Giving

One of the brilliant things about finding a real, adult money-paying job — aside from the personal fulfillment and health insurance — is that I can now consider a heretofore unavailable way of supporting the causes and organizations that matter to me: donating.

I haven’t been able to give much money in the past few years. Instead, I ended up giving my time — which can be sometimes be more valuable, especially to local nonprofits and initiatives. Now, I have relatively little in the way of time, but very soon I will have more money.

While many consider simply donating to be a higher form slacktivism, as a former nonprofit employee I can tell you: these organizations run on cash. The best kind of gift from their standpoint is a monthly recurring gift. It’s dependable and more likely to be renewed from year to year. If you know you want to give a fairly significant sum, but would rather stretch it out over time, the recurring gift is probably your best bet. I think the recurring gift can be a great asset, but if you’re like me and you have a lot of causes you’d like to contribute to, it becomes a little impractical.

Because I consider yearly giving to be a priority, donations are already a part of my budget. The first thing I did was determine how much I can give overall. For me, that ends up being about 2% of my income. I think someday I’d like to increase that number, but with school costs, it simply isn’t practical at the moment. But that gives me a number, which also allows me to figure out factors like how many organizations I can help, approximate tax deductions, etc. in advance.

The next step is, of course, allocation. I start with organizations I’ve donated to in the past and determine whether I’d like to continue giving. My undergraduate alma mater, Sweet Briar, is always at the top of that list. Because I have a long term goal with Sweet Briar (recouping as much of my scholarship money as possible), I determine that donation first and calculate my other donations from the remainder.

(I would also like to give to my MFA program at some point, but being that I would be donating to a particular program and not the school as a whole, that support would necessarily have to take a different form and requires some research.)

After I list my prior donations, I consider what other organizations I might add to my list. I find I have a pretty good handle on which nonprofits address which issues, but if you don’t, it’s easy enough to research, especially with resources like idealist.org available. Next comes the divvying. If you’ve got one issue that really matters to you above others, this is relatively easy. For me, it’s not so simple. I have a lot of causes I feel strongly about and so I take special care to spread my resources among them evenly.

And ultimately, although it is nice to be able to give a group whose work you really believe in a big chunk of change, it’s not the quantity that matters. It’s the consideration and then the act of giving. I want giving to be a consistent, unquestioned part of my life. And, as I said, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to substitute volunteerism. No one needs a big paycheck to make a difference.

(It should go without saying that you should always have a clear idea of where your money’s going. I recommend http://www.charitynavigator.org/.)

What causes matter most to you? How do you support them?

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