Growing up, my parents set an example of generosity and charitable giving that I have tried hard to follow now that I have a steady stream of income. Too often, I hear people in my age group (25-30) say that they don’t give to charity, but that they hope to when they make more money. While I understand their argument (I’m by no means a wealthy person), I don’t believe that charitable giving should be reserved only for the wealthy or financially secure. So I thought that I might share some of my own theories on charitable donations and I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments.
Amounts. I set aside four-percent of my annual gross salary for charity. I donate two-percent through the Combined Federal Campaign, which allows the government to automatically deduct my charitable contributions from my paycheck, and I give another two-percent on top of that to charities that are not on the CFC list. To some of you, this will seem like a lot of money, and to others it will seem like very little, but this is what I can comfortably donate at this time.
I also have a rule regarding windfalls. If the universe is very generous with me (unexpected gifts, IRS rebates, game show winnings), I like to be generous right back. So I donate 10% of any windfall money to charity as well.
Even if you can’t commit to donating a certain amount of money every month, remember that with charities, every little bit helps. So if you can donate $25, do it.
Timing. While there is certainly nothing wrong with donating during the holidays season, I try to give a little bit every month instead of one large donation at the end of the year.
My neighbor, however, who only likes to write one check and be covered for 12 months, issues his donations in what he likes to call, “Christmas in July.” Over time, he’s found that charities, particularly smaller, local charities, are very happy to receive sizable donations in the warm weather months because it helps them fill in gaps when the holiday money starts to run thin.
Type. For most donors, the charities we choose are very important to us. Over the years, I’ve developed something of a rulebook for the types of charities that I will donate to, so I thought that I might share it with you. Please bear in mind, that these are my personal choices and reasons, and I don’t expect you to share them.
- I donate exclusively to charities that help people. I love animals as much as the next person, and there are some great charities that help the environment and wildlife (ASPCA, Ducks Unlimited, etc.), but I only give money to charities that help heal, feed, clothe and educate people.
- No cancer charities. Why? Because those charities receive so much money from private donations and government grants. I would rather donate my money to some of the charities that are overlooked than to a charity that clears $300mil per year in annual revenue. Komen for the Cure does some great work, but so does my local hospice center and they’re not operating on a nine figure budget.
- I split my domestic vs. foreign donations 65-35. Sometimes, I think we get so wrapped up in donating to help people overseas, that we forget that there are folks in our own backyards that need our help. So I give American charities an advantage in my donations.
- I don’t consider contributions to political non-profits, museums, or anyone who predominantly exists to throw a gala as charitable donations. Sure, I give money to the Studio Theatre and the Trust for the National Mall and the GOP, but I don’t consider these charities. They are non-profits, and there’s a big difference in my mind between the two.
- I don’t give money to either of the colleges I attended, and I don’t intend to until I pay off my student loans. Some day, I will, but that day is not today.
Belle’s Favorites. So, who do I give money to? Domestic: Fisher House (vets), local hospice, local food bank in D.C. and my home state, Christian Appalachian Project, and the Harlem Children’s Zone. Foreign: Mercy Corps, Holt International, and Heifer International.
Microloans. In 2004, I read about a man whose bank was lending small amounts of money to women in Bangladesh who wanted to start businesses. Two years later, Muhammed Yunus won the Nobel Prize for perpetuating the notion that micro-credit, small loans meant to help people build better lives, could change the world.
Over the past two years, I have been making regular loans to small business entrepreneurs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Peru, Mexico, Kenya, etc. through an organization called Kiva International. Lenders (donors) contribute $25 to a business owner for things like new equipment, seed for crops, new buildings, etc. These loans empower people to build better lives, and as the loans are paid back, those funds are used to make loans to other entrepreneurs. So if you’re looking for a great charity that has a real impact on the lives of deserving people, check out Kiva. You can give as little as $25, and you can give as often or as infrequently as you wish, so it’s perfect for cash strapped Hill staff.
Whether you choose to volunteer or give money to charity, I think it’s important for people to give back to their communities. If you have a charity that you particularly like, feel free to share it in the comments. Who knows, maybe this post will inspire a few people to donate. And if you work for the Federal government, ask your office manager about the Combined Federal Campaign.