Ask Yourself Why You Give Money and Let It Inform a Charitable Giving Plan

“Now, why did I do that?,” I’ve asked myself more than once.

My answer usually involves either not being able to say no, moving without thinking, or habit. What slows me down is when I have created rules that help me define why I am doing something. Let me show you how you can apply this to charitable giving.

Developing a charitable mission statement helps you define where charity fits into your life by understanding and defining your motivations, values, interests and desired impact.

Motivations get to the why. To uncover your motivations, ask (and answer) things like: When have you felt the best about gifts you have made? When do you feel obligated to give and how much of your total giving do you want directed toward obligations? What holds you back from giving? How can you comfortably learn to say “no?”

Values are what makes you tick. Value questions are: When do you feel most (and least) aligned? If your giving was completely anonymous, would you choose to give and, if so, where?

Interests are the areas to which you are drawn. Questions around this can include: What organizations or themes have had the biggest impact on your life? What are you most concerned about? To what are you consistently drawn — for example, what draws your attention in the news?

Impact is what effect you want your gifts to have on the recipient or on you. Things to consider: Is geography important? Are you trying to build personal community through your giving? Do you wish to give sooner or more later?

As you answer these questions, there will be themes from which you can operate. These themes will be used to create your mission statement.

For example, your statement may read: We wish to give (percent of income or specific dollar amount) split between gifts that benefit charities (or people) immediately and gifts to a community foundation or donor advised fund (percent of annual giving). We will focus on organizations and causes that have had the biggest impact on our lives (list here) as well as causes that we feel most aligned or concerned about such as…

While you may not believe you have a requirement to give, I have seen the many benefits from our clients who choose to include charity in their ongoing comprehensive financial planning.

Giving is a tacit acknowledgement that you have enough. Regardless of the amount you choose to give, you are making a statement that you feel safe enough to do so.

Giving is believing that you are a beneficiary of the good works of others. Essentially, giving involves some humility, even if you choose to make your gifts quite public.

Giving connects you to something outside yourself. Many of our clients have developed their closest friendships from engaging in the causes they support. Giving not only connects you to a cause, it can connect you with people who have a shared interest in the cause.

Giving helps you want what you have. When you choose to give, you are making a choice to not buy something or not save for something. We only have two things we can ultimately do with our money – spend it or give it away. The reason we save is to serve these two purposes. Proper planning helps you decide what you need in each of these areas.

While giving can be good, it can also be harmful.

I have seen people who have regretted giving too much to causes that turned out to not be what they thought. I have seen clients expect reciprocity for supporting friends’ charities when none was given. I have seen organizations misuse the money given. I have had organizations that misread someone’s financial capacity and ask for more money than that person could possibly give, making the person feel embarrassed or disenfranchised.

And I have seen organizations ask for something from someone with whom they never developed a relationship, making the prospective donor feel like a commodity.

It’s OK to ask yourself “Why did I do that?” when you have a good answer to the question.

Related: Examine One’s Own Order to Life