Many of us want to help those in need, but often, we are overwhelmed and do not know where to start. This year offers a new opportunity to begin crafting an intentional giving plan. Much like a budget, a giving plan needs to be well thought-through. You should have clear goals of what you would like to accomplish and a clear idea of what your giving will mean to the grantee.
Helping people is more complicated than just making a donation, though. Giving to others should not only be impactful, but should be done responsibly. It takes careful consideration and purpose. Instead of focusing just on giving money or goods, we should focus on giving dignity too.
Giving and restoring dignity is a gift that lasts beyond what is tangible. Arguably, it could be said that how you give is more important than what you give.
At Valcare, a social investment management organization, we strive to ensure that every grantee feels respected and valued. Our messaging focuses on positivity, instead of neglect and poverty. We portray grantees as thriving, rather than suffering. Our goal is to inspire hope, not pity.
As an example, we are careful never to photograph beneficiaries eating or seemingly struggling — many already have a clear mental picture of that stereotypical image of the runny-nose, hungry African child, and we have no desire to reinforce that. By portraying people when they are suffering, we take away their humanity. In contrast, centering — and giving with — dignity not only cultivates self-worth within the grantee, but it also gives them hope for a better future.
So, as you undertake creating a giving plan this year, we wanted to share some essential advice based on our own approach as a grantmaker, from considering what kind of giver you are, to being considerate as a giver, and centering dignity.
What kind of giver are you?
Knowing what kind of giver you are plays a deciding role when it comes to crafting a giving plan. Some of the most common forms of philanthropy include giving from the heart, traditional charity, and effective altruism.
Giving from the heart focuses on what the giver is most passionate about and doesn’t necessarily consider a cause’s moral urgency. This type of giving is often connected to whatever the donor feels emotionally attached to. With compassionate philanthropy, no cause is more important than another — whatever you connect most with is where your giving should go. For example, if you feel a strong connection to the arts, perhaps you’re more likely to give to a theater company than a soup kitchen.
Traditional giving focuses on those suffering the most and aims at relieving the stress of those most in need. Here, giving is often rooted in religious reasoning. The point of view here is that the most vulnerable and needy in society deserve help the most. Giving to causes that support food security, help unhoused persons, or relief programs is underpinned by traditional giving.
Effective altruism (EA) asks how effective a donation is and if a given contribution is reaching the maximum benefit. Ensuring that your dollars create as much impact as possible is the goal. Those who subscribe to EA will give to organizations with track records of evaluated giving that save or significantly improve as many lives as possible. EA posits that giving should be tightly research-based and focus on how to maximize benefit to as many as possible.
Knowing which of these categories fits you best will help give focus to your giving plan. Pinpoint what you want to achieve through your giving; when you have identified those areas, research nonprofit organizations aligned with your plan.
Consider Impact, and Be a Considerate Giver
Another key element to giving is to look for verifiable impact. Knowing what kind of impact your donation is making can help you discern where to aim your giving efforts.
While it is true that not all giving efforts can be measured on the same scale, relying on some form of impact measurement can be helpful when considering whether to continue in giving to a cause. For peace of mind, adjust your expectations around the kind of impact measures you can reasonably expect from the organization you are giving to. If, for example, your chosen cause falls under the umbrella of systems change work, it’s likely not reasonable to expect quantifiable outcomes within five, or even 10, years. By contrast, if you are looking to give to an organization that offers training and learning opportunities to unemployed persons, you may want to investigate whether their work translates into actual jobs obtained, or other results-based outcomes.
Finally, to truly make a difference, make sure your contribution is not just a once-off. Your money will run a longer race if it is regular and reliable, and donating this way enables the recipient organization better plan how to make your dollars work harder and which mission-critical issues to attend to. When considering long-term giving, connect with your chosen cause and let them know how much support they can expect.
Now that you’ve determined your purpose for giving and your giving plan, it’s crucial to keep the end grantee in mind. How will your gift affect the receiver? Every donation sends a message; what do you want that message to be? Is your message hope and dignity? Or does the grantee feel indebted — or even disrespected?
Centering dignity means giving in a way that, were the situation were reversed, you yourself would like to receive. When donating goods, for example, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would you like to receive old, tattered items? Probably not, so that’s not a suitable donation.