Why Charitable Giving is Even More Important During an Economic Downturn

The U.S. government has officially announced that we're in a recession, but for those balancing our own budgets, it's not new news.  Even if you haven't been affected yet, you are probably cutting back and setting aside money to weather what may be rough months ahead.

For some, charitable giving might seem like the easiest (and first) expense to eliminate.  But giving is even more important this year, and I believe you should consider increasing your efforts now instead of cutting back. You don't need to be wealthy to make a big difference in the life of someone who lives in poverty.

People on the “edges” are impacted more
People who are already struggling are impacted more by rising costs or the loss of income.  You might feel like you're barely making ends meet, but chances are that if you're reading this, you are not sleeping in the back of a van with your kids (like a family I saw here in Seattle last week), or raising children in a part of the world where clean water and electricity are a distant dream and low-wage work represents your only opportunity to put food on the table.

This economic downturn is global.  Around the world, the people who will be affected most are the people who are already struggling to provide the basics for their families, and the most effective way to support these families is through charities that help provide the means for them to lift themselves out of poverty.  This is truly a time when every dollar counts.

I have written a lot on my own blog about why it's important to address global poverty, but here is the short version: the world's best minds cannot grow and lead the next generation if the hunger and ill-health that go hand in hand with poverty stop them in childhood.

Charities are struggling to meet basic needs
Charities run on a shoestring, doing as much as they can each year to help people in need.  This year, things are particularly tough. Donors are cutting back, and at the same time, need is increasing dramatically.

A recent New York Times article stated that around the country, demand for food aid has risen between 20 and 40 percent.  The food bank nearest to my own home is served almost twice as many people in November as it did in May, and is having a difficult time keeping food on the shelves.  It's easy to ignore the long lines if you don't drive past them every day, but can you imagine being the volunteer who turns away a hungry family because the shelves are empty?

A chance to teach
My own children are too young to realize that we're cutting back on holiday gifts this year, but they're not too young to understand that they should help people in need.  We have already started finding concrete ways to show them that they can have an impact.

This year my family will start a new annual tradition, choosing some toys at the toy store and bringing them to a local charity that provides clothing, food and diapers for kids their age.

We have also been selecting extra items at the grocery store and bringing them to the food bank. True, my kids don't always select the most nutritious donations, but getting to choose items like applesauce, goldfish crackers and mac & cheese helps them feel a connection to the people they are helping.  I supplement their choices with high protein items like tuna fish, and dried beans.

Don't be afraid to get creative.  You'd be surprised at how much money a grassroots effort like a bake sale or school food collection can earn, especially when your kids make a personal connection with the donors.

Give your skills
Writing a check isn't the only way to give, and it is not always the most effective.  If you have a marketable skill or hobby, you can use it to help someone in need.

  • Are you handy with tools?  Contact a local homeless shelter or home for battered women and see whether they need help maintaining or improving their property.
  • Are you a hair stylist?  A good haircut can make a world of difference to someone who has just been through job training and is applying for work.
  • Have a wardrobe full of business clothing that no longer fits or isn't quite
    fashionable enough?  Those items can be especially helpful to someone looking for a job.

If you are out of work, you might think you cannot give.  Consider spending some of your time volunteering.  Interviewers will look more favorably on time spent volunteering (especially if it is related to your career skills) than time that is unaccounted for.

Even better, most charities have such a great need for help, that you might even find ways to build your skill-set beyond what you accomplished for your last employer.

Work your network
Don't be shy.  Spread the word about what you are doing, you'll be surprised at how many people will want to help out, sometimes in bigger ways than you would have imagined.

If you have a blog, write about what you are doing.  There is a reason that marketers are reaching out to bloggers; even a small blog has influence and can make readers consider doing something new.  Do you have a cause you really want to promote?  Consider banding together with fellow bloggers to make a difference.

This year, some blogging friends and I rallied over 50 travel bloggers to contribute prizes towards Passports With Purpose, a fundraiser for Heifer International.  We have been absolutely astounded at how much support we've received from both the blogging community and corporate sponsors in a very short time.  While the fundraising effort is just getting started, it has already raised far more money than I could have hoped to donate or raise on my own.

More about...Budgeting, Giving

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Nancy Lotinsky
Nancy Lotinsky
11 years ago

Consider viewing the fascinating video at AdventConspiracy.org
I had never heard of this group before. It really helps adults and older kids to get perspective on giving. Our family became much more motivated to reconsider spending on ourselves after viewing this.

Vince Scordo
Vince Scordo
11 years ago

I couldn’t agree more with Debbie, but if I’m really honest with myself I do struggle with giving when times are so tough. I think for many people the instinct is to be really conservative with giving (beyond family) during tough times. I really hate to admit the above, but it’s a “brain vs heart” type of thing (I really want to continue to give, but logic tells me to conserve).

