Letting the Family Help Decide on Charitable Donations

6 years ago

It's that time of the year. I work for a non-profit; our end of year appeal letter just went in the mail. I'm on the board of another; I had to write that letter. At the same time, I'm bombarded at home with mail solicitations from charities of all stripes, ones we've supported in the past, and ones we haven't.

This year, I decided to do something a little different. Usually, I just sit down and write checks as I see fit, with little or no input from my family. But I thought it was time to involve the seven-year-old in the charitable giving, to try to get her to think about something other than buying more things for her.

We keep a container of pennies in her homework caddy, because they are easy to manipulate when discussing how 5 + 5 = 10, but 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 also equals 10 (and so forth). I rounded up all the rest of the pennies I could muster - and counted them: there were 79. The pennies were to be the stand-in for the donations - so that we could allocate our giving budget in a visual fashion.

I then took a stack of index cards, and wrote down the names of a bunch of charities that we've supported before and that I felt pre-disposed to, pre-selected, if you will. We all sat down at the table, and I talked through each of the organizations: this is where I work, this is where you swim, this is where you went to day care, these guys help feed hungry people, this place helps women internationally, this one vaccinates poor children around the world, and so on.

I then started the allocation by placing 10 pennies on the card for my college. The seven-year-old then made all of the rest of the allocations - 2 pennies here, 5 there, 6 for that one, 10 for another - until most of the pennies were accounted for. At that point, I asked her to talk about what she thought was missing, and as a result, we added in the library in our town, as well as the library in Granny's town. My husband asked that Greenpeace be included, and we were done.

I'm not sure that she completely understood what we were doing, but she did get a chance to voice her desires and move pennies from one organization to others, rebalancing our giving portfolio. Because we weren't working with real money - the pennies could just as well have been buttons - it was perhaps too cerebral for her.

On a somewhat-related tangent, there's a YouTube video that's been making the rounds in my arts-related non-profit world, called Explaining an Arts NonProfit. It is hysterically funny and painfully sad as it points out the disjunction between what an arts organization needs, and what the public understands.

After watching it, I added the Octarium to my list - not least because hardly any of our budget had been allocated to arts and culture.

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