More conscious charitable giving so our gifts carry out our good intentions

A Guide to Cold-Blooded Giving

by Kathleen Fox

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It's no coincidence that so many charities do heavy fund-raising during the holidays. In this season of giving, it's hard to say no. We don't want to be the Scrooges who turn our miserly backs on those who need our help.

We don't want to be foolish givers, either. We don't want to be taken advantage of by fraudulent organizations or phony causes. We don't want our charitable impulses to lead us into giving more than we can afford or giving in ways we later regret. We don't want to be so overwhelmed by requests that we just stop charitable giving at all.

One solution to this charitable dilemma is to become a cold-blooded giver. That doesn't mean being cold-hearted; it just means giving more consciously so your gifts actually carry out your good intentions. Here are some ways to give in cold blood.

  1. Accept the reality that you can't give to everyone and everything. There are thousands of worthwhile and important causes. Not every worthy cause needs to be your cause.

  2. Budget for giving. Maybe you choose to tithe 10% of your income. Maybe you can only afford five bucks a week or $20 a month. Make a conscious decision about what you want and can afford to give, then include that amount in your spending plan.

  3. Decide what types of giving matter most to you. Do you want to feed the homeless? Support the arts in your community? Support medical research? Would you rather give locally or globally? Consciously choose causes that you care about.

  4. Don't wait until the holidays when you're inundated with appeals. Instead, make decisions on your own timetable in July or August when it's easier to combine your emotions with logic and common sense to make wise giving choices.

  5. Research before you reach into your pocket. Find out how much of any organization's budget actually goes to the cause it claims to support. Legitimate organizations will post financial statements and tax returns on their websites or mail that information to you if you ask. Be careful, too, about chameleon groups that may use names similar to those of reputable charities. If any fund-raisers are reluctant to answer questions about where the money goes, that's a good reason to say no.

  6. Plan how to give. One option is to put your budgeted giving amount into savings every month and then write checks once a year. Or you may prefer to donate monthly, quarterly, or in response to specific fund-raising appeals. Do whatever works best; charities will be grateful for your money no matter when you give it.

  7. Donating time counts, too. If you don't have much money to give, or if you prefer to be more actively involved, there are many ways you can help with your time, your skills, and your knowledge.

  8. Budget for impulse giving during the holidays. Just because you've written your cold-blooded checks to your chosen charities, you don't have to skip everything else. You may want to reserve some of your giving budget for impromptu gifts. Being able to drop cash into a Salvation Army kettle or buy a last-minute gift for an angel tree is part of the fun of Christmas giving.

  9. Say no without feeling guilty. Conscious giving means saying yes to causes you choose to support. The other side of that coin is saying no to others. There's no reason to feel guilty or apologize when you turn down a request. If you wish, you can choose to explain that you've already given to X and Y, so you don't have any money for Z. But as long as you're comfortable with your giving, you don't have to justify yourself to anyone.

  10. Give with a light heart. Giving can be seen as an obligation, as our responsibility as part of the community, and as a good and worthwhile thing to do. It also can be a great source of satisfaction and a lot of fun. Savor the fact that you're able to give, and enjoy your giving.

When you consciously choose to nurture goals that are important to you, you're taking an active part in making good things happen. Whether you define it as your neighborhood or the whole world, you're helping make your community a better place. Giving with cold-blooded deliberation is a great way to transform your warm-hearted intentions into effective action.

Despite college majors in English and art, editor and author Kathleen Fox has never had a job that required her to ask, "Would you like fries with that?" She has, however, built computers, served as executive director of a company that offered co-dependency workshops, and edited or ghost-written numerous self-help books and articles. Kathleen publishes a weekly humor column at As her kids could attest, she was frugal when frugal wasn't cool, and she presents workshops on thrift and wise money management. She is the co-author with Rick Kahler, CFP®, of Conscious Finance (FoxCraft 2007).

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