Charitable Giving While Pursuing FI

Note: As I write this post, the world is struggling to help (and in some cases struggling against helping) the victims of the largest migration of the modern era, those fleeing from Syria.  Please consider clicking this link and picking an organization that you feel would have an impact.  Thank you.

Think. Act. That’s the two-word summary of my stance on charity.  Because we’re saving towards our own long-term goals, it’s important that we have maximum impact while not sacrificing our ability to give in the future.  This means finding a way to make every dollar go as far as possible.

Charitable giving has brought me many of the joys in my life.  My fiancé and I met while fundraising for a charitable cause, many of our closest friends were made while volunteering our time, and my sense of compassion for others has grown and changed because I had the courage to give, and to ask others to join me.  I’m sharing this because I want you to know that any advice I give here is in the context of someone who deeply believes in giving.

Determine Where to Give for Maximum Effect

Sites like CharityNavigator and GuideStar are a great place to start when evaluating where to donate your time and money.  You’ll be able to see a rating and an analysis of where your money will go.  Some charities are that in name only, and others funnel the vast majority of funds raised directly to those who need them.  Make sure you’re giving to a charity in the latter camp.

Don’t Just Give, Fundraise

Giving is good.  Enlisting many people to give is even better.  Use your enthusiasm to convince others to give as well.  Call, write, and message friends and family.  Explain how this cause is personal to you, where the money will go, and ask them to join you.  Don’t just limit this to your friends and family, in fact!  Email your dentist, your mechanic, your plumber– everyone!  My experience in fundraising has been that it is often the people you least expect to give that surprise you.  You never know who has a personal connection to your cause.

Fundraising doesn’t have to be an awkward exchange where you uncomfortably ask for someone’s donation (though I urge you to go outside your comfort zone and ask for what you want– you will be shocked at the response!).  It can be extremely fun, too.  Throw a themed party, a pub crawl, or a night out at a sports event.  Call local businesses and solicit donations, then hold a raffle.  If you exercise some creativity, you may find yourself having a huge amount of fun as you change lives.

Take Advantage of Employer Matching

When you do give out of your own pocket, whether your employer is large or small, check to see whether they offer a matching donation/charitable giving program.  Most large employers, and many small and medium ones, will match every dollar you donate.  Occasionally, an employer will donate two dollars for every dollar you donate!  It costs nothing to check, and may multiply the impact of your donation.

Tithing: A Touchy Subject

In the interest of being completely up-front with my readers, I will say this: I am not a church-going person, nor am I religious.  That might immediately eliminate any credibility I have with those who do tithe, but I hope you’ll bear with me.

Here’s what I’d like you to bear in mind when it comes to giving to your place of worship:  God’s money compounds too.  If you are drowning in high-interest debt, and your tithe is the difference between getting out of debt and wallowing in it for years more, you should pay your debt first.  The faster you are out of debt, the faster your nest egg is growing, and the more you will have available in the long run to give to your tithe.

When I discuss a tithe with someone who gives one, I always ask if they have spoken to the leader of their congregation about the possibility of giving in other ways– through time, spent cleaning, offering professional services, looking after children, whatever.  I have never actually spoken to anyone who had done so.  I understand that this may be a humbling thing to have to do, and I empathize.  If you ultimately come to the conclusion that you simply must continue to tithe while in high-interest debt, I respect your conviction, but hope that you have at least spoken to your religious leaders first.

Give of Your Time

It goes without saying, but many charities need able bodies and charismatic speakers as much as they need money.  You can build a house, feed the hungry, immunize the helpless, comfort the sick, or simply raise awareness.  If you yearn to give, you can do so at no financial cost to you, and still change lives.

Take the Deductions

This is self-explanatory.  Your gift is just as impactful whether you take the tax deduction or not, so take it.  If anything, this frees up funds for future charitable causes.  Keep track of your receipts and take full advantage at tax time.

Whether you’re indebted or on the road to financial independence, it just makes sense to try to do the most good you can with whatever you can give.  What are your thoughts on giving while in debt?  How do you give of your time and money?  How has your giving changed depending on your financial situation?  Let me know in the comments!

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