A Happy Habit
"Give back" is an ethic that has been instilled in many of us from the time we were children. "My parents allowed me to put our family's weekly contribution onto the collection plate at Mass," recalls Beth Dixon, a human resources manager from Philadelphia. "I was raised to believe that giving money to charity is important."
With the year drawing to a close and the holiday season almost upon us, many - if not most - of the 1.14 million charities in the United States will be making special year-end appeals to donors and potential donors. And many of us, whether due to a sense of seasonal generosity or in the hope of a tax break next April 15, will grab our purses and write out checks.
Whether or not you pull out your checkbook for charity this season, it's a good time to reflect upon the subject of giving. According to the Independent Sector, a non-profit organization that promotes giving and volunteering, over 68% of households make charitable contributions and give an average of two percent of their annual household income. Beth Dixon figures that, between her monthly pledge to a children's charity, her weekly church offering and her sporadic donations in response to appeals she receives in the mail, "I give about three percent of my income to various charities."
For Dixon, the choice to give - rather than taking a trip to Cancun or going on a shopping spree at the mall - is a conscious one. "I don't really miss the money, because it's a small amount each month. And I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I'm making a difference in the lives of kids."
Those who work in the area of philanthropy agree that giving should be a habit, rather than an impulse. The Independent Sector suggests budgeting for giving, just as you would any other household expense. In fact, they encourage each person to set a goal for giving to the causes you care about. Their "Give Five" campaign suggests as a goal five percent of your income, but acknowledges that five percent isn't the right amount for everyone.
Deciding which organization deserves your financial support can be a challenge for some people. "There were so many places I wanted to help," reports Dixon, " but I knew I had to choose." Her decision was based upon her knowing about the program from an acquaintance that worked there.
According to the Independent Sector, the most important factor in deciding upon an agency is looking at what's important to you. If you're concerned about children, as Dixon is, then investigate kid-related causes. If you're an environmentalist, find an organization that you feel is doing valuable work. If believe in an organization that runs many different programs, you can always earmark your donation to go specifically to the project which interests you the most.
'Tis the season of giving, and there's no better time to make a pledge to find a charity and fund your passion.
- Add a category of "giving" to your budget, just as you would other household expenses
- Ask your employer about matching funds programs, which will double your donation
- Research potential charities by asking for their annual report and financial statement, or contact the National Charities Information Bureau at www.give.org
- Select organizations that will use a reasonable portion of your donation for program services rather than administrative costs
- Investigate phone solicitations by asking for the name of the organization and the programs for which the money is being requested
- Be wary of high-pressure solicitations
- Watch for organizations that are visibly making a difference in your community; you can be confident that your contribution will go toward making a difference