Yesterday, a homeless man knocked on our front door asking for work. ‘Anything you can offer’, he gently said. I thought for a moment then recalled that there were sad looking flower beds in the yard that were crying out for attention. It was a job that never seemed to climb past the bottom of my things-to-do list, even though it wouldn’t take more than an hour or so.
Walking outside barefoot, I asked the man to follow me then showed him exactly what needed to be done.
“Sure, sure, that’s fine,” he said, “Any work at all is welcome.”
Not thinking, I asked, “ Do you have any gardening tools?” As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I gave my self an eye roll and head shake, wanting to take back the words. Gardening tools? Seriously? It was a hot summer day, the man was dressed in oversized long pants and a long sleeve shirt, sweating, uncomfortable, with no sun protective hat or sunglasses, and I ask him whether he happens to be carrying gardening tools? Oy.
“Nope. I don’t have anything but my two hands.”
So I found some gardening gloves, a trowel and several garbage bags. Before the man started working, he said he needed $31 in order to get room and board for a few days at the Tortoise, a homeless shelter. He didn’t ask to be paid $31, didn’t imply that I should pay him this amount or in any way play on my sympathy. Straight up, he simply asked for a fair wage.
He finished the work in less than an hour. I thanked him and gave him $50. Yes, that’s a fair bit for less than sixty minutes of gardening work. And I was fine with it. Because here was a human being who was down on his luck, who wasn’t asking to take something for nothing, and who made me reflect upon, and be thankful for, my good fortune. As far as I’m concerned, I got a heck of a bargain.
Why We Give
Many of us give to create meaningful opportunities for others, to support individuals and causes that are close to our heart.
Equally important, giving leads us to reflect upon how fortunate we are to be able to support those in need. And it has a way of prompting us to be grateful for what we have, not just for our net worth but as importantly if not moreso, our health, friends and family.
As for giving to the man who knocked on my door, this was spur of the moment, not planned out giving and I didn’t receive a tax receipt that would go toward reducing my income taxes. The way I see it, that’s all good. Strict financial prudence need not dictate all of our actions. Sometimes, it’s good for the soul to hang loose (ya, this is the amusing thing, for financial types –- ahem, yours truly — foregoing the opportunity for a tax deduction is considered hanging loose).
And I engage in this type of wild, liberated giving now and then, whenever the opportunity presents and the mood strikes. This is in addition to planned giving. Meaning, each year, my wife and I allocate a certain dollar figure to charitable giving, decide which charitable organizations we want to support, then divvy up the funds to each organization as we see fit.
No one is telling us (and if they are, we’re respectfully listening then doing things our way) to give or how much to give because these are entirely personal decisions. And we don’t feel guilty for giving to one organization but not another, for telling charity volunteers who knock on our door requesting donations that we’re tapped out, that we’ve already determined who is on our Giving List and they didn’t make the cut this time around.
Because guilt should never drive decision-making. Rather, we choose for decision-making to be love centred. For the act of Giving to be a constructive act, something we feel good and right about, knowing that we’re doing what we can, doing our bit, to contribute to life.
How Is Charitable Giving Different?
It goes without saying that you may give whatever you want to anyone, including charities. That said, if you want the tax benefit of giving, then know that there are certain rules around who to give to, what to give, and how much.
For tax purposes, ‘Charitable Giving’ is a defined term. It refers to making a voluntary gift to a registered charity or other government qualified organization. These gifts entitle you to a tax credit that vary depending on where you live. Only a charitable organization may issue official receipts that may be used for tax purposes.
As for whether or not a particular organization is a registered charity or otherwise qualified, for Americans, see the following IRS website:
And Canadians, check out this CRA website:
What To Consider Before Making a Charitable Gift
When thinking about how much to give and to whom, consider the following:
- Importance. Start by thinking about what is important to you. In this regard, take time to consider what issues you care about and why you would offer support. Because giving is a completely personal issue, there is no right or wrong answer; we simply follow our heart.
- Influence. Next, ask your self what kind of gift would be most effective in helping the charitable organization? What kind of gift would truly make a difference? And when should the gift be made (i.e., today, at a future time while you are living, or by way of your will)?
Often, gifts take the form of money. That said, gifts may also be made in other forms including: furniture, clothing, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, and other assets.
- Gift Portfolio. Finally, consider how much you may afford to give. And once you’ve decided which charity(s) to include on your giving list, then figure out how much money, other assets and/or time to give to each charity.
In 2010, 40 billionaires led by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, joined together in a commitment to give more than half of their wealth away. They called the commitment, The Giving Pledge. And it remains an open invitation to billionaires to publicly dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
The Value of Generosity espoused by these 40 people inspired others. And today, more than 170 wealthy people representing 21 countries, have signed on to the pledge. In effect, these additional signatories are saying, ‘we share your values when it comes to helping others.’
We Give Because We Care
And that’s what this is all about. Values. And though the Giving Pledge is specific to billionaires, to the top 0.1% on the net worth chart, sharing productive values is open to everyone. How much you have is not the point. How much you give is not the point. Rather, it’s the act of giving, the mindset of sharing and caring, that matters.
Because in this simple act of giving, we experience a sense of purpose and well-being. In turn, these feelings deepen our sense of compassion. And acting with compassion, this is part of who we are, part of being human. When we stay true to who we are, we benefit our self, others less fortunate than us, and society as a whole.