Lifestyles of the Kind and Generous

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Opportunities for spontaneous generosity pop up all the time.

Your doorbell rings and a canvasser for Heart & Stroke is on the stoop. “Would you consider giving a minimum $10 to research,” she asks.

The cashier at the grocery store asks whether you’d like to add two dollars to your bill to support the local Humane Society.

You pass a guy sitting near the street corner outside your office. He asks if you can spare some change.

How do you respond to these situations?

Unplanned Giving Adds Up

Generous people are often quick to donate to one or more of the spontaneous requests for support they encounter each day. It only costs a few dollars, and it feels good to be charitable.

The frequency of these types of requests might even help keep giving at the forefront of our thinking. However, because most of these donations aren’t receipted, it’s easy to lose track of what we’ve given.

When people record their spontaneous giving, they are often surprised to learn that it can add up to hundreds of dollars throughout the year. Some people who thought they couldn’t give realize that they have much more financial capacity for generosity than they thought. Others might feel prompted to consider how they could have been more generous.

No matter whether we gave more or less than we hoped, part of good financial management is knowing where your money is going. That’s not to say we should stop giving to the causes that come our way unexpectedly. We just need to be prepared.

Part of good financial management is knowing where your money is going. That’s not to say we should stop spontaneous giving – we just need to be prepared.

Plan Your Giving

Studies show that people who plan their charitable giving donate more than those who only donate spontaneously.

Starting a generosity plan is easier than you might think. First, take some time to determine what portion of your income you want to give to charity. This is probably easiest at the beginning of the year, but you can start anytime.

Next, determine any specific charities you want to give to, and when you want to give to them. Thinking through these donations ahead of time allows you to break them up throughout the year, which can be much easier than trying to come up with a lump sum. You can always start small and work your way to higher amounts.

Automatic withdrawals make giving even simpler and more consistent – donations come out of your account or are charged to your credit card automatically at the interval you choose (most often monthly). You can set it up to align with your income pattern, and it takes no extra effort to give regularly. In fact, it makes it easier because you don’t have to take the time to mail a cheque or remember to go online to a charity’s website. Furthermore, the organizations you care about appreciate being able to count on your regular donation.

Plan for Unplanned Giving

How can we plan for spontaneous giving – isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Not really.

First, determine approximately how much money you want to budget for spontaneous donations. You might base this figure on tracking from previous years, or you could subtract planned regular gifts from your total annual giving budget and see how much is left.

Designate this money as your “Spontaneous Generosity Fund”. Even though you won’t know specifically who you’re going to give it to, putting these dollars aside during the planning phase means you will have it ready when the opportunity arises.

My wife and I have always budgeted for regular giving throughout the year as well as a little extra for small asks that might come up. While our kids were growing up, this approach was a great tool for teaching them about giving.

While our giving decisions are between me and my wife, our kids were able to see us model a planned approach to giving both regular and spontaneous generosity. Some families go even farther than ours did, setting up a family meeting to seed the fund and choose how to spend the money.

Planning Makes Giving Easy

My wife and I have found that planning our giving gives us the freedom to be more generous. Any anxiety around allocating money to charity is eliminated, and we can embrace the fun of helping others.

Because we both know we have already planned to give, our discussions about new giving opportunities focus on how it aligns with our values and what a donation might accomplish rather than whether we can “afford” to give right now.

With a generosity plan in place, you can make generous giving a comfortable part of your everyday life.

Start making a generosity plan today.

Contributed by Harold Penner
Gift Planning Consultant

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