shore event, a no-kill animal shelter, and other organizations who’ve raised money with our organizing gift baskets at their silent auctions. My company might be small, but I’ve been glad to have a tiny part in over a dozen service efforts to strengthen Habitat 4 Humanity MontDelco through the years and many other organizations doing good work.
If you are like me, you might feel like there is so much need in the world, so many wonderful groups doing important work, how can my small contributions make a difference? It can feel overwhelming.
In fact, most giving in this country is from small donors giving small amounts, usually $25 or less. The Director of Development at Habitat says they regularly get envelopes with single bills or even coins inside, and they are happy–very happy–to receive them. It all adds up.
A Guide to Organize Charitable Giving
Gail Shapiro’s book, A Pocketful of Change (affiliate link), is about doing the most good in the places where it matters to you, at every income level. Gail is a NAPO colleague who teaches classes on organizing charitable gifts.
Her six-point plan to creating your charitable giving plan seems so logical and easy in the face of such a weighty problem:
- What do you wants your gifts to do for you?
- What do you want your gifts to do for others?
- Who will be involved?
- What and how much will you give?
- How will you select recipients of your gifts?
- What giving vehicles will you use?
Gail’s approach allows you to ask the questions that some of us have been taught to think of as ill-mannered. Wait…my giving is allowed to do something for me, too? I can say no? I can support different priorities than my spouse? It’s OK to want to be a big fish in a small (charitable) pond?
She very sensibly starts with some important questions before heading to point 4, what and how much will you give? If you start at that question, you might be paralyzed before you begin doing the good you set out to do.
2 Reasons People Delay Charitable Giving
There are two big questions that people often use as, let me be blunt, an excuse for avoiding charitable giving altogether. The first is that they’ve heard that many charities have huge administrative costs and pay large salaries instead of using all their income for charity work. You can easily check out administrative expenses at GuideStar.org. It’s a good place to start, but as Gail’s book recounts, doesn’t always tell the whole story. I’ve written before about why it makes sense to give household goods donations to Goodwill and other charities, even if you don’t like them.
People sometimes want to know that their donations are doing the most good. Oy. That’s a big one. An economic firm called GiveWell founded in 2007 set out to maximize “effective altruism.” This opinion piece on charitable giving about the author’s search to do the most good is insightful. It also underscores something from Gail’s book that struck home with me: there is a smaller pool of givers supporting the causes in my area versus worldwide charities. If these local organization are important to me, it’s very impactful to send dollars there, even if the organizations aren’t as efficient as charities who save lives for pennies in other parts of the world. It’s ok to maximize for impact right here. And it’s ok to maximize for cost efficiency throughout the world. Both approaches are good, as are many other approaches.
Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can.
Non-financial Ways to Maximize Giving and Minimize Organizing
In the Methodist tradition, someone who joins the church vows to support the church with their “prayers, presence, gifts, and service.” That phrase has stuck with me since I joined as a teen. Some years I’ve had more time than money (gifts). Sometimes it’s been the opposite.
Gail’s book reminded me that there are plenty of ways to be a backyard philanthropist that have nothing to do with large donations or tax deductions. Hands-on service like much of what I do with Habitat, and teaching a part of the Almost Home financial education program, isn’t tax-deductible. Financially supporting a family member in need is a necessity for many, especially right now. Dropping a bag of food off with a local church, school, or neighbor-in-need can be just the right thing at the right time. Gail’s book has lots of other ways to do good without over-thinking it.
Not over-thinking your charity efforts is the key. Just do what you can. There’s no more basic need than food, but I personally have no idea how to feed the people who need it most. Fortunately, there are organizations who know how to feed people, both nearby and around the world. That’s why I pledged my entire first royalty check for the audio version of Organizing Your Home with SORT and Succeed to Philabundance, which works to end hunger in the Philadelphia region. In a year when my physical service wasn’t an option, their accountant was just as happy to have the check that YOU all made possible by purchasing the audiobook. It was a couple of hundred dollars. Thank you.
Organize for What’s Important
This time of the year is for joy and light, charity and grace. Perfection doesn’t serve us well. You’ll remember that the first Christmas was very far from the perfect event.
After you’ve wrapped your presents and you’re doing that mental year-end review we all tend to do, is there still something missing?
If you want to build your organizing muscle AND your philanthropic giving, try delaying a purchase for twenty-four hours this holiday season. You might find that you can live without the purchase, and you can donate that amount instead. Another pair of shoes you don’t need? Another decoration that will gather dust for eleven months of the year? Hold that thought.
Or try selling something that you don’t need anymore. A fancy kitchen appliance you never actually use? Donate the money you make from selling it online. Or donate it to a store who will turn it into operating funds for their charitable work. There are so many great ways to make good on your promise to help where you can. All that clutter used to be money, but you can change that starting now and into next year.
In case you missed it above, you can download a free charity tracker here to help you organize your charitable giving next year.
I hope I’ve inspired you to be an “outie” and make good on that year-end charity donation to your favorite organization. It doesn’t have to be big to be useful. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.