If you’re like me, the “Season of Giving” is one of my most favorite times of the year – and also one of the most dreadfully taxing. From the warm and fuzzy “feel good” sentiments when showing your loved ones you care, to giving to those less fortunate, to the chaotic frenzy of holiday shopping and stressful planning of gatherings, the “Season of Giving” is much more than just the spreading of holiday cheer – it involves a great deal of giving of yourself – your time, your energy, your patience. But if you think about it, we give all year round, daily in fact, and are constantly on the “giving roller coaster” (i.e., trepidation, excitement, relief).
Whether it be for a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or graduation, or in helping a friend or coworker in need, we do our research in finding the perfect gift or how to be helpful, we execute on our research by securing that special something or finding the right support tool, we breathe a sigh of relief and feel quite accomplished when our action of giving is appreciated by the recipient, and then we do it all over again for the next celebratory occasion or mini-life crisis (“Mom! Can you please help me find my baseball cleats?”). But why? Why do we give? Is it because of tradition or culture? Is it because we enjoy seeing our little ones’ eyes light up with sincere excitement and gratitude? Is it because we want to always be a team player and help others? Is it all of the above?
As women, we give so much more than material things – we are hard-wired to always think of others and quite naturally are the first to offer our time, our talent and our treasure, whether it be to a colleague, a friend, a local charity and of course, to our families. We do it not out of obligation, but because we want to give. And, we give from the heart. We put a lot of thought into gift giving as it symbolizes our love for the recipient. We take on others’ problems as our own and are determined to find solutions and hence, give our time. It’s one of those beautiful character traits that defines women. And, it’s something that was likely instilled in all of us at a young age, from our own mothers or influential women in our lives. I, for one, witnessed my mom at an early age always giving.
My parents owned a family restaurant and pub during my childhood. My dad handled the operations of the family business and my mom was its face. In addition to hosting our entire family for the holidays, my mother made it a point to keep the restaurant open year-round and offer holiday meals – for free – to all of their patrons. My mother would labor away in the kitchen for the days leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas because she wanted to ensure that everyone had a place to go and enjoy a “just like Grandma used to make” holiday meal. My parents always encouraged my siblings and me to be involved in the preparations and on the day of festivities.
Rather than tell us the importance of giving, their actions showed us. It became a family tradition and something all of us looked forward to doing together because it not only brought others joy, but it brought us contentment as well in being able to see and feel the impact. The point of my trip down memory lane is that no matter the motivation to give – the why for us all is the same – quite simply, it makes us happy. Whether it be opening up our pocketbooks or our schedules – we do it because it makes us feel good. Giving is fuel for the soul. And that’s a beautiful thing!
Given the fact that we put forth so much effort into gift giving and in making (and finding) the time to be helpful to others, it makes sense that when we find ourselves with the desire and capacity to become philanthropic, we should employ the same cycle of research, execution, and accomplishment so that we may have the greatest impact in our communities and truly make a difference.
Most of us are probably already charitable. You may give your weekly offertory or donation to your place of worship, you help your children with their infinite school fundraisers, you donate to “dress down Fridays” at your workplace, you round up your grocery bill at the check-out register to donate to the local children’s hospital; you may even volunteer as a board or committee member for one of your favorite charities. The opportunities to give are abundant. But, how can you leave an even larger footprint to something that perhaps touches you on a more personal level? Here are some things to consider...
The number of worthwhile causes and nonprofit organizations are not lacking. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States. In Florida, there are almost 100,000 nonprofit organizations. So how do you find one whose mission resonates with you? Where do you begin? To start, determine a general area of interest that you’d like to support – it could be children, women, animals, healthcare, wellness, education, the arts. Whatever you’re interested in. Then find out what charities exist in that area and learn about them. I’m a big advocate of giving locally “in my own backyard.” Fortunately, many national organizations have local chapters. Locating one can easily be done with a Google search. Taking the time to learn a little more about the general area that you are passionate about will help you narrow your focus to a specific cause under its general umbrella. For example, you may really want to advocate for the betterment of children’s lives. Your Google search may inspire you to think about specific children’s causes such as foster care, homelessness, abuse, bereavement, mental health or literacy, to name a handful.
Once you’ve identified the cause or causes that you are most interested in, take the time to learn about the specific organization. This is a really important step! Attend an event or two. Determine how the nonprofit operates. Find out if there is a board and learn if it is fiduciary or advisory. Educate yourself on the organization’s mission and vision. Learn what the current cost of fundraising is and assess how fiscally responsible the organization is (you can easily pull up the 990 filings on www.charitynavigator.org.) Get to know the fundraising staff, board members and overall culture of the nonprofit to make sure it’s a good fit for you. Knowing this information will empower you to not only make an informed decision as to which organization to become involved with, but will also enable you to feel confident with your decision.
Once you feel inspired to give to a specific organization, determine how or what you want to give.
