This December, our focus topic is year-end gifting strategies. It’s only fitting that we take a look at how the concept of giving fits into our lives inside and outside of work.

Giving 2.0 by Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen fits into our philosophy because it’s about how everyone, no matter their age or income, can harness technology and innovation to give more. It’s not about just writing a check, which many of us aren’t in a position to do anyway. In fact, the book begins with a great definition: “A philanthropist is anyone who gives anything – time, money, experience, skills, and networks – in any amount to create a better world.”

In other words, you don’t have to be a Gates to give.

Ask for Help

In 2009, at a time of deep recession and personal hardship, annual individual giving in the U.S. still averaged almost $2,000 per household.

In the opening chapter, Arrillaga-Andreessen tells the story of her mother’s painful illness and death. While taking care of her mother, she was afraid to ask the people around her for help. But people came to help even though she didn’t ask. They brought food, flowers, good conversation, and prayers. This led to the turning point – the author realized that if she asked for help, she’d be giving the people around her the opportunity to do something. Many of them were waiting for just such an opportunity.

Why open the book with this story? Because it gives you permission to get into the game. If you can’t give money, what’s a good alternative? Give your time and effort. Much of that time and effort will likely be spent asking others to pitch in, too. Arrillaga-Andreessen wants you to know that it’s okay to be the person who asks for help. You don’t have to feel like you’re intruding on someone else’s space or time. Just like the people in her life, the people around you may be waiting for the opportunity to help. If you ask, you’re providing them with that opportunity.

Yours may be the voice that encourages someone to help. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Do the Research

Too often the warm glow that drives us to give is not backed by knowledge, research, and strategy.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to do the write-a-check-and-forget-about-it kind of giving than it is to actually find out where your money is going before you give it. But we have to. If we don’t, we risk wasting that money and a lot of people’s time and resources. You’ve probably seen the headlines about mismanaged charities, or charities where the bulk of proceeds go to executive salaries or cushy retreats. That’s not helpful, and it’s on us – the givers – to make sure our gifts do the most good.

Here are just a few questions she suggests researching before you give to a particular charity:

  • Is there a tax benefit to you? If so, how much?
  • Who performs the organization’s due diligence to ensure the donations are spent wisely? For example, federated giving programs and funding intermediaries have already handled due diligence for you. If you choose to give directly to a nonprofit organization, for example, you are responsible for determining how that charity handles its due diligence – and whether they handle it effectively.
  • Does the charity offer resource pooling? Donor-advised funds and funding intermediaries will often have pools set up for you to join.
  • Does the charity offer a donor community? You may want to get to know your fellow donors, but not all charities offer directories or ways to meet/access other donors.
  • Who handles the charity’s administration and legal matters? What kind of materials do they produce for donors (i.e., an annual report)?

Not all research happens before giving. Responsible giving also means following up. Ask for feedback from the agencies you gave to, and ask about what happened as a result of your gift. Arrillaga-Andreessen suggests keeping a giving journal so you can chart your progress over time and remind yourself to check back with agencies for results, year after year.

She also suggests tracking life events that might prompt you to change your giving. Has a new cause come onto your radar that you feel passionate about? This could happen if you or a loved one is struck by a particular illness, for example. It’s helpful - and often inspiring - to be able to tie your giving to events in your life. It’s also a good idea to keep track of lectures, blogs, or documentaries that change your mindset. You may want to share them with friends or relatives to ask them to join in and help.

Give Time or Expertise, Not Money

We give from the heart - our most powerful engine for action.

If you can’t afford to write a check, you’re not alone. But this doesn’t mean you can’t get involved and give your time or expertise.

If money is tight, start by considering your goals. Who do you want to help and why? What organizations are already set up to help? You might contact those organizations and ask how best to help. They may need volunteers for an event. Something as simple as setting up folding chairs or driving attendees to an event may be a huge help. Maybe they need someone to handle social media for them on a volunteer basis. Just sharing their organization's posts may do the most good, if you have a large and vocal social following. Or you may be able to help them using specific knowledge you have on a consultancy basis. You never know until you ask – and your time and expertise may be more valuable than money, depending on what your desired charity wants to accomplish.

If you’re interested in giving but overwhelmed by the opportunities, this book can give you focus and direction. Each chapter talks about a different way to give – what’s good about it, what’s challenging about it, and what you need to think about before diving in.

We hope this book inspires you and helps you create a plan for giving back in 2016.

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