Today is designated as “Giving Tuesday”. By now most people understand how this relates to public media frenzy following “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”. Where do you stand? Does the concept of Giving Tuesday and all the media coverage today leave you feeling a bit uncomfortable? If so, I suggest that this is because you are not at peace with your own convictions about giving and charitable support. Don’t feel bad; I suspect the majority of Americans have some misgivings in this area. (From what little I know, foreigners seem to have attitudes that are, well, foreign to our own traditions on giving and might not be similarly affected). I also suggest that the only way to rid yourself of these feelings of discomfort surrounding charitable giving is to work through your feelings and reconcile them into a documented resolution.
This post is divided into two sections. First a comment about the importance and usefulness of having a formal written Giving Policy. Then I added a section on the development of my own convictions about charitable giving that is only possibly interesting because of the experiences that led me to convictions that appear to be unusual in our society.
Personal Giving Policy
As part of my own financial planning work with individuals I encourage the development of a formal “Giving Plan”. This is as much a part of your financial plan as your retirement planning or your tax planning. It needs to fit well with your personal beliefs and be specific enough to guide specific actions and manage requests for charitable giving over the course of time. A Giving Plan does not need to be limited to charitable giving. It can include provisions for family support and even your tipping policy.
It doesn’t need to be complicated and you don’t need to have a lot of money to make it work. My policy, for example, is to give $2 cash to everyone who asks “one the street”, $20 cash to any organized fund drive if I have the cash in my pocket, and make all other donations though electronic banking (so that I can keep track) based on allocation of budgeted total charitable support of 15% of gross income. I tip everyone who helps me $5 to $20 if it seems appropriate and keep dining tips over 20%. I like my policy because it is easy to follow and sets a clear but challenging goal. Even with this written policy, I still find the need to make exceptions and do occasionally give up to $100 on a spur of the moment decision. I admit this is a weakness in my giving strategy but one that I am not convicted to overcome.
Everyone should have their own written Giving Policy that works for them. Today would be a great day to make one.
How I arrived at my own Giving Policy
My own convictions on charitable giving are simple, secure but hugely unpopular in modern western culture. I present it here not to persuade or boast but rather perhaps to explain my sometimes odd behavior surrounding charitable giving.
I follow the principle instilled by my father and Catholic upbringing “give ’til it hurts”. And it has hurt; deeply at times. Perhaps the details that involve family and community are too personal for this public post. Yet I expect that I am one of the few individuals who has had his giving policy and community support reviewed and condemned by a judge (in family court years ago). I felt terribly bad and defeated at the time but we all managed to survive.
Later at some age of maturity I easily embraced the writing of Walt Whitman and make this highlighted passage from Leaves of Grass a personal manta:
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
These beliefs are embodied in the Bible “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back”. In Judaism the term tzedakah refers to the religious obligation to do what is right and just. Tzedakah codifies the responsibility to give financial support that specifically includes support for both Jews and non-Jews.
I realize that these principles taken at face value are disturbing to many. Yet I put this forward here simply to illustrate that I have wrestled with the issue of giving and have finally reached a point of personal peace and comfort with it. I have a written Giving Policy as part of my personal financial plan that I review periodically. The written policy helps me translate these philosophical beliefs into a manageable action plan. I highly recommend the process in anyone’s self-development.