Doubting Your Charitable Giving

charitable giving enough doubtsLast month, our school participated in a coin competition. While I’m not entirely keen on asking students for money, especially right after all the annual back-to-school fundraisers that also ask kids to sell things to the community for money, I rolled with it. The money was going towards a good cause, and many of my kids were enthusiastic about it. So I promoted it. We counted–and recounted and recounted again–the change and graphed our progress each day. They were pretty pleased. Until it was announced that a student from another class brought in $100. Then, the coins stopped appearing.

At first, I didn’t understand it. Wouldn’t that inspire you to give more? I made more persuasive announcements. I donated money. I had kids make announcements. Still, the box sat mostly empty. About that same time, I read about Mr. Money Mustache and Physician on Fire giving away $100,000. Then, Leigh set up a donor-advised fund. And suddenly, that empty box made too much sense.

It’s no secret that I value charitable giving. I tweet about it. I shared our monthly gifting budget. I even wrote a post in which I was far too polite about the fact that I think everyone could be more generous, especially people who are financially independent. 

But as soon as I read about all of the outstanding charitable giving that bloggers were doing, I was tempted to delete all of my posts on giving. How in the world could I remind people to give money convincingly when we only budget a measly $2400 a year? OK, so this is the one budget category that I’m happy to bust from time to time. But with extra donations, I doubt we crack $3000 consistently. At the present rate of speed, I am not going to live long enough to make the kind of impact that those other generous souls made.

I felt like a disgrace.

I felt like a fraud.

Maybe it was better to just stop talking about giving until we had enough money to give. But then what was enough? What if I never made it $100,000? What if $150,000 became the new $100,000 by the time we saved $100,000? Oh, the numbers. Oh, my aching head.

But then I remembered something else. I thought of another box that held change. More precisely, it was a red Pringles can in my Nana’s closet. She stashed all of her found money in that container. It was like a windfall whenever she took it to the bank. She had so little that spare change meant so much to her.

And yet, she always gave. It might be a dollar or two in the basket at Mass or a $10 check made out to her favorite charity, but she always gave. She bought wrapping paper and chocolate-covered nuts and anything else the local scouting troops or schools were selling. I remember watching her seal an envelope at her kitchen table one day. “Do what you can and give what you can,” she told me. All the while, she lived below the poverty line.

There’s no question about it. This holiday season, I won’t be writing out any six-figure checks. I won’t be setting up a donor-advised fund with Vanguard. I won’t be giving like the big-league gifters.

But I can continue to give like my nana. I’m going to do what I can and give what I can. And maybe that’s the most important lesson in charitable giving of all.

So Tell Me…How are you handling holiday giving? Any suggestions for me to step up my giving game?

Note: My amazing coworkers and I are working on a challenge with our students. Starting on December 1st, we’re all going to fill out blank calendars, endeavoring to do something kind or charitable each day. I’ll share my results at the end of December similarly to what I did before my 30th birthday. Join us?

Doubting Your Charitable Giving

41 thoughts on “Doubting Your Charitable Giving

  1. Thanks for this great reminder. We honestly don’t budget at all for charity, as selfish as that sounds. I do make an effort around the holidays in little ways. We just adopted a cat and donated $40 to the shelter. I also plan to adopt a Christmas Angel so a local child can have a great Christmas. But you’re right. Even a small amount of donating helps, and we’ve really been slacking, especially considering our good fortune.

    1. It actually doesn’t sound selfish. I just found us getting surprised too many times by unexpected food drives or things like that, so I decided to put a line item in our budget for it! Different strokes, right?

      I love, love, love all the stories that I’m hearing about Christmas Angels and Giving Trees this year. Our local bookstore does a Book Angel tree, and I truly want to buy all the books for all the kids all the time 🙂

    2. I don’t really budget for it, either. I used to try to give $10 or $20 a month, now I’m making a lot more money and trying to give more proportionally these days. I also give blood somewhat regularly (only in the past couple of years have I hit the minimum weight limit so I love doing this!)

  2. The reason that the big donations seem so extreme and impressive is that they are. And they’re rare. And they’re not enough on their own. They might garner all the attention, but they’re supported by millions of small, heartfelt donations by the rest of us.

    Like the flyer is supported by a whole team of other cheerleaders and the quarterback is nothing without his linemen, we’re all in this together.

    I can’t wait to see what you and the kids put on your calendars.