Any thoughts?

Scordo

Grampa Ken's 7 Decades c/w potholes
Grampa Ken's 7 Decades c/w potholes
11 years ago

Charity Guide offers a comprehensive categorized list of charities with ratings. Click on your choices and donate.

http://charityguide.org/volunteer/charityratings.htm

Taranwan
Taranwan
11 years ago

Like Scordo, I couldn’t agree more. As someone who has worked professionally for various nonprofit organizations for the past 15 years, giving is more critical during recessionary periods, but even more importantly, a charitable gift could have even more impact during these times than when the economic is up. I think there are two key responses I have, Scordo. The first is that as Debbie writes, you can give your skills by volunteering, and the other thing is that even a small contribution helps. Charitable giving has two points of impact: helping to meet emergent and critical needs, and helping… Read more »

Trevor
Trevor
11 years ago

Great post.

Its a premium to give more during the economic downturn but truthfully, many people can’t afford to sacrifice what they’re about to get just to help the people in need.

Personally, for me, I can’t sacrifice the Christmas but I don’t mind helping out at the soup kitchen using my time.

TWoP Fan
TWoP Fan
11 years ago

One thing I do is donate gently used items to the local not-for-profit thrift store. I can give older clothes and my daughters things she’s grown out of, including toys, and I know that it helps people in my community immediately. Plus, the thrift store sponsors grants to other local non-profits as well. Also, I work for a merchandising company and when we have a product that is discontinued and we can’t mark it down for sale, I get permission and donate to the local food bank. Last month I got to take $400 worth of coffee to the food… Read more »

Beth P.
Beth P.
11 years ago

Dear Debbie, et al– Great article. You may be interested in a series I wrote for the Virtual Tea House in the last couple of weeks about re-defining giving. Article 1: Cross pollination is a good thing http://virtualteahouse.com/blogs/beth/archive/2008/11/12/part-1-of-3-giving-redefined-cross-pollination-is-a-good-thing.aspx Article 2: Who is it we really give to, anyway? http://virtualteahouse.com/blogs/beth/archive/2008/11/17/part-2-who-is-it-we-re-really-giving-to.aspx Article 3: Think it over http://virtualteahouse.com/blogs/beth/archive/2008/11/27/part-3-on-giving-redefined-think-it-over.aspx I work for a non-profit that does medical examinations for children suspected of child abuse. We, like almost all non-profits, are being hit hard by the very natural instinct to not ‘spend’ on what is considered non-essential. The series of articles is based on the… Read more »

Liz
Liz
11 years ago

Thanks very much for this post. Why it’s more important to give during hard times is a very timely reminder. Just the kick in pants I needed.

I’ve been a donor to Heifer International for the last couple of years, but this year, I would like to also start helping people out closer to home.

Rebecca
Rebecca
11 years ago

Great point about giving your skills. Not everyone has money to donate but most can come up with some time to donate services. Thanks for the great post.

brooklynchick
brooklynchick
11 years ago

SO important – thanks for the great post! Scordo, I think when times are tough what can dominate our hearts is *fear.* Goodness knows the media and some of our friends and family can stoke this. All I do is *try* to trust in “instant karma;” that giving now will in some way help my well-being later on in this life. I also, as Debbie said, remember that no matter how high my cc bills are, I have a roof over my head, a job and food in the fridge. Like others, I donate clothes, books, and other things in… Read more »

S.
S.
11 years ago

Be sure to check the guidelines for the business clothing donations organization in your area. The major organization in my area doesn’t accept things more than a fashion season or two old.

Donny Gamble
Donny Gamble
11 years ago

If you give back to others in a cheerful way, you will reap tremendous rewards and you will feel a lot better about yourself

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

Even when I was flat broke, and unemployed (just getting by with odd jobs and temp work), I was still able to give away clothes I could no longer wear due to weight loss and food, I could not longer eat due to allergies and so on. There was always something to give. Volunteering is free.

Karl Staib - Work Happy Now
Karl Staib - Work Happy Now
11 years ago

I’m going to give to two charities this Christmas. One to replant trees to offset my holiday card and one to NPR (listen every day).

I value both of these entities immensely.

I will eventually start giving my time, but for now I’m all about building my blog with my free time.

Andy @ Retire at 40
Andy @ Retire at 40
11 years ago

Yep, it’s nice to be able to be in a position to give to others and therefore I feel responsible as the right thing to do. Yes, it makes me feel better but I try and get over that temporary feeling and instead concentrate on the long term benefits that the receiver actually gets.

