Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Essay on Generosity (2 of 7)

“It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”                                      --Mother Teresa
Why do we give?

In 2002 our youngest daughter, Kate, was born.  Before she turned 6-months-old it was determined that she would need a serious surgery to correct the growth patterns of her skull.  She had been diagnosed with a condition called Sagital Synostosis, which resulted in the bones in her head having fused together prematurely.  As she grew, her head could not expand correctly, which was caused her skull to become mis-shaped.  

At that time the city where we lived, Austin, Texas, did not have a state of the art children's hospital.  As we searched our options, we discovered that we may have to travel to find the right doctor to perform the surgery.  Through a series of personal connections we ended up in the care of the fantastic doctors and staff at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, California.

After a three hour surgical procedure and several months of recovery, Kate was fine.  The surgery was as success and the bones in her head had  re-grown into the correct shape.  Today is great, and has no ongoing issues from the ordeal.  She was too young at the time to have any memory of what we went through -- although her mother and I will never forget.  It was very scary, and we have come to realize how fortunate we are to have our two wonderful and healthy children.

Like many who survive a rough episode, we longed to not allow the issues we faced to be for naught.  We had felt very alone when Kate was diagnosed, and we wanted to find a way to help others who faced similar situations. 

There are many opportunities to contribute time, money and moral support to charitable causes, but at the time we did not have the financial resources to write a big check, and as we researched our options, it seemed as if there was no place in philanthropy for those who were not wealthy.  We reached out to several organizations, and without large sums of money, none seemed interested in our intentions to serve a cause. 

In 2007 the new Dell Children's Medical Center opened its doors in Austin.  A few months before the facility was dedicated I was introduced to a woman, Mandy Cloud, who worked for the hospital's foundation.  She was the first person who showed a legitimate interest in our story, and my family's desire to support a cause that would help others.  The hospital's foundation had several programs in which people could become involved that did not involve being a major donor.  Together we came up with the idea of committing to an ongoing giving plan that would raise money for the "Cranio-Facial" research group at the new hospital.

We created the Kate Singer Endowment for Cranio-Facial Research, and my family pledged 5% of my speaking fees to be earmarked for this fund.  I was not yet a full-time professional speaker at that point, and the pledge seemed small.  But over time these donations, and some contriubitions from clients, friends and family, quickly brought us to the level of having a fully-funded endowment to the foundation.

After we reached the donation level we had originally desired we had made the commitment to keep going.  By this time I was full-time in the speaking business.  With my own "start-up" company the 5% was much more noticeable in our personal budget.  Our next step was to approach Rady Children's Hospital's Foundation and create a similar giving program.  We moved our 5% donations to that fund, and once we reach the same level of giving we intend to split the giving into 2.5% for each hospital indefinitely.  

As of the time of this writing the combined amounts in the two endowments is over $25,000 between our giving and the generosity of others.  This has been done over several years in small checks.  Each time I get paid, we figure out the 5% and mail a check.  Someday I will have earned over $1 million (over several years) in speaking fees, but if I had waited until that time to make a donation, the  $50,000 would have been spent on daily life (that is a lot of Starbucks Coffee!).  Instead, by making micro-sized donations over many years it is adding up to become a meaningful number.

My wife and I do not come from families that have their names on the walls of hospitals.  But by being committed to a cause for a long period of time, we have created something that has lasting meaning and will make an impact.  

At the time we started it seemed silly to send checks for $70 from time to time, but as my speaking career has grown, and the fees have gone up, we have come to realize that there is power in layering these small amounts consistently.  Much like there is power over time in saving money for retirement, there is the same power in continuous giving.

It feels good to know that over time the endowments have grown into something tangible.  Too often charities only seek the "big fish" for donations, leaving those who do not have ample amounts of cash to feel they cannot make a difference.  But you can make a difference.  If you walked into any charity and wrote a $25,000 check they would be thrilled..... it should be no different if you make your contributions over time.

We found that donating to an existing charity was easier than establishing a new charitable foundation.  The paperwork was minimal.  A one page promissory note (not even legally binding) was all that was involved.  We do not have the ability to direct the funds, or how the interest from the money is spent, other than noting is should be used for the needs of the Cranio-Facial doctors at both hospitals.  However, we trust the judgement of these two foundations, and they have come to make us feel important in how we support their cause.  

People at any financial level can create a planned giving program that will make a difference.  If you want to give, do not anyone make you feel that you cannot have impact.  Find the right charity whose mission looks long-term and who will treat you as a real donor.  If they do not have a planned giving program in place, talk to them about creating one for you.  If they are not interested, move on and find another organization who wants to become your partner in giving.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

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