    1. We introduced the calendars today, and they are so stinkin’ excited. So many of them were saying things like, “But I already do that!” It’ll be fun to see them challenge themselves to really go above and beyond, but also to have them give themselves credit for all the amazing things they already do.

      I’m excited to start my calendar tomorrow!

  3. Most organizations are run on small, consistent donations. It really is the lifeblood of all the good work happening in our communities. One time big donations are great for building new infrastructure, but the day to day work is most often covered by people $20 or $100 a month gift.

    I think big donations are great. I never want to knock that. But I have huge respect when people make sacrificial gives. We started giving when we were in debt, and earning $10k a year. And that habit can continued and grown. This year our giving will be about $3600 out of the $33,000 will will have spent. And when you only spent $33,000 for a family of 7, $3600 feels like a big chunk. It’s not a 100k, but I know that if we ever start earning 100-400k a year, I won’t have any issue donating 100k. Because I have spent years practicing. =)

    1. Everything about this is fantastic, Ms. Montana. I learned that bit about donations firsthand when we went to Mexico. Every month, I PayPal the organization $25 or so, and I get a personalized email back. Sometimes they even comment on how we give so consistently. It seems like nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s really nice to hear how it is something!

  4. I commend all the bloggers donating six figures (or anything) to good causes and sharing it with the world. I hope there are millionaire and multi-millionaire readers out there reading those posts and realizing that they, too, could and should be cutting big checks.

    We’re a long way from being able to afford six-figure giving, and I also find it daunting to compare our meager checks with those huge ones. But then again, I don’t get discouraged because Bill and Melinda Gates can give billions; why should someone else in a completely different life situation affect me that way?

    I once read a really great post from a wise blogger about finding contentment in what we have. I think she said something like, “But in this moment, right here and right now, I am doing well enough.”

    We’ll try to embrace that mindset here, too.

    1. Hear, hear! I also love that wise blogger and her wise words. 🙂 While I totally understand this feeling, it’s so true that there is always someone who can give more than us, maybe even if we were Warren Buffett. But we still need to give of our time and money however we can, just like your Nana said. We don’t have a specific number in mind yet, but we’re going to try hard to up our giving this holiday season, after we get our bonuses. So many causes need to be defended now, and every little bit helps!

      1. I love that, Ms. ONL. There are so many causes and organizations that need us. It’s funny that I’m not particularly intimidated by Bill Gates or any of the celeb donors. I guess in my mind that is someone who is totally on a different level. So I don’t compare myself to them. I really need to just let this whole comparison thing go. One day, I’ll learn.

    2. Ha, thanks for that, Matt. I do need to think about the things I write sometimes 😉 I need to continually remind myself that I’m doing the best I can right now and that really is something.

  5. TJ says:

    A good reminder, Penny. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to whatever everyone else might be doing, including charity. Can’t wait to hear about the Charitable Calendar your kids are doing for December.

    I haven’t decided if I’m opening a DAF this year, but I like the idea.

    1. I’m really excited for our calendars, too! We’re trying to do a balance of things that require time or money (or both!). I hope I’ll have some good things to share!

      I’d love to hear more about your DAF when you get started.

  6. Shannon says:

    I don’t think it is so much about the dollar amount as the percentage of your income- it sounds to me like your Nana gave WAY more than a multi-millionaire who only gives six figures a year- and that counts. A LOT.

    LOVE your idea of doing something every day in December, or every day in Advent as some would say 🙂 Today I paid for the order of the person behind me in the drive thru because little things add up… and during this crazy busy rushing season, everyone deserves a little kindness.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ha. This is kind of a rip on an Advent calendar, isn’t it?! My poor Nana is probably clicking her tongue and spinning in her grave right now for me not realizing that! Thanks for reading and commenting, Shannon. It means a lot!

  7. kim domingue says:

    Your story of your Nana and her red Pringles can reminded me of a Bible story that my Grandmama read to me when I was quite young about the widow’s mite. A rich man gave a large sum but suffered no depravation in his life due to the sum he gave. The poor widow gave all she had which was only a very, very small sum. The little bit she gave would have allowed her to have a piece of fish or some eggs for dinner instead of beans or gruel. But she gave it away to help someone who didn’t even have beans or gruel to eat. God looked with more favor upon the widow’s mite than the rich man’s charitable gift.