Carolyn
Carolyn
11 years ago

Thanks, Debbie, for a great post! During the holiday season it’s easier to be generous because we’re surrounded by opportunities. Salvation Army buckets are at every store, schools and places of worship are doing food drives and clothing drives, and local agencies, like Toys for Tots, are asking for donations. After December is past, though, it’s good to remember that when times are tough for us, they are tougher for others. Thanks for great suggestions for ways people of all ages can give throughout the year and reminding us parents that we need to teach our kids to be generous.

Aman
Aman
11 years ago

great post. I hope that readers of this article realize that giving should not only be done during the holiday season, but year round. Being a mentor to a younger person, volunteering at a soup kitchen/hospital/skill center helping other gain valuable traits all should be done…A few hours a week can change a person and the community for the better. Sometimes we take for granted the education/income we have and forget about the struggles it took to get here. Helping others keeps you grounded with reality and provides hope for others. Money is not always viable for many to donate… Read more »

Carrottop
Carrottop
11 years ago

It is better to give than to recieve. This year, I did not participate in the office gift exchange. When asked why I was not participating I told them there was no way I could imagine giving anyone a $20.00 gift when that money could go to the food bank here in the D.C. area. To my surprise everyone decided to give a donation to the food bank. We are almost up to $500.00. It is my prayer that no one goes hungry this time of the year. Yes, the economy is taking an effect on everyone but giving a… Read more »

Daniel@youngandfrugal
11 years ago

This was a fantastic approach, and it is something I’ve thought about for a while. I think there is another reason to give more to charities this year though…

Without trying to take this political (which I try to avoid), taxes on the rich are going to go up, and the Rich give substantially to the charities that do tons of good. To quote a very rich relative “Well I figure my take home will be about the same, the only difference is that instead of me giving tons of money away, it’s going to be taken from me.”

Mr. GoTo
Mr. GoTo
11 years ago

I am hopeful that our fellow citizens will help each other as a signal to our government that we can do it better than our government can, if we are allowed to retain enough of our own resources to make it happen.

Kristen a.k.a. The Frugal Girl
Kristen a.k.a. The Frugal Girl
11 years ago

Nancy, I love that video too. I posted it on my own blog, in fact.

Brooklyn Chick, that’s a great way of thinking of it(the “$10 is two magazines” sortof thing). It’s pretty easy to find SOMETHING we can give up.

quinsy
quinsy
11 years ago

thanks for this great article. I would like to note in response to Carrottop, I applaud your efforts in the office. So many little junk-type gifts get given for events like these. Do we really need another set of candles or body lotions. My mom talked her office into switching from the ‘Secret Santa’ to the office sponsoring a local family for Christmas. The local family submits a wish list and then the office loves buying all these nice things for the family. It seems to be so much more satisfying to know that they are buying gifts that will… Read more »

Sam
Sam
11 years ago

Excellent. I’m glad to see this getting more play. I usually donate to the Denver Rescue Mission for Thanksgiving meals, but this year I donated to the Food Bank of the Rockies at Thanksgiving, and I just sent another check. It’s true…I know that I’m doing okay, and that there are lots of people that are worse off. How do I frame it in my mind? Well, with gas prices down so much, I figure that I would have spent that $25 I just sent off on gas this week anyway, so 3 months ago I wouldn’t have had it,… Read more »

mwarden
mwarden
11 years ago

wonderful post

RenaissanceTrophyWife
RenaissanceTrophyWife
11 years ago

Great post. I’ve been giving family members donations in their name to Heifer International for a few years now, and I definitely don’t plan to stop this year.

Dominique
Dominique
11 years ago

Local food banks here in the Detroit area are definitely hurting…donations are down, demand is way up. I’ve made it a point in recent years to do things like purchase my holiday cards from a local food bank, Forgotten Harvest http://www.forgottenharvest.org/ (in addition to giving them several donations throughout the year). The Passports with Purpose effort Debbie mentioned was a great opportunity for me to become involved in a larger effort, even as a small and new blog. Oh, and Charity Navigator at http://www.charitynavigator.org/ is a good place to check out charities before donating to make sure your dollars are… Read more »

Contrarian
Contrarian
11 years ago

Oh dear, I guess I get to be the first (only?) contrarian here. The government takes plenty of money from me to give to the less fortunate. Some of these less fortunate have genuine need due to unforeseen circumstances, but many are in a bad way due to poor planning or bad decisions, and the system gets abused (as an anecdotal example, take the people in mortgages that never could have afforded them even at the best of times). When the government takes my money, I can’t choose where it goes; I don’t get to withdraw it if an agency… Read more »

Tea
Tea
11 years ago

Contrarian, I agree with you. Were it not for the incredible amount of taxation, I would give much more money to the causes I support. But even with forced taxation, I won’t let myself starve-and similarly, I wouldn’t want to let the causes that matter most to me die. And the government has yet to do anything to help them. One nice thing about volunteering time is that you can use your time to its full effect without ever running through the tax system. This is why I volunteer to teach, even though I disagree with a public school system… Read more »

