doing good + giving back along the way

Monday, November 6, 2017
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Charting a course for charitable giving isn't easy all the time // Photo: Denali National Park // Copyright: SlowDowntown.com
In conversation, a very long time ago, I heard my grandmother muse, "charity begins at home." 

Those words, coupled with what I now reflect on as her very intentionally led life, sang in my ears. They can, of course, be translated to mean a variety of things. Charitable priority should be given to relatives. Your community should be the core of your giving nucleus. Your commitment to giving back as a family grows charitable children. Whatever it was that she specifically opined, I couldn't say.

But what I can surmise is this truth, that I believe so many of us living intentionally have come to know: Look to your family, your block, your neighborhood if you want to create immediate impact. 

So many of us, day in and day out, plan to donate our time, belongings or hard-earned cash to the worthy causes that speak to our hearts. But at the end of the day, or right around April 15th, intentionally giving back is often near the very end of our to-dos. And instead, guilt languishes every time we toss another donation pledge pamphlet - that came with a sheet full of tacky return address labels - into the recycling bin. (Here is where I confess that if I *think* there may be return address labels inside, I don't even open the envelope, lest I be guilted into storing, and then never using, said personalized clipart stickers.)

In a city like Detroit, where we live on the cusp of several severely undeserved communities, it seems especially easy to choose among philanthropic efforts that are ripe with opportunity to create big and diverse impact. And it's true; whether your passion lies in supporting the arts, helping the homeless, working with children or greening our grounds, you can do so while benefiting the larger good.

So, which is the best and most impactful way for you to weave charity into your life ... and budget?

There's hardly a clear answer, and there is definitely no one-size-fits-all answer. Currently, our giving bucket includes a mix of planned monetary donations, (admittedly fewer than we'd like) volunteering opportunities, as well as what I'm dubbing "spontaneous giving" - a goal to give as a random act of kindness when we feel compelled.

Side note: Right now, our "spontaneous giving" goal is measured quarterly if for nothing else than to keep it on our radar. It might look like a $100 tip to a particularly helpful server at a restaurant, or an anonymous gift of a needed item to a friend or neighbor. I'm not sure how this will turn out or what it will look like, but I do know that some of the most heart-warming memories of my childhood included unassuming offerings like these, and it's important to me that we factor that into our larger efforts, and not let opportunities slip us by because we're too busy to have recognized them. 

Your giving strategy might be entirely monetary because you travel for work and can't squeeze out a free Saturday, or it may be largely volunteer-based because your budget doesn't allow for an extra line item.

The single most important thing - for you, and for others - is that if you are feeling called to give, you find a way to give. Not only does it collectively lift your community, it honestly, truly lifts your soul and spirit, too. (Giving for the end result of feeling like a better person is selfish, I know. But let's embrace the ability to help others, in helping ourselves, and helping the world. Kumbaya.)

Giving opportunities abound. Here's a few to consider if you have not already:

Put it on autopilot
Nearly every organization today makes it easy to set up monthly donations online, allowing you to commit as little as $10 a month, which goes a long way over the stretch of a year. Having this money withdrawn automatically from your accounts makes contributing a breeze, and is also particularly handy when tax time rolls around and you need to document your donations.

If you have a corporate job, check to see if your company doubles employee giving efforts (many do!), which means that you'll effectively be responsible for double what you've committed - a massive return for the organizations in need.

In Detroit, we support Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries on an annual basis, contributing to their holiday adopt-a-family programming as well as Thanksgiving efforts.

Roll up your sleeves
If time is what you've got to offer, non-profit volunteer opportunities are easy to come by thanks to websites like Volunteer Match, which links interested folks with activities in their area. Keep in mind, however, that many neighborhood organizations are understaffed and over-committed, making administrative tasks like marketing volunteer opportunities - or even returning emails and phone calls from would-be volunteers - decidedly difficult. (There have been numerous times that I've reached out to organizations for more information or to donate my time and efforts, and simply haven't heard back.) Keep trying.

In Detroit, I've really enjoyed spending a couple of Thursday mornings with Open Door Ministry (based at the Fort Street Presbyterian Church), which includes assisting in providing hot meals, fresh clothes, haircuts and other basic needs to the homeless and underprivileged folks in our area. The organization is routinely looking for volunteer support from those who can give up a Thursday morning, and also accepts clothing and warm-weather accessory donations, as well as body care products or care packages (clean socks, toothpaste and toothbrush, etc.).

Join a board or pick up a pro bono client
Mix pleasure and profession by offering up your talents to an organization in need of assistance. Both me and my husband have served on non-profit boards in our area, in fields that we support, and while it's by no means an easy gig, it's a great, tangible way to give back.

Go glitzy in the name of good
Let's be real. Some of the best parties are thrown in the name of big, charitable causes. Think black tie galas and pricey dinner tickets. We don't budget for too many of these types of things, but we do have an absolute blast when we choose to attend them. When we're in a gaggle of friends or colleagues, even better. After all, who can have a bad time when the wine is flowing?

Make sure that a portion of every ticket directly supports non-profit initiatives and is tax-deductible, too. You should receive a receipt for tax purposes whenever you make an applicable purchase.

Spend smart
Consumerism at it's trickiest. Many times, retailers will offer certain products around the holidays that when purchased, donate all profits to charity. Now, if you're going to buy the product (or one just like it) already, I think this is a great idea ...

In Detroit, Capuchin Soup Kitchen runs a retail bakery called On the Rise. Justifiable cinnamon rolls. You read that right. By shopping (grocery or otherwise) at locations where profits are sunk right back into the organization, you're getting far more bang for your buck. Cinnamon rolls, people. Cinnamon rolls.

Have you put a plan in place for your giving? And if so, what ways do you give back, and how do you prioritize your giving? 

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