Why Don’t we Give?

This is one of my favorite topics. Why? Because it makes me feel a little rant-y and I love a good discussion. Not giving is a great way to NOT maximize your life! It’s a great way to feel smug about your hoard. And it’s a great way to keep yourself in a small mental box about your world; not giving allows you to continue believing that you do not have “enough”.

And this blog is here to say that is ridiculous. No matter what your financial situation, living situation, skill set, handicaps or social adeptness, I believe giving is for everyone. These are some reasons I frequently hear as to why people don’t give:

  1. I don’t have enough money
  2. I give enough through my taxes
  3. I don’t have time
  4. Other people give enough so I don’t have to
  5. Charities waste my money
  6. There isn’t an organization that I care about

So let’s talk about these, starting with number 1. Having “enough” money to give is largely about mindset. Statistics show that the most generous among us (on a % income basis) are actually those who are the least well off. Why? Because these individuals and families see the effect of poverty first hand. They know the difference that $20 can make; it can be the difference between being able to buy gas to get to work and losing a job. It can be the difference between eating and not eating. Wealthy people, on the other hand, do not value that $20 in the same way. And they therefore believe that unless they can give “a lot” (more on this later) their contribution is meaningless. This could not be more false! Of course, it depends on which organization you choose to give to but fundamentally, I refuse to accept this excuse for not giving.

Number 2 is much more political. Do taxes count as giving? This is a topic for another post (or ten!), but suffice to say that not all worthy causes are supported through taxation. While you may believe that taxation adequately supports social services, do you also believe that it supports animal rights? Or medical research? Or the arts? Or international disease prevention? You might! There are no right answers here, just things to think about. You may not care about any of those items or you may feel strongly that we should have higher taxes. Either way, this is a common reason for not giving more money (it has, in my opinion, no weight in the argument against giving time).

Speaking of time… our third reason for not giving is that we are too busy. This is all about prioritization and where you are in your life. When I was in college I had no money; I chose to give time. Now, as a busy working professional, I give more money than time. And when I do give time, I give it to flexible programs that align with my schedule AND my values. I cannot read to a third grader every Tuesday at 1pm. But guess what? Many people can! If you are retired, work part time, or have flexible working arrangements, there is absolutely an organization that could use your time. Not only will giving your time help your wellness and increase your connection to your community, it will also give structure to your day (I’m a big fan of this if you work from home or are retired. Getting out of the house is important!) That said, I can partially get behind this reason for not giving. I still think it’s an excuse but I understand where people are coming from.

But really, other people give a ton already so you don’t have to, right? Oh my gosh. I cannot believe people think this. But they do. And I know this because of a small experiment that I undertook at a company I worked at about ten years ago. I was the corporate campaign manager for an annual giving campaign in our office of about 200 people. I had access to the dollar values that had been given in prior years. And I knew how much we were raising on a weekly basis (this was pre-internet for payroll deductions). Our office, which I would guess had a median salary of $70k, was giving about $15k year TOTAL. If you do the math, you’ll see that works out to approximately 0.1% of our annual payroll. Given that I personally gave 13% of that number and one of our execs gave 75%… the math is much, much worse. Of those who gave, the most common donation was $120/year, or $10/month. Now, I’m not here to judge how much you give (more on this later), and there were definitely individuals who chose to give through other vehicles besides the corporate campaign (totally fine!)

But the most shocking part to me was that everyone THOUGHT our office was giving a lot! I mean, about 40 people out of 200 were giving! That must be a lot of money! I decided to do a little experiment: I got permission to post the weekly giving numbers as a competition between office floors. There were 50 people on each floor, so no one’s individual contribution would be known. But the whole office could see the progress. People were stunned. And embarrassed. Donations doubled overnight and we had the best campaign in ten years.

Moral of the story:  Don’t leave it to other people to care about your causes on your behalf. If you value something, take responsibility for it. It will do wonders for both you and your community.

(Not the moral of the story: Shaming people is the way to get positive action. My coworkers were good people who genuinely thought others were giving. My experiment was about awareness, not cajoling people into doing things they didn’t want to do.)

So on to reason 5: Charities waste my money. This is a very common worry and a very real problem. Thankfully, there are resources now to help you research organizations that are well managed and can execute their programs. Non-profits are moving towards metric driven initiatives and transparency. Some are doing better than others. I will discuss this in detail in future posts. Suffice to say that there are hundreds of great organizations out there and a little bit of time can help you locate them.

But what if you don’t have an organization that you care about? To me, this is the default state for many individuals. And it’s why they respond to asks from others (see number 1 in Why do we Give?). Hopefully this blog will help you identify your values and give you ideas about how best to leverage your money for both personal satisfaction and financial wellness.

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