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Fundraising — January 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm

The Minimum Gift

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How much should you give? This question, which is asked often, is a hard one to answer. For charity staff, the answer is even more complicated. Each of you is giving your time, and if we’re being honest, likely taking a pay cut to work toward a cause you believe in. In all likelihood you’re working overtime, or volunteering some of your time to promote that cause.

First off, you should be applauded for your efforts. The people who work for charities are often maligned under the misconception that charities misuse funds or fail to use them efficiently. We know that this is almost always not the case. And as Dan Pallotta points out in his great book, Uncharitable, this perception is both unfair and crippling to charities.

So kudos to you. But the question remains: how much should you give? Most of you are fundraisers, even if this isn’t officially your title, and as fundraisers you’re often posing this question. So let’s turn it around: how much do you give?

It’s my belief that everyone, no matter how big or small their income, can give back in some way. Perhaps there are exceptions: the poor who are barely getting by should not be obligated to give to their fellow poor, though many do.

Peter Singer deals with this question in his book, The Life You Can Save. His conclusion is to exclude the non-taxable part of the population: the old, the young, the poor and the disabled. For the rest of us, he suggests a minimum of 5% of our income. He spends the entirety of his book making an argument for why we should give. A crude summary of his argument is this: if you have more than enough to support yourself and those under your care, then you should give to those who don’t have enough, no matter how far they are from your life.

Even though it may stretch us, this is a gift I believe everyone with a stable income can make, and I believe it is just as much your responsibility if you work for a charity or if you volunteer regularly. Your time is incredibly valuable, but your money can travel to places outside of your local community, places like the developing world which could arguably use your help more than your own community.

So this is my challenge to you: give 5% of your income to help the world’s poor. Set an example for your own supporters. With this amount, Singer argues, we could do more than enough to tackle widespread extreme poverty.

4 Comments

  • Okay…Peter Singer’s 5% solution really only applies to staff and volunteers of charities serving at risk humans (unless you want to extend the notion of “the life you can save” to animals). What’s needed is a more broad-based answer to the question “how much you should give?” as it applies to the employees and volunteers of any and all charities, from social services, to environmental, to health, to the arts and so on. Common guidelines to help answer this question suggest;

    1) as an employee or volunteer your charity should be amongst the three largest gifts you make each year,
    2) it’s a good policy to establish that *all* staff and volunteers should support their charity with a financial gift (not just a gift of time), not least because it sends a strong message of leadership to the external donor base,
    3) these internal gifts should be made early in the fiscal year so that that 100% internal support can be used all year long in talking to donors,
    4) as to how much?…that’s relative to each employee or volunteer situation. But a good starting premise is that one should give until it “feels good”, not as is so commonly said, “until it hurts”, that’s no fun and hardly the basis for continued year-over-year giving and larger gifts!

    Just a few thoughts, Graham

  • Hi Graham,

    Great thoughts there. You go a bit further than I do in your four points. My goal is to get people thinking about a baseline for giving. This is the minimum everyone should give, and most of us in the West are capable of that minimum. Because my audience for this blog is charities and their staff, I wanted to address their specific financial responsibility.

    From there you present some stronger ideas: giving to your own organization (something I applaud but wouldn’t set as a rule), earlier in the year (a great idea) and out of joy, not pain (spot on).

    Thanks as always for contributing to the discussion.

    • Thanks Joel, but I have to take exception to “giving to your own organization (something I applaud but wouldn’t set as a rule)”. If staff and volunteers don’t make a significant gift to their charity, then why should arm’s length donors? Not only does 100% giving demonstrate leadership and commitment, but donors can take some comfort that staff and volunteers have ‘skin in the game’ too and will be responsible stewards of *everyone’s* gifts!

  • I can see that making a lot of sense in most cases, but it really depends on the charity and the individual. I’m a little wary of an employer telling their employees what to do with their income. There’s something a little nefarious about charities telling their employees they have to give to the charity they work for.