Some of us worry about where the funds would go. We cannot stay only in giving. We still want to be sure that the cause we think we’re supporting is being funded. Fair enough. An organizational structure is needed to enable large-scale acts of charity and support. There are many good ones and, as always, bad ones too.
Good news is not news, they say. Something gone wrong attracts publicity. From time to time we hear stories about how money intended for a good cause was diverted to other uses. The good work done by many noble organizations does not receive as much attention. Even if there is publicity for a good job, we tend to remain suspicious.
The net result is that we don’t trust enough to give. That doesn’t have to be the case. Many organizations publicly disclose their balance sheets and profit and loss accounts. They are transparent about how much of the donation they are spending on running the business.
Discover the organizations that work for the causes that matter most to you. Search their websites. Call and talk to them. Ask the questions you like to ask. After you are satisfied with your work, make a rule that you will donate with a certain frequency and a certain amount. Setting this up will make it easier for you to donate and help the organization anticipate your donations.
If donating to such entities seems far-fetched, seek out causes that you know about and care about, and with which you have some historical association. Your school may need a makeover; your village may need water; the hospital near your home could use some modernization; and so. Look for opportunities closer to home and organizations you’ve been associated with. Or causes spearheaded by people you know.
Some don’t want to make a commitment. They prefer to keep everything ad hoc. If there is a natural calamity; if there is a cause arising from some crisis; or if there is a situation that requires help, they would be willing to make a donation. That’s fine too. It is better to give for a cause than to give nothing.
On another level, there are everyday acts of kindness that you can contribute to. Be generous with the Diwali contributions you make for security staff, elevator operators, your domestic help, drivers and other support staff. They’ve seen your food and shopping orders and what you’ve thrown away. Open your hearts to better enjoy the holidays. Give away food and sweets to the poorest people who live in your area.
Collect the clothes you want to donate, take your children with you to give them to the poorly dressed children in your city. Pay college fees for children from low-income families you know. Ask your vegetable seller, your raddi wala, your milkman, your newsboy, and many simple hard-working people you meet in your daily life, about how your child is studying; find out how you can help. Ask about people who are hospitalized. An illness can ruin the finances of a poor household. Gather your friends and finance the treatment. Make it a point to give and you will find many ways to do so.
We don’t give because we suffer from various attitudes so typical of the entitled class. Poverty is also lack of opportunities. It is cruel when it afflicts the young, snatching away their futures in its cold clutches of hunger, poor health, limited options, and hopelessness. We can argue as if the poor had not worked as hard as we did, as if they had brought it on themselves. But our hearts know the truth. We may not be able to wipe sadness off the face of the earth, but we have the ability to spread joy. That’s what the party is about.
Some of us like to benefit from generosity. We seek tax concessions. We create convenient structures to circulate our money. Stay away from these abominable acts. Give what does not squeeze. Some of us cannot give unless we tell the world. Worse yet, we expect others to admire us, be appreciative, tell others so, and praise us. Give without a trace. Give gracefully. Give without the desire for fanfare. Give with immense respect for the other, so that they continue to live with dignity and self-respect. Give knowing that you start a chain of generosity and that those you help will help others. Don’t selfishly expect them to return the favor or humble themselves in gratitude.
There is a story about Karan from Mahabharat and his immense generosity. Legend has it that he struck with both hands. When asked why he did it, he is said to have replied, if he picked things up with his left hand and gave them with his right hand, he could change his mind even while he was doing it. I have to give before my mind stops me! So true for many of us. Give when the thought comes to mind. Do not postpone delivery.
If all you’re giving is money, remember that you’re making the easy, lazy decision. Participation, work, actual contribution of time and effort, and application of oneself to a problem are all acts of generosity of a higher order. They demand your skills, time and effort and demand that you reprioritize your life. Not many have the heart to get involved like that. We are taking the easy route of just donating some money. Let’s do it with joy, with respect and with love. What is personal finance without an allocation of money for others. Open your heart and your wallet this season.
(The author is president of the Center for Investment Education and Learning)