WAHM
WAHM
11 years ago

@CONTRARIAN-I have to respectfully disagree with your statement. Actually, this is the very reason why I give so highly to non-profits (~10% of my income) Because then I can direct where I want my contribution to go. When I make that contribution, and in those amounts, I make sure I am writing them off for my taxes. In this way the government (which I am not happy with, either) cannot take as much money from me in taxes. As a multi-millioniare acquaintance of mine once put it, “the government allows me to direct where I want up to half of… Read more »

FranticWoman
FranticWoman
11 years ago

This post is a good reminder. I’ve been struggling with decisions of where to put my charitable dollars, and how to give more. I want to give to my usual no-kill animal shelter but am feeling guilty about humans that are suffering. I’m all for weekly donations to a food bank BUT my local one does NOT accept food donations, only cash (from individuals. If you are in a wholesale grocery business, then they take food). I also tried to donate very nice woman’s suits but after ten attempts I still have yet to receive an email or phone response… Read more »

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

I also am a fan of Advent Conspiracy.

Some others I like:

Buy a Goat, Duck, Chicken to help teach poor people in other countries how to live off these animals
http://donate.worldvision.org/OA_HTML/xxwvibeCCtpSctDspRte.jsp?minisite=10020&lpos=top_drp_WaysToGive_GiftCatalog&section=10024&go=gift&&section=10024

Pack a Shoebox for needy children overseas
http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC/Pack_A_Shoe_Box/

Give small business owners in impovershed countries the loans they need to startup
http://www.kiva.org/

And a list of a few others at http://www.fixmas.org/?request=join

They can be found collectively at http://philstrahm.blogspot.com/search/label/Christmas%20Giving

K Belcher
K Belcher
11 years ago

One thing I’ve been thinking of doing for a long time, and am finally doing, is when I unclutter, listing the most saleable items somewhere online. The holiday season is a good motivator to unclutter, and then I donate the proceeds of the sale. I try to list only a few items at a time, so it stays an opportunity instead of a burden. The rest of the things I just donate. This is especially useful with used books, which (depending on their type — I have a lot of academic books which are very valuable to a very small… Read more »

Leah
Leah
11 years ago

to FranticWoman, I’d recommend you check out some small, local charities. For example, I work at a nature center. I assure you that our executive director (and pretty much all nature center executive directors) makes something around $50-60k a year. I’m an intern, and I make less than $800 a month (before taxes), and my center has to have an intern work force just to run. Yes, some charities have big budgets and use a lot of donations for overhead. But many other charities and non-profits don’t. It’s worth looking into local charities to see if you can maximize your… Read more »

Jee
Jee
11 years ago

Great post! It’s true, charitable work is important and it feels good when you share your blessing. I’ve been doing it for quite some time but I lost my job and can’t continue anymore.

Wayde McKelvy
Wayde McKelvy
11 years ago

Charitable giving is not only noble, it makes us feel good, and it can also offer a nice tax benefit. Charitable organizations rely heavily on our generosity at the end of the year to help meet a large portion of their annual budgets. It would be really wonderful if we could, as a society, give throughout the year. I recognize in this tough economy it can be difficult to donate financially, but consider becoming a monthly sustainer to a charitable organization, at a smaller amount. This allows you to give regularly in smaller increments, you still get the feel-good experience… Read more »

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

Even if you don’t have a lot to give, or can’t afford to, time can be just as important. I’ve recently began working for a local library that was on the verge of getting shut down, due to lack of funds, and in just a few weeks I’ve been able to do some work getting grants, new computers, and stuff like that. It’s pretty rewarding, and helps a lot of people as well.

Karen
Karen
11 years ago

Hi, I am in Australia and run a very small not for profit organisation called Knitting for Brisbane’s Needy. (Brisbane Qld). All of us get no pay for what we do but enjoy knitting/crocheting/sewing new clothing, toys, blankets etc for the homeless and needy. Many of my members have commented that they are being helped by being part of the group, as previously a lot of the older ones say they were just sitting at home waiting for “my time to be up”. But since they have started crafting items for the needy, they now have a purpose to life.… Read more »

perla
perla
11 years ago

Thanks for this great post! To research charities, there’s also http://www.greatnonprofits.org where you can read reviews of nonprofits. The reviews are written by people with first-hand experience with the nonprofit – their clients, volunteers, board members, donors.

Perla Ni
CEO
GreatNonprofits.org

deepali
deepali
11 years ago

@ Contrarian – perhaps you can consider charitable giving as your thanks to god/fate/luck/the universe that none of your bad or ill-advised choices ever put you in a bad way as to require assistance, instead of making judgment calls about why someone else might be in a bad position.

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