    Now, I’m not religious and I’m probably mangling that story horribly….lol! But that story has stayed with me for years as has the example my Grandmama set for me in the way she lived her life. Her giving was not always money. It was often a gift of food or her time. It was not charging someone for the dress she had sewn for them because she knew they were strapped for cash. It was paying a youngster to rake her yard or cut her grass (even though she could do it herself) because she knew that the family was struggling to put food on the table. It was using the last of her sugar and eggs and flour to make a cake for the church fundraiser when she wouldn’t have grocery money to replace those items for another couple of weeks.

    My point is this….. charitable giving is not always about money or giving huge checks to some fundraiser. Those things are commendable and many worthy projects are started and completed because of money and big checks. But there are other forms of giving that are just as meaningful even if they’re not big things. They may only impact one or two people, one family. They will likely never make the six o’clock news or have a write up in the newspaper. But that small, personal thoughtful act of giving will never be forgotten by the one person or one family that it helped when they needed help the most.

    1. Kim, this seriously made me cry so hard at work. It’s a good thing I read it during my lunch break! Thanks for the reminder that we give for ourselves and no one else. It doesn’t matter if anyone ever notices or cares how much we give. It’s the fact that we give what we can. Thank you so much, friend.

    2. Kim, you just made the point I was going to make, but stated so much better than I could. The widow’s mite is an incredibly poignant statement that the significance of the gift isn’t just about the amount. Thanks for your reminder.

      and there’s another factor as well. Giving isn’t just about the recipient or the gift. It’s also about the giver. Compassion is important, darn it.

      1. You said it, Emily! Compassion does so much. And I am also so humbled and impressed by the kind and compassion people in my real life and in my virtual life!

  8. We all have different situations and can contribute different amounts, and that’s ok. Every little bit adds up and makes a difference. We are trying to increase our donations, but our budget is tight. So we do what we can, including volunteer time and help to raise donations from others.

    1. Your last part resonates with me, Gary. I have many students who qualify for free and reduced lunch themselves. They don’t have money to spare, nor do their families. But they have such big hearts and do so much good with their time. The fact that you’re making time and money to give right now and not putting it off until later speaks volumes about you. So inspiring!

  9. This goes well with Mrs. ONL’s post today. There is definitely a point where seeing what others are doing, even in the case of saving or giving, goes from inspirational to overwhelming. Up until relatively recently I was an “I’ll donate when I have more and can make a real difference” person, but if we all continue to give what we can, we can collectively make a huge difference.

    1. Thanks for putting me in such good company, Matt. Amazing post on Our Next Life today, that’s for sure! I have to continually remind myself that all I have is today (I mean, I like to think I’m going to live to be 103 so I can really be a sassy blue-haired lady). If I don’t act now, I don’t want to risk having never acted.

  10. $2400 a year is not measly! That’s a far larger % of your income than what we donate. We’ve committed to a “measly” 1% of our gross income because both of us had realized that what we were donating was paltry compared to our incomes.

    We set up a Donor Advised Fund with Schwab rather than Vanguard because Vanguard’s minimum initial donation was $25,000 which was way larger than our donation budget. Schwab’s minimum? $5,000. We put our 2016 and 2017 expected donation budgets (1% of our expected income for those two years) into our Donor Advised Fund, which was over $5,000, but far less than $25,000. We liked that Schwab lets us give in $50 increments too, which is far more meaningful to us at this time than the $500 increments that Vanguard requires.

    I like the % of gross income amount as it lets us donate less when we have less means and donate more when we have more means. I like the Donor Advised Fund because it makes the tax deductions far easier rather than keeping every little receipt 😉

    1. Thank you for all of the details, Leigh! Maybe it’s not totally out of reach for us. I try to remind myself that our grocery spending and our charitable giving spending are both $200. When I frame it like that, it feels like we’re doing pretty great!

    2. Strong work on setting up the DAF, Leigh.

      Fidelity Charitable has the same minimum to open and minimum grant as Schwab, and their fee structure is otherwise very similar to Vanguard’s. It is nice to be able to deduct now, give later. You also have the benefit of making capital gains (and the potential capital gains taxes) disappear.

      Best,
      -PoF

      1. Yup, we looked at Fidelity’s too. We already had a Schwab checking account and so we went with Schwab over Fidelity. Schwab has a branch locally which is really convenient for getting the paperwork in versus mailing it. Fidelity has one too. It was really a toss up 😛 This donation will save us $247 in capital gains taxes, plus about $4000 in federal income taxes. And then we can freely give the money as we choose to charities, all in one tidy little deduction. It looks like we can do monthly donations too if we want.

