Guidelines for Giving…Even When You’re Broke

December 10, 2012

Ethiopian Truck with Goods

Charitable giving is big at this time of year, but if you’re struggling financially and feeling strapped, it’s easy to think you can’t spare anything. I’m fighting this myself: Our own bank accounts are recovering from two trips to Ethiopia, adoption costs for two children, and a significant reduction in household income, since I’ve suspended my paid work right now to take care of the girls.

Still, giving is important, and we’ll find ways to donate small amounts to a few favorite causes. There are many worthwhile organizations out there doing great work — locally, nationally, and internationally — and it can be really hard to choose where to put the few dollars you have. So I thought I’d share three of my own guidelines for giving this year…

First — and this is something I’ve really had to drill into my brain — no amount is too small. Such a cliche, I know, but many of us feel that $5 or $10 is just too insignificant to bother with. Why whip out the credit card or check book for something so seemingly insignificant? But having worked with nonprofits a good deal of my professional life, I can vouch for the fact that most charitable organizations survive — and thrive — on such small donations. Of course, if you can give more, great, but giving just $5 or $10 really does matter.

The second thing that helps is to go where your heart leads — and not to be afraid to branch out and give to something new. What’s calling to you this year? Perhaps you personally know people doing things you want to support, or there are organizations with missions that directly affect people or places dear to your heart. Maybe it’s just something you saw on the news that made you reach for a tissue. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget those in our very own backyard. Giving from the heart means being intentional about it and allowing a need to speak to you.

Third, it helps a lot to think of what you can sacrifice for the donation you’re going to make. For example, if you eat out a few times a week, maybe you can forego one of those nights and donate that $30 instead. Or maybe you’ll be getting a work bonus and can donate 10% of it. Perhaps you drink Starbucks every day and can do without it one day a week for four weeks, then donate that amount. Doing it this way really helps me realize I can give something if I shift where I’m placing my dollars. And if you’ve got kids who are old enough to understand the concept, get them involved — perhaps they’d be willing to forego desserts for a week or donate some allowance money. If you let them pick a cause they love, they’ll be excited to give.

What are your guidelines for giving? Any charities or causes you’re particularly drawn to this year?

P.S. This is the perfect place to mention my friend Jamie’s Christmas Stocking Project. Jamie started a foundation to aid children and women in Ethiopia — a cause naturally near and dear to my heart. This year, Jamie is encouraging good folks like us to take the dollars we might spend on some stocking stuffers and give the gift of clean water to those who desperately need it. She’s working with an amazing woman named Sister Donna, who has devoted her life to the poorest of the poor in southern Ethiopia and alerted Jamie and others to the great need for water filters there. The $10 that you might spend on a few stocking stuffers can literally save the life of another family. Here’s more info with an easy link to make a donation.

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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