How much should I give to charity?
November 15, 2006 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm ashamed: I bought a house, my child goes to a daycare that costs several hundred dollars a month, and I have all that I need. I also have been lax in giving to charity. I'd like to, but my wife sometimes is resistant, saying some version of the old saw that charity begins at home. I want some independent assessment for how much we should give. I've identified a number of charities I want to give to. But how much? Should it be a percentage of my salary?
posted by sholdens12 to Human Relations (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This book is a great resource when you are thinking about these issues. It walks you through creating a personal giving plan.
posted by miss tea at 7:50 AM on November 15, 2006

Charity might begin at home, but that certainly implies that it goes elsewhere if your means allow.

How much to give is a very personal decision. Personally, I tend to give charities around 25% of the amount I put towards our savings. I know respectable people who give both more and less than me.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 7:52 AM on November 15, 2006

It's wonderful that you are charitably minded. There is no set amount that is standard. Give as you feel comfortable and can afford to, when you can afford to whenever that may be. You may want to look at it as a percentage of whatever you put away to savings, maybe on a yearly basis.

Keep in mind that your time or even physical donations (clothing, furniture, other items) can be just as valuable as a financial gift for some charities.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:55 AM on November 15, 2006

But how much? Should it be a percentage of my salary?

It should be how much you AND YOUR WIFE decide to give. This is not a decision we can make for you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:55 AM on November 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Institute for Philanthropy says the UK average is 0.7% and they are campaigning for 1.5%.

1.5% doesn't seem much to me, but it is a start.
posted by handee at 7:55 AM on November 15, 2006

I think the only answer is "whatever makes you feel better." Some percent-of-salary rule seems a little silly, and more like a tithe than a real gift. You should give to causes that you believe in, based on how much you think they need the money and how much you think you can afford to give.

That said, if your wife is resistant to the idea, I don't think charitable giving is something worth screwing up your relationship over. Maybe you can talk and find some issues that she feels strongly about, and would like to donate/contribute to. Whatever you decide, you should agree on it beforehand, unless you maintain totally separate finances.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:56 AM on November 15, 2006

Oh, and as for your wife, just explain to her that it makes you happy. That it is something you want to do for yourself.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 7:59 AM on November 15, 2006

If you're looking for a guide, the Catholic church advises its members to tithe 10%. If that's comfortable for you and your wife, it's certainly considered reasonable to many people.

Also, if you can swing it, there are some charities where a gift of your time as a volunteer is much more valuable than a check you cut them once a year.
posted by penchant at 8:00 AM on November 15, 2006

Why does it have to be money? You could give your time and volunteer.
posted by randomination at 8:01 AM on November 15, 2006

Actually, the word "tithe" comes from the word for "one-tenth," so there you go. It's not just the Catholic church, but that's where my experience lies.
posted by penchant at 8:02 AM on November 15, 2006

Some, of the tithing tradition, would say enough so you notice some effect on your own lifestyle and that it takes 10% of family income to really do that.
posted by scheptech at 8:04 AM on November 15, 2006

I second the volunteering, it really doesn't have to be monetary at all.
posted by Gooney at 8:06 AM on November 15, 2006

And, you could tell you wife, giving is good for the giver - it can help make material things less important in your own life allowing room for other things to be relatively more important.
posted by scheptech at 8:08 AM on November 15, 2006

Charity does begin at home and it sounds like you already have the beginning covered so now it's time to move beyond the beginning. An adequate monetary donation is whatever doesn't make you feel guilty, for starters. But be aware as others have pointed out , that you can donate more than money. Volunteer time can sometimes be a more valuable thing to donate.
posted by JJ86 at 8:08 AM on November 15, 2006

If there's real disagreement between you and your wife, consider this: You might have some amount allocated to you, each, independently. An allowance, as it were. This would be money you can use to any end you see fit. You could put that money to some charitable end. I think, though, that your desire to help really should be one out of a shared vision of the charity's success (shared between you and the charity, not necessarily you and your wife), rather than out of a sense of guilt. No doubt, they'll use your money regardless of your motivations, but it's better for everyone involved if your contribution is greater than just a donation born from a sense of "this is something I should do."
posted by Alt F4 at 8:14 AM on November 15, 2006

Yep, volunteering can also be very good for the giver, bringing you in touch with people you'd never normally know, providing perspective you might not otherwise gain until much later in life.
posted by scheptech at 8:16 AM on November 15, 2006

I work at an environmental non-profit, and I would like to echo what other people are saying about time versus money. Money is obviously excellent (and often provides you with benefits like membership in an organization) but volunteer time is quite valuable.

We do a lot of research funded by government grants. These grants require "match", which is essentially donated time. The going rate for volunteer time is $25/hr. So, if you help an organization for 4 hours you have essentially given them $100 of your time.
posted by nekton at 8:17 AM on November 15, 2006

Invest the money.

