Monday, June 18, 2012

Charitable Giving

 "I do have to switch some funds. The charity I like to work with is gonna take a hit."

It's one of the first things most people seem to mention when they talk about what they'd do if they won a major lottery. Pay off debt, buy a new car...and give. I believe (because I choose to believe) that most people would love to do more volunteer work and charitable giving because most of us really do want to use our blessings or gifts or luck or whatever you want to call it to benefit the greater good.

Research charities at
We all get bombarded by organizations looking for assistance. There's a good reason for that: most of them stay afloat almost exclusively on donations and, if they qualify, grants. And most charitable organizations are doing some good work. I think it's important to be informed when giving, carefully researching to make sure your money is being well spent, but if you're not, well that's none of my business and no one has to justify their choices to me. What "well spent" means is different to everyone.

In theory, I like to choose a charitable giving budget early in the year and decide where that money will go, but it doesn't always pan out that way. As important as I think giving is, if we need new tires on our car, that is our priority.

We've recently begun living on a cash budget, a strategy I believe has been advocated by Dave Ramsey, but since I've never read his books or heard him speak, I can't say that with any certainty. I'll discuss our cash budget in more depth in another post at some point, but basically for us it means that we pay our bills and then take out a set amount of cash to keep filed away for certain expenses. I'm bringing this up because in the fall, once we've sort of gotten it down pat and worked out the bugs, I plan to add a charitable giving allotment to that budget.

At this point, our giving is a bit more spontaneous. We support friends' charities with small donations if we're in a position to do so when the fundraising is actually happening, and I'm definitely trying to work in more volunteer hours for our family, but it's so sporadic. I'd really like giving to become as normal to my children as breathing and sleeping, but I have to adopt that mindset on my own first.

As far as the organizations to which I'm motivated to give, they tend to be either things that my trusted friends are passionate about or things which directly affect my family's quality of life. By that, I mean that we're more likely to give to our local NPR affiliate than perhaps a noble-but-distant medical research organization in Oregon. Or a local literacy* or children's wellness program as opposed to a fabulous-but-well-funded hospital. Or our local library. These are things that matter deeply to us, and because of that, we're more likely to commit to supporting them.

What are your thoughts on charitable giving, and how do you decide where and how to spend your money? Do you have a regular budget or is it more sporadic?

*I had mistyped the word "literacy" on my first pass. YES.


  1. I think most people tend to give to charities that affect them or their loved ones directly, or that hit home to them the most. I tend to give money to local charities over national or international ones. Animal charities get most of my charity dollar. I also contribute to AIDS Atlanta as well as the Lewy Body Dementia Association. I also send money to the McDowell County Animal Shelter, an animal shelter in the county where I grew up.

    I used to set aside a certain amount every paycheck designated for charity donation, and have gotten away from that. I need to get back into that habit. I have several pre-printed envelopes addressed to the charities I'd planned to mail checks to over the course of several months, and those envelopes are now several months old.

  2. We're a bit sporadic. We factor in offerings at church, but aside from that it all depends on who is asking and how much we have at the time. I do tend, like you, to focus more on local charities that are in need. I also tend to be more likely to give to charities that help the typically underserved or underadvocated, such as children, migrants, the elderly, etc.

  3. Kurt does a pre-tax donation to United Way at work, and we have that directed toward a few local charities. Otherwise, it's more sporadic, like donations to relief efforts after disasters. Kurt is on a couple boards at local non-profits, which amounts to pretty time-consuming volunteer work, and of course we do dinners at RMH from time to time and that kind of thing. We also donate a lot to St. Vincent de Paul and various coat and canned food drives. Occasionally we'll make a small donation to one of our alma maters, too.

    One place I love to give is Kiva, an organization that collects "micro loans" from many to fund a specific project for someone somewhere in the world. You can see what they are doing, and you get updates as they repay the loan. Then, you relend it. I started with $25 and I've relent it at least 4 times by now. SO cool and rewarding. Right now they are actually giving you your first $25 to lend as you see fit! I highly recommend signing up. I get nothing for this, but here's a link they sent me that I can share so people can enjoy this:

  4. I belong to this team of atheists and other heathens on Kiva, btw. Not a requirement, but I like having my loans count toward their annual team goal: