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Channel your impulses

cover_December2013MediumA once-popular bumper sticker exhorted the reader to “practice random acts of kindness.” A seemingly lovely thought, but one that, by implication, suggests that giving in a spontaneous manner is more heartfelt, more “real,” than making regular contributions to institutionalized charities. While not wishing to disparage any charitable impulse, spur-of-the moment gestures of generosity likely yield less productive results than planned, regular giving. 

Organizations can plan and deliver services more efficiently when their revenues are predictable. Our resident Latina Still Standing, Diana Bejarano, reminds us that vulnerable families need protection every day and hungry children need to eat every day. Relying on occasional gluts of donations can make it difficult for organizations to determine what level of services they can provide on a sustained basis. 

Responsible giving also encourages better oversight within charitable organizations. The fear in donating to non-profit organizations is that a large portion of the gift will go to administrative costs and not the intended recipients. Reputable charities are very transparent about where their funds go, and it’s easy to check on a website, such as charitynavigator.org, to get independent evaluations of how specific organizations distribute and manage their funds.

Responsible giving doesn’t mean you need to make a large donation or that you should only give to large, well-established organizations. Numerous studies and surveys have consistently concluded that lower-income individuals donate proportionately more of their income to charity than do upper-income individuals. And, they often do so by contributing to small-scale, locally-organized efforts. Catherine Anaya’s column this month about raising money for ALS research reinforces the dictum about “strength in numbers,” as well as the extreme level of satisfaction that comes from giving to a cause to which we feel personally connected. Likewise, Marketplace reporter Jeff Tyler discovered that, in the early days immediately after the Haian typhoon hit the Philippines, effective relief was provided by small, ad hoc fundraising efforts organized by Filipino-American communities; they were better positioned to coordinate with on-the-ground contacts “who know how to navigate around the bureaucracy and corruption” in their home country.   

The impulse to give feels good, but make the effort to channel those impulses into careful choices of how best to make your contribution count. 

You can give from the heart and still use your head!  

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This Article appears on the December 2013 issue of LPM under From the Editor

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