If market strain or life changes have you concerned about giving, you may be tempted to cease contributing time or financial support toward your favorite causes until the economic storm passes. When money is more readily available, we ask ourselves which organizations are most in need of your dollars; but when money is tight or our employment status has changed, we wonder if we can give it all.
Within this current economic situation we are offered a powerful opportunity. Today, we must think about new ways to do more with what we have. Starting now, allow creativity to take a driver’s seat in your thinking about making a difference. Access the deepest parts of your generous self to move past the “can I afford to give or can’t I afford to give?” mentality. Move to the joyful place of “I can give.”
I know many people who have found creative and innovative ways to give despite having felt the pinch of the economic downturn. Chris, Michelle, Julia, Regina, and Al all challenged themselves to remain generous despite their own hardships. Here’s how you can too.
Focus on what you can give
Don’t worry if you can’t give as much as you used to, in either time or money. Instead focus on what you can give. Chris realized he could afford to buy an extra bag of groceries at the store while he was doing his own shopping. He then delivered that bag to a food pantry on his way home. Michelle put an empty coffee can on her kitchen counter, cut a slit in the plastic top, and began dropping in coins and dollars. Once a month, she empties out the coffee can, adds up the dollars and coins, deposits it into her bank account, logs onto her computer, and makes a contribution of that exact amount to her favorite cause.
Both Chris and Michelle have enjoyed these practices so much that Chris now shops for the food pantry twice a month, Michelle starts off the new coffee can fresh each month, and both have shared these ideas with friends who are doing the same.
Focus on what you can, and you will feel the joy of “doing what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Determine what you can afford to do
In 2008, Julia made several pledges to her favorite organizations that she would pay out in 2009. Then, Julia’s job went from full-time with benefits to part-time without benefits. When it came to her charitable giving she felt uncertain how to proceed. She couldn’t fulfill the gifts she had pledged but felt that by not giving her pledge she was abandoning her favorite organizations.
The solution for Julia? Within the parameters of her new budget, Julia determined what she could afford to do this year by looking at her life budget and determining the percentage of her total budget that giving could occupy. Julia calculated the percentage of earnings that go to her everyday expenses, then added in a “generosity” category. This year, Julia’s generosity line item is two percent. Based on this Julia calculated that she can meet her 2009 pledges in three years. By creating what was achievable instead of focusing on what felt impossible, Julia rediscovered the joy of giving even in difficult financial times. She knows that in the coming years she will bounce back and recover her earnings. She will be flexing her giving muscle to ready herself for better economic days when she can grow her generosity percentage. Until then, Julia will continue to feel connected to her greatest passions that will feed her heart and soul. [paging]
If you had to make an adjustment in your giving, like Julia, call your favorite nonprofit organizations. Tell them about the change in your circumstances and share with them what you can do. Share that you are still committed to the organization and its work and ask if they have other ways you can be of service during these tough times.
When Julia called one nonprofit she supports, they were grateful for her efforts and for her work in staying loyal to them. She was so surprised to hear their gratitude that she asked if there were other ways she could help. They told her they were looking for volunteers to send out their annual mailing. Normally, they used a mail house but this year they couldn’t afford the expense. The development officer asked if she would be interested in possibly attending a volunteer orientation and bringing a friend or two. Julia said, “Of course!” and brought two good friends. They learned more about the group, met other volunteers, and signed up for two slots each to help get out the annual mailing.
Julia is glad she communicated. While she had initially thought of just sending in the checks with a note, she wanted to be sure that the organization knew her change in her gift pledge didn’t have anything to do with the organization and its work. In doing so, she found a new way to support them that brought together her friends and helped her make new ones.
Allow generosity to lead you in times of scarcity
Regina and Al have been a two-income household for more than 10 years. Last year, Al lost his job. This dramatically impacted their life budget. They had to cut expenses in every area of their life. Regina wanted to keep giving something to their local charities. Al felt that charitable giving was an extra that should be eliminated until he got a job. While Regina wanted to minimize stress during money conversations, she couldn’t let go of the importance of giving back, even if it was a small amount. Al did not agree.
When income is halved or decreased, this can cause significant stress on a relationship. Both Al and Regina wanted to get smarter with money: reduce expenses, change short-term acquisition expectations, and eliminate extras. The question that was in front of them: Is philanthropy an extra?
For many, when income decreases contributions to nonprofits are eliminated. While understandable and sometimes necessary, now is not the time to isolate from your community. First, Al needs a job. He needs to be as connected to his community as he was when he was employed. Secondly, community exists to serve us all. Community should serve as a safety net when our neighbors are going through tough times and when we are going through tough times.
Regina asked her husband if they could volunteer with their daughters at the community center that they have supported in the past. Al agreed. When he saw first-hand the programs for senior citizens, he knew they needed to keep giving, if even at a minimum. He saw his daughters getting involved and feeling excited about making a difference. As a family they began to volunteer more regularly. One day, a fellow volunteer asked Al about this job. Al shard he was between jobs. They talked more. The talk turned into Al emailing the other volunteer a resume. Shortly after Al had an interview, then a job.
Later, when Regina’s husband asked the other volunteer why he got him the interview he said that any guy who would give of his time when he was looking for work was someone with the right work ethic for their company.
While volunteering and giving back won’t guarantee you employment, it will prevent you from isolating, and it will provide you with a new way to connect to people you might not otherwise have met but who have always been your neighbors.
During difficult financial times when the checkbook and accounts are smaller in size than they’ve been, giving back with joy and creativity can help you feel larger than life.