It’s #GIVINGTUESDAY and we don’t have school today so the munchkins said, “Teacha, we’re going out”. Watch out world.
Before we get out and about, I wanted to share my full responses to these 4 questions I was asked by HuffPost last week for this article. I had to sit down and really think about how my experiences have changed my thoughts surrounding charity and giving these past five years.
It was very personally moving to me to look back in the knowledge that if I hadn’t changed my life and my relationship to giving, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with anyone (let alone HuffPost) because I wouldn’t have anything valuable to say about it. More than that, I wouldn’t have the experiences that made me know for certain that I can and should give without being rich, having “enough”, or “being ready”. I didn’t always believe that. Thank God that we can all change our minds and change the world.
Many people in their 20s feel they “don’t have enough disposable income” to give to charities like Make Our Day, but they want to. What would you say to them, or what advice do you have for them?
First off, I can relate. Prior to moving to Thailand in my mid twenties, I rarely gave to charity despite the fact that my annual income was more than four times what it is today. I wanted to get involved but I didn’t really put much thought into what that would look like. I’d periodically start and stop monthly donations to Kiva, World Vision, and the Humane Society but I didn’t really know why I was doing it. I didn’t value these interactions despite the fact that these organizations do great work. I remember thinking, maybe this is just something that I’ll enjoy more when I’m older, when I make more and can give more. Maybe when my student loans are paid off I won’t feel this sense of financial scarcity.
Fast forward to age 30 and here is how that played out. I did get older, but I didn’t make more money (I make significantly less in fact). I didn’t pay off my student loans and even at the minimum payment, those bills still monopolize 28% of my monthly income. I did start making small donations to charity regularly. I do feel radically different about it than I did five years ago and here’s why:
- I met hundreds of people around the world doing the type of work I care about on every size of budget and I realized how true the cliche is – it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it.
- I realized that imaginary point in the future when I’d have lots of disposable income and no student loan debt wasn’t coming…..at least not for me and at least not anytime soon, and I stopped waiting for it.
- I started my own non profit and found out first hand how scary and awkward it is to ask for donations. As a result I started to notice and listen more carefully to fundraising campaigns from every sector.
Let’s say I only have room in my budget for a $10 donation. Is that still of use to your organization? Should I still give, and if so, why?
Right off the bat, just let me say YES! Give us $10. I can go on for hours about the ways in which I have and could use $10 and I will, but first I’d like to say that I don’t think it’s a lack of belief that $10 can make a difference that stops potential donors from giving $10. In preparation for answering this question, I put a Yes / No poll on my instagram story that asked “Do you believe a $10 donation can make a difference?” 100% of respondents said yes. Granted the number of responses was low and my followers are apt to be like minded or respond in the way they think I would want them to, but stick with me……
I think most of us believe that a $10 donation can make a difference yet don’t make a point of giving because we simultaneously hold an opposing belief that $10 is not a lot and we can’t give every month. This is a case of cognitive dissonance that is not unique to charitable giving. When something is purely a choice, many people struggle to do something that they themselves believe they can and want to do.
To that I would say, the more you can align your actions with your beliefs, the happier you will start to become in every area of your life. For myself I can say that in my early twenties I wasn’t happy spending most of my income on high rent and a car payment but it’s what everyone else around me my age was doing.
I had to change my life and start doing the things I really wanted to do and working with and giving to charity regularly was one of those things. It not only became easier to give the more often I did it, it actually started to expand my perspective on what it possible for me to achieve in my lifetime.
But Katie, what if it’s only a small donation AND it’s only one time or only once a year? That’s the only kind of financial contributions I make so if that’s the wrong way to donate then I’m donating wrong too. We all want to give more, but please remember that $10 is more than zero dollars. So if you want to give something but give nothing you are actually moving further away from aligning yourself with your beliefs.
I honestly believe the small amounts I contribute, make a difference to the organizations that receive them. I know that giving regularly and thoughtfully has made a difference in my own journey towards finding my place in the world.
If you still feel like pulling the trigger on that small donation isn’t going to make a difference, please go take a look at Together Rising whose campaigns have raised over $8 million dollars with a donation cap of $25. Scroll through sites like Patreon and Kickstarter where people are taking gifts as small as $1 and creating amazing art, dialogue, and socially conscious businesses.
If you’ve spent any time these past few months feeling fearful or helpless about our shared future on this planet, then give $10 for the sole fact that you want to feel better. I believe one of the easiest and best things you can do to alleviate some of that dread over the state of the world is to take your $10 and put it with someone who is doing the work you want to do in the world. Because guess what….then you are doing it too.
If you know you are doing something instead of nothing, you’re going to wake up a little less fearful, a little more hopeful. How do I know this? Because the people I know doing the hard work are not only hopeful, but excited about the future.