  11. Charitable giving is a funny thing. I think we do it best when we know that others are also giving but maybe not how much. I can see how it’s intimidating to see “people like us” doing so much more, but they’re not doing that monthly. And an organization cannot survive on a single grant gift every ten or thirty years, can it? It survives on a thousand of us giving $20 a month. Or more of us giving $5 a month.

    So sometimes when I feel like money is way too tight, like earlier this week, or when we’re hit out of left field (today’s post) I remember that $5 seems like it’s nothing until that’s what you need to make ends meet. Then it’s everything.

  12. One thing I’d remind you of is that your “work” every day influences many young minds and beyond your school coin challenges, activities like the calendar project will likely have long-term impact in terms of giving. If a few kids learn to give more, and then they influence a few to give more…your work affects more people than you would ever imagine. I wouldn’t doubt yourself for a minute. Some people can give 6 figures, you give to kids too everyday – and they can change the world, one at a time.

    1. Every year, I tell my students I’m not retiring until I have taught a future president. None of them believe me, but I believe in them. They have infinite potential! Thanks for the reminder, Vicki.

  13. Sorry ’bout that.

    The psychology behind the $100 gift stifling others is fascinating. I wrote the Thanksgiving week posts hoping to inspire, not shame! I did hear from two physicians who started their own Donor Advised Funds after reading my posts, and I felt good about that.

    Realize that the two bloggers who made those donations have six-figure incomes, seven-figure net worths, and are a couple of braggards. Plus, they’re like forty-some years old. Just super old.

    You’re giving a higher percentage of your income than I have in all but 2 of my working years — this year and the year I opened my first DAF. Keep up the great work and continue to inspire others to give what they can.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    1. You make a great point PoF! I believe that every level of charitable giving serves a valuable purpose. I love hearing about deeper pocketed folks than myself injecting huge sums that really make an impact, especially if they inspire other deep pocketed individuals to action!
      At the same time, I realize that most charitable organizations rely on the small, consistent gifts as their bread and butter, and without them, they would not survive. Living in North America, the vast majority of us are very blessed, and we can all play a part. It doesn’t take much money to change a life.

    2. No, no, no. You are an absolute inspiration! I was blown away by your post and your generosity. It definitely gives me something to strive for. Even if I can’t get there, it’s totally worth trying! 🙂

  14. Love this Penny, like all of your posts, very thought provoking. This one got me thinking about the power of a gift, large or small.
    The other day, my girls were putting together shoeboxes, for Operation Christmas Child, to go overseas. Afterwards I was speaking to the local co-ordinator, when we delivered them. They were explaining how these boxes actually transform entire communities, because of the hope and the joy they bring to children and families. I thought that was pretty cool to hear, that what we see as such a small gift has such a powerful impact. I was reminded of that when I read your post. Thanks!

    1. What a cool project, Mystery Money Man! I’m so glad you shared. Do you and your girls know where around the world they will go? Or does the organization decide after the fact? This is such an important reminder of why we should give. It’s not just about money and things, but hope and happiness and dignity. To be able to give someone those things…is there any better gift?

  15. I would LOVE to know what it feels like someday to give $100,000 to charity just like that (someday…!). I bet it feels pretty awesome!
    We’ve donate 10% of our income since even before we got married and I can definitely emphasize the importance of starting to give even when your income is small. While we started at just a few bucks as poor college students, we fee fortunate that our 10% is a lot more. It would be hard to part with such a large chunk of money had we not started small.
    When I was an intern at a public accounting firm, charitable contributions were always one of the first thing I looked for when I prepared a new client’s tax returns. I was so fascinated by how there were some clients that made $300,000 and gave $50,000, some that made $300,000 and gave literally nothing to charity (yikes people!) and everything in between. While ultimately I don’t think it’s the amount or even the percentage that matters, it does matter if you have the ability to give and you choose not to.

    1. What a unique perspective to be able to see all of those tax returns! I would agree. It’s not what you give, it’s the fact that you give and how you give 🙂

  16. Every post we write as bloggers is a form of giving since we don’t charge anything to educate, entertain, and bring joy to readers! Hence, I plan to keep on writing 3X a week.

    All is good!

    Check out the TedX talk on Giving. Insightful.

    Sam

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