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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Giving

'Tis the season

'Tis the season to be a little more liberal on my diet, to gain a little weight, to indulge, and to simply "think" about stuff.

Some of the stuff I've been thinking about lately as we head into the season of goodwill is how to be a good steward of the abundance we have been blessed with. So, we've learned to be grateful instead of "expecting", and to appreciate what we have instead of being envious and angry for what we don't. That's half the equation for joy, right?

What's the other half? I tend to think the other half comes from our willingness and practice of giving freely of ourselves. While this includes volunteering our time, energy and resources, for the purpose of this post, I'm talking about money.

It's not that I am proposing we part with money because it is the root of all evil. Money is not the root of all evil. As Paul said in his letter to Timothy, it's the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. For sure, the love of money can bring out the worst in people, from "Black Friday" to Bernie Madoff. But money, when deployed in a loving way, can be a catalyst for all kinds of good.

So how do we "give"? Surprisingly, this is not an easy question to answer. The first part of this question would be "how much?", and that's a very personal decision. The word "tithe" means "tenth", and is one such appropriate rate. I personally think this is a good number because it is enough that you "feel" it, but not so much that it becomes the main cause of financial hardship. As Dave Ramsey said, "If you can't live off of 90% of your income, then you can't live off of 100%.

The next question is "where?". As good stewards of our own finances, we would hope that to those we give would be good stewards as well. But that is not always the case. It is not easy to sort through all the charities to find the best cause. Some may appear to be very worthwhile, but operate at high inefficiencies so that the bulk of your donations go not to those who need it, but the continuing operation of the charity itself, or worse yet the pockets of those in the ivory tower. Here are a few suggestions to help you find the charity that's right for your well earned giving fund.

Fund Your Passion:

One of the greatest challenges is determining where to give your hard earned money. The beauty of giving in the internet age is that you have the ability to simply click through to a charity you are passionate about and give away. Whether you wish to help others out of poverty, are inspired by challenged athletes, or are a champion for animal rights, there is something out there for you. However, sifting through the enormous amounts of information can be overwhelming. Even once you do identify what you are passionate about, there are potentially dozens of charities that fit your giving profile. Which leads to the next tip.

Do Your Research

If only there was a free service which could sift through all of the many charities which fit a giving profile. Well, there is! Charity Navigator does just what its name implies. It helps you to navigate through the charities you may be considering, and even find one that may fit your profile. The site is very user friendly, helping you to filter through information by category, providing basic information about the mission and financial statements of the organization, and an overall score based on a series of metrics.

Treat Charities Like Your Investment Portfolio

If you were to invest in a company, one of the primary considerations for your decision would be the value you are receiving for the dollars you are putting in. You want the investment to provide a significant return on your investment that far outweighs the dollar you put in. You should think the same way about charitable giving. How far can your charitable giving go? If the answer is "not much farther than the front door", then perhaps you should move on. However, if a charity provides your dollar has the opportunity to "compound" the good it does in the world, it's worth a hard look.

For example, Charity:Water, a four star Charity Navigator charity, provides clean water solutions to communities all over the world. They are funded by people like you to build the clean water infrastructure in areas that do not have that luxury. On the surface it appears that that's how far your dollar goes. But that is not correct. The secondary benefits to that investment in infrastructure contribute to a vast number of other benefits to the community. The people no longer have to spend hours obtaining water from local ponds, lakes, or rivers (an often dangerous journey for many people), there is less sickness caused by contaminated water, and greater resources become available to the community. All of this leads to greater productivity, longevity, and opportunity. Perhaps even an escape from poverty. All from the simple act of providing clean water. Your dollar can have a deep impact in cases such as these. This is why I support Charity:Water, and other charities like it.

I won't lie, money is a very sensitive issue, and I am walking a fine line even making suggestions as to what people should do with their hard earned money. Money, or lack thereof, leads to very real issues, including family trouble, poverty, anger, obsession, addiction, the list goes on. I'll offer this disclaimer, just as financial advisers do, which is to say that these are only my opinions, which are worth the paper they're printed on. But the best advice I can offer on this subject is to follow your heart. Give joyfully, freely, and thoughtfully - the best way for money to buy happiness.