We all know and recognize the phenomenal power of an individual to do harm but the other side of that is the untapped potential of the collective to have an amazingly positive impact and change the path we’re on. If we say as a society; we are going towards a world with better access to clean water, widespread, affordable education, and greater social and economic equality, then we can go there $10 at a time. But we can’t go zero dollars at a time, so let’s not wait.
Most recent example of how $10 has made a big difference in the lives of one of my very favorite students ever:
One of my third-grade students used to cry inconsolably through his morning classes. This was happening frequently (two or three days a week which is a very abnormal amount of crying for a nine year old) and he wouldn’t tell any students or teachers why. Things started to make sense when I checked his English workbook and saw that he’d written “no” next to the question “what did you have for breakfast?” I started to ask him each morning if he was hungry and he said yes. For weeks I brought him food but he wouldn’t take it. As we got to know each other, he began to trust me more. Now I bring him fresh fruit and granola for breakfast every school day and make sure he has food or money for the weekend. $10 a week is what I spend of fruit and granola for his breakfast and seeing a huge smile on his face in the morning instead of tears is incredible. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that absolutely everything about his school performance started to improve after this. He is finishing his work, he’s getting along much better with his classmates, he helps me with all of my grading and attendance sheets. His homeroom teacher is blown away by the change in him.
Is it preferable for donors make recurring donations or donate in one big sum all at once for the year?
I’m going to go ahead and say that small recurring donations are the way to go and here’s why.
- There are very few people who take a year long view of their finances. Most people live paycheck to paycheck. If that’s you, then you need to acknowledge that your donation is going to have to come out of your paycheck or it’s not going to be there at the end of the year.
- Recurring donations to nonprofits come in on different days of the month, which is great for nonprofits like mine who have daily needs. Because these come in on different days, I almost always have $200 to $300 in the account, which means if a need comes up, I can leave school at lunch, take the Make Our Day debit card to the ATM, get 20 bucks, get the munchkin what they need without having to ask for an additional donation and still do my planned activities on the weekends.
- Recurring donations are a great way to tell the voice in your head that says you aren’t giving enough to take a hike, because these add up over time. Every year you’re going to get a statement of how much you donated that year and that adds up to one big donation.
- Company matching. If you work for a large company, please look into this because some companies will match dollar for dollar monthly or yearly contributions. That right there will double the amount of your donation without having to actually double the amount of your donation. Win-win.
Any other “best practices” for young people who are starting to budget for giving?
Fitness trainers will often tell you, if it hurts you aren’t doing it right. I think that statement can be applied to small donations as well. If a request feels intrusive or you feel like you’re giving begrudgingly or without intention, the way I was in my early twenties, try to figure out why you feel that way.
If you can articulate what’s wrong about your relationship to charity, the opposite will also start to become true. You’ll be able to clearly articulate why you do give. For the life of me, I can’t tell you why I made the donations I did in my early twenties other than charity is good, you should give to charities, I give to these charities because they are big and I see people on TV giving to them in massive amounts.
Today I can tell you that last month I donated $5 to Brand New Congress, my first ever political campaign contribution because I heard on Rob Bell’s podcast that Zach Exely created a platform for regular people to run for congress. Rob Ryerse is running, he’s not taking any corporate donations and on the podcast, he asked for $5. Last time I checked his campaign was 85% funded by small donations.
This month I contributed $12 to a successful kickstarter campaign that wants to publish children’s books about climate change. I love this because I also need climate change explained to me with pretty pictures at the level of a 4th grader.
Next month I’m planning on doing Together Rising’s Holiday Hands which will be announced on Glennon Doyle and Momastary’s social media.
I don’t normally plan out the date, amount, or organization for my monthly donations in advance but that is just on account of my personality, which I also think is an important factor to consider if you want to feel truly satisfied with your contributions.
Do you like clean predictable order? Maybe you’re a monthly giver and you are going to love getting that end of year statement that has the dates and amount of your donations with a clean pretty total of how much you can deduct from your taxes. Are you impulsive? Keep your gifts small so you can respond more frequently or have more to give when something really moves you and you want to become more seriously involved with it.
If you have a monthly donation, don’t beat yourself up if you have to cancel, reduce the amount or put it on hold for a couple of months. Just figure out how to reframe it in a way that fits with your life right now.
Acknowledge that you can do anything but you can’t do everything. Don’t let the times that you didn’t help cloud your mind and take away from your sense of accomplishment over the times and ways that you did respond to a need in the world.
Thank you so much to everyone who read, shared, donated, or reached out to say hi when the article came out last week. If you can send us $10 for #GIVINGTUESDAY or consider making a year end donation for Christmas it would Make Our Day