It's easy to make other people responsible for your donations.

Invest the money, and fund projects by family and friends that will have a postive social impact.
posted by ewkpates at 8:39 AM on November 15, 2006

Some percent-of-salary rule seems a little silly, and more like a tithe than a real gift.

I disagree. If the world were perfect, well there wouldn't be any need for charity, but if it were just slightly less perfect and we did need them, then you could give to every charity in the amount you think they need. The world is far from perfect though. Budgeting is important in the real world. You have bills, retirement, a kid, a mortgage, and other expenses. If you really want to give as much as you can to charity, I think the best thing to do would be to sit down with your wife and plan out a budget. Decide how much is going to go to all those expenses, and what's left, you can decide to put toward non-essentials like charities, luxuries, and a rainy-day fund.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

How about microlending? Perhaps your wife would be more comfortable with that. will take $25 and put it in the hands of a small business owner in Africa, South America or Asia. When the loan is repaid, you can loan it out again, or get your money back.
posted by egk at 9:05 AM on November 15, 2006

I am fortunate in that I work in a place that deducts charitable donations from my paycheck. The main benefit is that neither me nor my spouse notice that the money is spent. My spouse does not believe in charitable donations, but I vetoed him and donated anyway. We are comparatively "rich" and I feel that it is my civic responsibility to give back.

I use round numbers, which makes it easier to calculate the amounts to donate to each target organization. Amortized over the year, these little round numbers make a big difference. If you are paid bi-monthly and donate $25/paycheck, that's $600/yr. Up your contribution to $50/paycheck and that's $1200/yr. If you start your charitable giving about the time when you get a raise, you will never notice that the money is gone. If you are American and you itemize, this money is also tax-deductible and you can adjust your withholding accordingly.

Present it to your wife this way. It's way cheaper than she things to make a meaningful contribution. Plus, you are setting a good example of civic leadership for your child.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:14 AM on November 15, 2006

I was just going to recommend myself. It's a great way to help and also to see the effects of your help, since you get reports from the people who got the loans. Because even small amounts are a great help, it's also a charity in which kids can participate. Here are some ideas.
posted by LeisureGuy at 9:14 AM on November 15, 2006

Why invest, ewkpates, why not put the money to charitable work now? Compounding works for more than just investment accounts. $500 year to help with schoolbooks for a couple of first time college students NOW might mean they can finish in 4 years rather than 6, which means they could get a good job and a good salary 2 years sooner. Some of that salary could go to helping younger siblings with college. $500 now could get a woman a sewing machine that she could use to run a little alterations business out of her home, increacing family income by $4000/year. Invest that $500 instead and then do what? Pay out the $50/year your investment might return. Doesn't sound like the same sort of ROI to me.

Funding the projects of friends and family is good, but friends and family can have a narrow perspective and reach.

As for volunteering. Volunteering is great, but it's not always the best solution to every problem. One paid person working 40 hours a week may be able to get more done than 10 people each volunteering 4 hours a week.
posted by Good Brain at 9:14 AM on November 15, 2006

In pure money giving, I give about the same amount as I spend on truly frivolous things each month/year. I figure, a dollar for my fancy coffee habit (for example), a dollar to the SPCA. That seems to chart pretty well to the amount of disposable income I have, which I think is a more reasonable way to go than an amount based on absolute income like a tithe (but I'm not about suffering). I also go through my stuff at least once a year and make a Goodwill/Salvation Army run and, if presented with the option, try to participate in charity events/purchases that I would do anyway like Cancer 5K runs and Girl Scout cookies, all which psychologically adds to the total.
posted by dness2 at 9:18 AM on November 15, 2006

Invest the money, and fund projects by family and friends that will have a postive social impact.

I love this idea.

How about this: Create a charitable foundation. Seed it with $x; invest that money (wisely! Laddered GIC's or something? T-Bills?). Once the dividends etc start rolling in, use that money as microloans to family members going to school. Create scholarships for fields you and your wife think are important. You don't need to invest a whole lot to ensure a $500/year scholarship.

I also love the microloans thing through Kiva.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:26 AM on November 15, 2006

I have a suggestion about how to settle this with your partner. If she is resistant, suggest that you take it out of your own "fun money." It may be giving less than you like, but it may be a good compromise.
posted by digitalis at 9:56 AM on November 15, 2006

At least 20%. . . .
posted by one_bean at 10:12 AM on November 15, 2006

Not trying to start a flame war, but ... your wife is right. Charity begins at home--your home. Getting your child out of daycare and home with one of its parents is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child. Once you factor out taxes, the cost of daycare, and other obvious stuff, you'll find that you are not that much poorer monetarily, but your family will benefit immeasurably.
posted by GarageWine at 10:32 AM on November 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

A lot of observant Jews give 20% of their after-tax income as tzedakah (charity), as it is defined as a very important responsibility. Some give it to their shul, some to a charity, some to many charities.

