Give It Away

Just when we're all feeling the money pinch, we’re bombarded with stories about people less fortunate than us. From the radio, the tv, and the web, we hear story after story of people who simply have a lot less.

Unfortunately, for most of us, our pockets aren’t as full as our hearts are and, as much as we'd love to be extra-charitable, there isn't much left over, after taking care of ourselves, to take care of others.

Years ago, I had a mentor who used to say that giving was about “time, talent, and treasure”. You could be charitable without having to empty your wallet. He believed that each of these ways of giving had equal value and that none of them should be considered less of a gift.

Once you start looking at your giving in this way - that it's not just about cash - you begin to realize how rich you are and how much you can do for others.

Before I had any income that wasn’t already earmarked for bills and daily survival, the one thing I had an abundance of was time and some talents that I thought might be useful. So I started my giving there.

I’m sure many of you think (as I used to) that you don’t have any time available to volunteer for anything – what with running the kids to sports and having to complete your honey-do list - but I’m going to challenge that thinking. I'll bet that there is one hour a week that you could take away from chores or watching television. Or, how about one hour a month? Remember, it’s not the AMOUNT you give, it’s the giving that matters. Your community center could certainly use someone one hour a month to help with cleaning or arranging the food pantry. You could take an hour and spend it sorting donations at the local charity. Or how about one hour a week to help a child learn to read? The possibilities are endless.

Once I realized that my time had some charitable value, I got a little addicted to giving back. I would get excited about a particular opportunity to help and pledge a lot of my time – only to discover that I hadn’t left any time relax and recharge. So, just remember to balance.

Now, donating talent is a bit trickier because it also comes with the donation of time. However, you’d be amazed at how much your talents are appreciated when they’re volunteered. Your skills can make a difference in someone’s life or for a worthy organization – whether it’s something you do as a hobby or a job.  Let me give you some examples of how my talents have been donated over the years.
  • I wrote the web site for a non-profit organization.
  • I’ve done marketing consultation for my local community center.
  • I MC’d a variety of charity auctions.
  • I’ve used my crafting skills to create items to donate to various charities.
Donating talent is particularly rewarding because you’re providing a skill or service that the organization may not be able to get for free otherwise.

If I had my choice, I'd give away a lot of money. But it’s hard to part with hard-earned cash – especially when there are bills to pay and (even adult) kids to support. Every year, when I do my taxes, I’m pretty proud of how much I’ve given away and then my tax guy gives me a reality check. According to him, I’m giving away about half of what I should be for my income level.  Yikes! But then I consider that my time and talent are as important as my treasure and I figure it all balances out to a pretty well-rounded year of giving. 

So... back to treasure. You know how National Public Radio always says “give as much as you can, every penny counts”? Well, they mean it!  Think of it this way, if every listener gave $5 annually, they would have $135 million dollars each year.  I’m sure that would put a big dent in their budget. So, what are you willing to part with to donate a little cash to a worthy organization? One fancy coffee a week? Here's the coffee-math: $5 a week = $20 a month = $240 a year. That’s a nice donation to a small non-profit or an individual that needs to pay bills or buy food..  I’m sure that there’s something that you indiscriminately spend money on…  coffee, lunches out, impulse purchases at the checkout line, magazines, etc. All you have to do is find a few dollars a week or a few dollars a month and commit them to a charitable organization and you'll have joined the ranks of treasure givers.

Finally, if you absolutely can’t find a way to donate time, talent, or treasure, you should go out of your way to look for other options. There are a million ways that you can make a difference from donating your hair to Locks of Love to adding the URL to a charity’s donation page to your email signature. You could donate old bikes to The Bicycle Project or train a service dog. How about cleaning out your pantry and taking all those non-perishable foods you haven’t eaten to the food pantry – making sure that they haven’t passed the expiration date, of course!  Be a pen-pal for an elderly person or donate your old holiday decorations to a local charity organization. Just find something that constitutes helping someone who has less than you.

Regardless of how you decide to give, remember to give yourself credit for whatever you do. You made a difference in someone’s life. Like the old tale about the flap of the butterfly wings causing a tidal wave on the other side of the earth, every action counts - no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

- Santa Alex

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