Millions of generous Americans donate to charities as individuals or as part of a family or business. At the same time, many other people buy into myths about giving — myths that undermine their willingness to give (or give more) to worthy causes. Some of the common excuses I’ve encountered over the years:
I don’t have enough money to be a philanthropist. The way you approach your giving is more important than the amount you give. Consider these questions to help establish your effectiveness as a donor:
- Why am I giving in the first place?
- What outcomes do I want to achieve for myself or my business?
- What outcomes do I want to achieve for a particular cause or community?
- Which are the best nonprofits for achieving those outcomes?
- How can I evaluate the effectiveness of my social investment?
- Can I make a difference by volunteering my time and talent, or by making it easier for my employees to do so?
The problems are too big. Although one person or business cannot end poverty, eliminate injustice or eradicate hunger, even small acts of charity given to effective nonprofits can indeed change the world. For example, the coins collected by Trick or Treat for UNICEF have raised more than $170 million to help the world’s children — and save countless lives.
Nonprofits spend too much on overhead. The “overhead myth” has been widely challenged in recent years. Effective nonprofits addressing complex social or environmental problems need experienced professionals to advance their missions — and must compensate them fairly. This issue is thoroughly addressed in “The way we think about charity is dead wrong,” a TED talk by AIDS Ride founder and professional fundraiser Dan Pallotta, and ” The overhead myth,” a letter signed by the CEOs of three leading nonprofit organizations.
Nonprofits waste or steal too much money. The vast majority of nonprofits are well-run and effective. Organizations like Guidestar, Give Well, Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and others provide public research on a wide range of nonprofits. Plus, an IRS Form 990 is available online for every U.S. 501(c)(3). Never donate to door-knockers or phone solicitors, even if you think you recognize the nonprofit’s name. Often, the majority of the money raised goes to the solicitor, not the intended charity.
During my life, I need to preserve money for my own needs. After my death, I’ll use my will to donate what’s left. Of course, our first obligation is to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Nonetheless, many people die having accumulated far more resources than were needed to accomplish these goals. A financial adviser can help calculate how much you reasonably need during a lifetime. Armed with this information, you can give more boldly — while you can enjoy it. Donating during one’s lifetime is far more satisfying than donating from the grave. Plus, despite their best intentions, unfortunately, most Americans fail to provide for charity in their estate plans.
The purpose of my business is to make money, not give it away. Businesses are indeed built to be profitable. However, a strong body of evidence demonstrates that strategic community investment by companies of all sizes increases profits by improving employee recruitment, retention and engagement; enhancing customer loyalty; and creating more favorable evaluation by regulators and investors.
I don’t have the time to get involved with strategic giving. Someone else can solve the problems. Doing philanthropy well does take time. But there are experts out there who can help make the job easier. When you leave the charitable giving to others, you diminish your own voice. You cannot be sure that challenges are being addressed, opportunities preserved and lives improved in a way that matters to you. The time you spend on strategic giving is well-spent.
When you take steps to make your city, country or world a better place, you improve your own health, forge stronger bonds with people who matter to you, and greatly enhance your sense of well-being. Don’t let these “seven deadly excuses” stand in your way.
This post originally appeared in the Denver Post on March 16, 2014. Reposted here with permission by the author.