Given that all the conservative and orthodox Jews I know - in my family and elsewhere - give more money to charity than 90% of the goyim I've ever met, I always have to wonder how we got a reputation for being money-grubbing.
posted by luriete at 10:46 AM on November 15, 2006

Not trying to start a flame war, but ...

you're gonna.
posted by jerseygirl at 10:46 AM on November 15, 2006

Um ... yeah. I think giving people food to eat and medicine and saving lives is just a tiny bit more important than depriving one partner of a profession they might value and enjoy and taking a child from a rich social environment to a less-diverse home environment, especially when the data is inconclusive on whether either environment is more beneficial in the long run.
posted by luriete at 12:30 PM on November 15, 2006

I'd much rather have a flame war about the idea the a modest giver should be endowing a foundation. It'll likely be years before the money that comes back out from investment income exceeds the amount they are contributing. In the meantime, the social ills they might want to address continue to compound.

Just plan on spending the money more or less as it comes in. It's fine to set some aside into an interest bearing account every paycheck and disburse it much less often, but running a small scale endowment just to scratch the itch to give back is silly (unless you also have a major itch to do paperwork and act as a money manager too that you hope to satisfy at the same time).
posted by Good Brain at 12:56 PM on November 15, 2006

Your wife is right: Charity does begin at home, but it doesn't end there. To me, the meaning of this phrase is something along the lines of be sure you can take care of yourself (and your family) before you attempt to take care of others.

It sounds like the first step of this concept is well under control. Taking care of your family is likely a life goal of yours, but the same satisfaction (or very similar at least) can come from helping those that need it most. If everyone used the phrase "Charity begins at home" as "Charity ends at home", we would have a lot of people not getting the help they need.

If your wife is hung up on the financial aspect, consider giving your time. For me, time is the most expendable resource I have to give for charity. So I give much more of it than I do money. Then again, I do not have a family/house/dependents etc.

You could also ask your employer if there are any opportunities to give back there. I brought this up a while back to my boss, and we started a program with the United Way. The employees were given an option to pledge an amount (say $240) and it is broken up into 24 micropayments ($10) out of each paycheck. One of our accountants did most of the homework for it, but it didn't seem to be a huge deal.
posted by littlelebowskiurbanachiever at 1:00 PM on November 15, 2006

Maybe you have a different, more rational way of looking at things than I do, sholdens12, but it's not clear to me why doing charity should start with a percentage determination. I'd begin with assessing your talents, interests, background, and beliefs, or looking into what local groups/churches/etc. are doing rather than the nebulous idea of "charity."

It is easier for me, anyway, to get involved on the basis of this or that project or cause or organization, rather than x percent. You could commit to a goal of spending x hours or x projects per week, month, or year, instead of/along with dollars, if that's your style.

Charity might begin at home, but it need not stop there. People who campaigned to end the slave trade are an obvious illustration of how far, in concept and distance, charity might reach. Not to begrudge people who choose to focus on their own neighborhoods, but there's no reason to degrade the efforts of those who look further afield.

GarageWine is entitled to live his life as he sees fit. It doesn't seem to be the way you and your family want to live. Best of luck to the both of you.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:03 PM on November 15, 2006

There are many ways to approach this. You can help ease your wife's concerns by making sure that you are making contributons to a pension plan, life insurance and have little or no consumer debt. I contribute to Oxfam, Unicef, Habitat for Humanity and American Friends Service Committee because those organizations have values that are aligned with mine.

I used to do social work, and I was often amazed to see that many people who have very little money can be quite generous. I shoot for giving no less than 1% of my pre-tax income; this year I'll do @ 3%. When the Universe makes nice, like I get a fabulous deal on something, or a raise or whatever, I try to do a little payback by making a donation to the next worthy charity I see.

Being generous makes me feel munificent, benevolent, worthwhile, and generally karmically better. So it doesn't really hurt much.
posted by theora55 at 1:13 PM on November 15, 2006

This is what financial planners DO! And there are ones whose whole specialty is philanthopy. Pay someone the $200 or whatever it'll cost to do a gifting budget that will make you happy and your wife not stress.

You'll be able to see if your wife is right or your wife will be able to see that even with gifting you can put your kids through school and not have to live on cat food in your old age. It's much easier to make decision when you can see in black and white what it'll actually cost.

If you're in the states, a philanthropy planner (or any financial planner, in theory) can help figure out how to structure your gifting to give you the max tax benefits, too. I know that's not your point, but some find enjoyment in diverting money out of taxes and into a good cause.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:10 PM on November 15, 2006

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