How do I give? Let me count the ways…

The end of 2021 is upon us. It is a significant time for many — holiday celebrations, school break, family vacations, gift giving. The trappings of what is arguably the most anticipated time of the year for many. For those of us in the philanthropy marketplace, however, it takes on a different and just as significant form. As the year draws to a close, it means end-of-year giving, a last chance for philanthropy-based tax breaks and closing out annual campaigns.  

For donors, it means deciding to whom or what your end-of-year gifts will go. Yes, what to give to is a very important question. Multiple factors can come into play — such as do you give to the same organizations you have given to in the past, or are there new priorities you want to consider? Should you give locally or globally? To direct service needs that will have immediate impact or to organizations that are working towards systemic change? All of this must be considered. And, oh yes, has COVID impacted on my thinking and my giving?

We would like to suggest that there is another question that you should consider with equal import. The question of HOW you will give. Here are three frameworks for how to give, with a little thought to the benefits of each.  

Solo giving: Perhaps the most common kind of giving. This is where a single individual makes all decisions regarding a donation. Who to give to, how much, when to give? This kind of giving can be planned out in advance, or just as easily spontaneous to meet an immediate need or request. Besides the ease of giving in this manner, this provides the benefit of being 100% true to yourself, reflecting your values and goals, whether they are long term or meeting a moment in your life. The flipside is that there is no one there to check you and perhaps ask the tough questions that will get you to think more deeply about your personal philanthropy.
Giving as a couple or a family: Some couples continue to give independently (whether to pursue separate values or objectives, or for tax purposes), while others make it a truly partnered activity. If you choose the latter, it is important to recognize from the start that there are two people, with individual values and agendas, involved.  

Many couples may believe their values are aligned, but it does not mean that they agree about everything. This structure necessarily brings in the idea of compromise. A step that many couples may skip is to have a specific conversation laying out a joint philanthropic approach including shared values, presumed impact, and how much will be given. Adding additional family members brings more opinions and value sets into play. Where it may seem that this approach may cause complications and difficulty, there is an inherent beauty and worth behind it.  

For a couple or a family, having an honest conversation about values and then acting upon them in a tangible way can increase intimacy and stress equity within the relationship. Adding additional family members, especially children, opens an authentic and tangible medium to share and pass down values. For the children, it shows that their opinions matter and are being heard. Each generation has its own view on values and philanthropy — here is an opportunity to truly listen and learn from each other and to take meaningful action together. 

Being part of a Giving Circle: Although not as common than individual and family giving, giving circles are becoming more popular and mainstream. A giving circle brings together people, usually connected by common experience or shared philanthropic objectives, to pool their charitable resources and go through an intentional process of learning about philanthropy and their community. Together, they decide where and how to allocate the money in the fund that they have created together (and sometimes additional resources such as volunteer time.) 

Being part of a giving circle means that there are many voices in the room. Balancing the sensibilities and values of all is not easy; it is an environment where compromise may be necessary, and consensus is ideal. However, if you are willing to commit yourself to the giving circle process, the benefits are many.  

Practically, you can make a greater impact by advancing a much larger gift than may be beyond your individual capacity. In addition, research has shown that giving circles are more apt to give to less traditional causes, adopt innovative strategies and take philanthropic chances. For the giving circle members themselves, it is a rich opportunity to learn, to grow personally, and to create and strengthen community.  

Ideally, giving comes down to values. This is both true for what you give to (what social outcomes you strive to help achieve or influence), and how you give (influenced by views on how family and community should influence philanthropy.) Philanthropy can and should be an opportunity for self-exploration and new learning — both leading to meaningful personal growth. 

Rabbi Hillel used to say, the more tzedakah the more shalom. (Pirkei Avot 2:8) So, no need to choose one of three! These three styles of giving are perfect complements that will bring a new and increased richness to your personal philanthropy.  

Avrum Lapin is president at The Lapin Group, LLC, based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a full-service fundraising, and management consulting firm for leading nonprofits. For a full bio, please visit the TLG website here.

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