Give your time. Volunteers are always needed. Most nonprofits have a major annual event that funds a substantial portion of their annual fundraising goals. They also likely have several other events for specific fundraising and friend-raising purposes throughout the year. With tight budgets and usually overextended staff, many nonprofits need volunteers to help with community outreach initiatives, making phone calls and even stuffing envelopes. There are plenty of options with time commitments ranging from an hour or two here or there to having a part time job (those of you who have chaired a major event know what I’m talking about!). Get involved with the event committees. Be hands on with the planning and execution of the event. Get to know the development professionals within the organization and ask where the area of greatest need is. Volunteering is fulfilling and rewarding. You get to meet tons of great people, have fun and really be a part of something special.
Give your talent. If events are not your thing, consider volunteering your talent. Your experience and expertise in your professional role may be just what the organization needs. Many nonprofits have boards and committees comprised of prominent business leaders and are in need of volunteers with your skillset. Most nonprofits have some variation of a finance committee or professional advisor committee (accountants, attorneys, financial/wealth advisors, insurance professionals). They look to professionals to act as sounding boards, oversee important operational objectives and serve as ambassadors in the community.
In addition to giving your time, you may also be fortunate enough to share your treasure. If you’ve done your research and you’re really invested in the purpose of the nonprofit, you may also want to help monetarily support its cause. There are several different levels of giving that are necessary for the well-being and sustainability of the nonprofit.
Also referred to as in-kind donations, Gifts In Kind involve donations of goods or services. You know those events I mentioned earlier? Nonprofits hope to get in-kind donations of event-related items to help offset the cost of the event so that more dollars can go to the mission. Smaller nonprofits and start ups oftentimes look to professional advisors to help with governance, legal matters, financial advising and accounting. Depending on the charity, there are a multitude of opportunities to give gifts in kind ranging from food, clothing and furniture donations to beauty services and life skills training to the population served.
Annual Giving refers to donations given to an organization year after year by the same donor for current use by the nonprofit. Individual supporters or corporations and foundations may budget to give a certain amount of philanthropic dollars each year – whether it be outright or even as an annual sponsor of a fundraising event. These loyal donors substantially support the mission of the nonprofit. Think about it. One hundred annual donors who give $100 per year yields $10,000!
Major giving is – you guessed it – giving a large sum of money to the organization. You can give generally to the area of greatest need, or you can give to a specific fund within the organization. Many people who decide to make a major gift to their favorite nonprofit typically have a specific area they want it applied to, and they work with the organization’s major gift officer to accomplish the donation. What qualifies as a major gift depends on the organization, but typically it involves gifts of $10,000 or more. Depending on the size of the gift, many nonprofits’ gift acceptance policies permit pledging a certain amount over a specific period of time. Major gifts are particularly important with capital campaigns and specific initiatives of the nonprofit.
Planned Giving is my favorite “level” of giving as it involves the thoughtful foresight and planning on the part of the donor to make the ultimate gift. Simply put, planned giving is the act of planning to give beyond your lifetime. Also called legacy giving, planned giving involves making the decision during your lifetime to leave a gift, generally a major gift, by naming the nonprofit as a beneficiary of your estate (via bequest) or other financial plans (banking or investment accounts, life insurance, retirement accounts). There are a handful of giving vehicles that may produce life income for the donor such as a charitable gift annuity as well as provide tax benefits to you or your heirs. The complexity of planned giving can range from low to high, depending on the objectives of the donor. Oftentimes many planned giving donors consult with their tax/financial advisor and the nonprofit’s planned giving officer in strategizing on ways to make the greatest charitable impact while also ensuring that their own children and other loved ones are taken care of.
Many people who enjoy being philanthropic oftentimes find that their relationship with a beloved charity grows over time. It’s no surprise that many donors actually start out as a volunteer or annual donor and end up becoming major and planned giving donors. Moreover, it’s not unheard of to learn that many families continue to stay involved with an organization from generation to generation.
Putting forth the same energy you afford to tangible gift giving when it comes to charitable giving will allow you to feel good knowing how your little piece of giving – whether it be your time or your dollars – fits into the overall mission of the nonprofit.
Nonprofits exist because of the generosity of others. Nonprofits express their gratitude via donor recognition societies and sometimes even naming opportunities. Most organizations likely have some sort of “giving circle” and thank you event where donors are recognized for their thoughtfulness. Some may offer the opportunity to inscribe a brick, name a room or a building, and even name an endowment or scholarship fund. While the majority of donors don’t give for the recognition, it’s a heartfelt gesture by the nonprofit in showing its appreciation. And, while donors give for the right reasons (to make a meaningful difference), it is nice to be thanked. Also, as the nonprofit’s giving circle grows, so too does its case for support, serving as an inspiration for others to give, which is a win-win!
Looking back, I can honestly say that witnessing my mom’s generosity instilled in me my own desire to give – a value I hope to pass on to my own children. I could characterize it as selflessly giving, but to me that’s a misnomer. While the true meaning of giving implies not having an expectation of receiving anything in return, the truth is, we do get something in return – that truly indescribable warm and fuzzy feeling; the knowing that collectively we can make a difference and improve our communities, relationships and our own spiritual health. Kindness IS infectious. So, if you’re able and willing, give like your mother taught you. I promise, riding the giving roller coaster throughout the year and not just during the Season is worthwhile…and the best gift of all!