As we enter the season most associated with giving thanks and giving back, I have been reflecting on the meaning of the terms “philanthropy” and “charity.” Many of us are moved at this time of year to be generous. We want to express our gratitude for the good things that have come our way, to share in the “wealth,” so to speak. Others are seeking rewards in the form of tax breaks or other incentives.
According to one online dictionary, philanthropy is “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” Another defines it as “goodwill to fellow members of the human race . . .(an) active effort to promote human welfare” and “an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes.”
Charity is described as “generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering” or “aid given to those in need.”
I am reminded of a story from many years ago when my sister and her young family lived in rural Washington State. It was late in the year and stormy when one night there was a knock on the door. Outside was a drenched young man, who apologized for the intrusion but was asking for help. He and his wife were part of a church group that was delivering firewood to those in need and were on the way to one delivery when they had a flat tire just down the street from Kris and Gary’s house. He had a spare tire in the pickup truck but not a jack. Did they have a jack he could borrow so he could change the tire, get back on the road, and make the delivery?
It would have been easy to just hand the guy the jack and go back to the cozy couch in front of the fireplace, but Gary donned his winter coat and went out to help. Moments later he was back with the man’s wife in tow. She was cold, wet – and quite pregnant. On went the coffee pot and she and my sister chatted in front of the fire while the men went back out in the dark to tackle the flat.
Later, after the couple had been sent on their way, Kris and Gary discovered a cord of firewood piled up under the carport. That couple had backed their truck up into the drive-way and off-loaded the entire load of firewood by way of thanks.
Did Kris and Gary help that young couple because they expected something in return? Were they thinking of how their reputations would benefit by this act of kindness? Did they believe that helping these two was charity? Of course not. In fact, it’s hard to tell who got the most out of this transaction.
Studies have shown that acts of giving are good for us. When we share with others, we gain a sense of well-being ourselves. According to psychologists, people who volunteer are happier overall. And the monetary value of an hour of volunteer service has been determined to be $27.20.
We know that even in a so-called “normal” year there are many people in need. This year, the plight for those less fortunate is exacerbated by a multitude of factors. There is nothing wrong with giving to people or causes to lower a tax bill – in fact the CARES Act might even provide added incentive to be generous. You should explore the opportunities and discuss options with your tax professional or financial advisor. (If you choose to donate funds to a charity or nonprofit organization, be sure to check their legitimacy through a verified service such as CharityNavigator.org)
Regardless of how much or how little you can give – of your wealth or your time – now is the time to consider being an active participant in making your community a better place.
Because what’s in it for you is a healthier, more cohesive community and a sense of happiness, of belonging, and of well-being.
Many people wait until the end of the year and donate one lump sum to their favorite charity or cause. Others parcel the contribution out over the year in monthly or quarterly gifts. We can help you determine which is the better fit for you and your lifestyle. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation, email me at Alison@fiscallyfit.us or call (650) 965-4090.