These holidays I realised that one simple change I made last year did a lot of good. I feel great about it as I'd had a lingering sense of guilt for several years. I just didn't give away as much money as I felt I wanted to. 18 months ago I started regularly giving a small amount and without consciously realising it I individually gave over $1000 to charity in 2018. There's of course plenty of room to give more, but I'm pleased to make progress on something I feel is important.
It wasn't even altruism that triggered me to start giving, just a family member working for One Percent Collective and I'd been 'meaning to' give some money for years. I have strong views about giving and generosity - I had attended several conferences about social enterprises, and even work alongside many ambitious projects aiming to solve social challenges. Although I'm very proud of what I achieve personally and through our business, over time, I built up a quiet Catholic guilt about how much cold hard cash I didn’t stump up. I was irritated at being accosted on the street regularly, but I had to admit the chuggers had a point - if I needed to be guilt tripped to give money, it was a reasonable approach. One Percent Collective are about giving just 1% of your paycheque. Painless, but they get you started on the road to giving.
The good news is that it doesn't really matter why I changed my behaviour, the point is that I did start giving and it was really easy. I suggest you probably could give a small amount too (any amount) and you don't realise how that can add up.
In the charitable sector, it's a truism that the nature of giving is changing. Charities that do whatever services we expect of them continue to be absolutely reliant on private generosity. New Zealand doesn't have the economic history to have major philanthropic foundations - it is rare that charities hold more than one year's reserves. Expect a continued trend of charities seeking business style revenue streams as they seek to replace fewer takings from donations.
I imagine most of us act in the way I do. We read the various literature about charitable effectiveness, we're faintly aware of aid disasters like Live Aid or the Oxfam scandal and know that doing good is harder than it seems. And we'll tip a few dollars into buckets through street collections and tell ourselves we'll make time to give to the 'right cause'. I was faintly irritated that my wife gave to a charity that sends her a lot of mail about how much good she's doing (all those stamps!). I went to a lot of parties with do-gooders - charities of various types and bootstrapped activists chasing change. Maybe we have loose ideas of giving large sums when we're rich in some far-off life stage.
There's a number of reasons to take action right now, including regular giving as a strategy to achieve more.
Giving is painless, compounding is effective
Probably the number one thing going for regular giving is that you can set and forget what you're doing. Do you stop and think about your kiwisaver contribution or your money set aside for travel? If you give a small amount, you will probably find it far easier to ramp up from there rather than finding convenient times for grandiose large gifts.
Financial advisers and the bank staff hawking Kiwisaver have this right - you need to get started to achieve the benefits of long term giving. When was the last time you had a spare $500 you felt like giving away?
Your money achieves more for your cause when it is predictable
A simple thought experiment should illustrate this. If you give a 10 year old a surprise $200 for Christmas, that money will be spent on 'stuff' before new years and probably forgotten about soon after. I’ve been 10, I know how to buy stuff fast.
Similarly charities who can’t predict income can't really plan to spend money in the most effective way - even if we’re happy to criticise them for their inefficiency. This erodes effectiveness. Regular giving means they can do things like responsibly employ people who deliver the good work that they're all about, and fundraising becomes a less stressful activity.
Doing some good isn't the enemy of finding the 'perfect cause'
But searching for the perfect cause certainly can impede doing some good. None of this to to say we shouldn't also work on issues of charitable and social good effectiveness, putting in time to causes we care about, and being involved in our communities such as volunteering. I still recall a Christmas shelter voluntary effort in London. But the more I read, the more that people are pointing at giving money as a great enabler of doing good work and we should really think about opening our wallets more directly.
I hope this idea is attractive to you, and I hope I haven’t layered further guilt by sharing what’s worked for me. Maybe you too could start giving an affordable amount right now, starting with a weekly flat white and could see that sum add up across the year? It feels really good to give a tangible amount and know that special giving or volunteering is on top of small regular giving that I don’t need to think about. I’d be interested in your thinking and anything you do with giving that works for you.