Monday, August 05, 2013

Essays on Generosity (1 of 7)

"What is the use of living, if it not be to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?"  
                                                          -Winston Churchill
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, it is not the wealthy that are the most generous.  The middle class in the United States donate a far bigger share of their discretionary income to charity.  While many say our society is selfish, there are countless people who are extremely generous with money, time and moral support to an unlimited number of good causes.

Giving is a personal issue and people give for a variety of reasons.  Much is written on the importance of giving, and in times of either economic prosperity or financial hardships there are always millions in the world who are in need of assistance.  As long as man has walked the earth there has been opportunities to serve others with a generosity of spirit.

There is something about being involved with cause that makes people feel connected.  Philanthropies often bring people together in their efforts to raise funds.  These charity walks, galas, online forums, social clubs, etc.... can be a way to connecting people.  While we live in a "social media crazy world", and even with all these digital "links", people often feel isolated.  The online social media groups that many frequent often lack the feeling of a "greater good" and fail to deliver the feeling of being part of something important.  Those seek meaning can find it in supporting a cause.

Many argue the dark side of large charities, and point to news stories where high percentages of their income go to salaries and overhead expenses.  While fraud and other problems are a real concern, we need to be careful not to discredit the good that is done by charities.  Most organizations do amazing work that impact the lives of those they serve.  One popular blogger whom I follow (but will not name here) wrote two highly popular posts about why people should not donate to charities.  He made some valid points, and encouraged people to participate in random acts of kindness.  While great in theory, too many fail to ever take the actions needed to solve the problems, and the formal programs of charities have to fill those gaps.

When selecting a charity to support you must be judicious in your selections process.  Make sure that the mission of the organization matches your plans for how you desire you money to be invested. Understand the business policies and history of the charity, and be sure you respect the people on the staff  and the board.  Once you commit long-term to a philanthropy you want to have a strong sense of trust in what they are doing.  If you cannot write a single large check, you may choose to give repetitively over many years, and knowing the long term vision of the organization will be important to your peace of mind. 

If you feel fortunate about the life you live, then giving back can be a natural desired course of action.  Finding a way to make a difference, if you are not wealthy, can be more difficult.  One friend wanted to donate 5% of her salary to a variety of causes, but at the end of the year she found she gave much less than she had intended. None of the small checks she wrote seemed to give her any sanctification of having made an impact on anything at all. I think having a single charity, or a few causes, and a structured plan for giving over a longer period of time can bring you more satisfaction.

Consistent acts of giving over a long period of time can add up to astonishing numbers in regards to time and money.  Both those who give, and the charities they fund, seem to focus on single donation amounts, but contributing over time to a planned giving program can equal or exceed those donations that are often reported in press releases.  You do not have to be rich to impact a charity, as a long term commitment to systematically giving any amount will add up over time.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

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