Making an impact in the lives of others has always been deeply meaningful to me. Growing up, my family didn’t have much but my parents always gave. By giving, we found connection, closeness, and empathy.
Even with the stress of multiple jobs and the paycheck-to-paycheck life we lived, my parents still managed to take in teens with no place to go and to help the homeless find shelter, work, or clothing. Mom befriended shut-ins and gave Eucharist (Catholic communion). Dad worked for assisted living centers where the residents adored him so much he even brought a few of them on vacation with us! My parents had little, but they managed to serve others.
Fast forward two decades and I’m raising a family of my own now, with kids ages 5 and 7. As Co-CEO at Abacus, I feel incredibly fortunate to amplify my passion for giving. Time is tight in this stage of life, but giving back remains a touchstone and priority.
According to Fidelity, Millennials are more likely than Baby Boomers to crowdfund, give to a workplace fundraiser, buy from socially responsible companies, or give money directly to a person in need. For 75% of us, our giving decisions are motivated by empathy, with 61% researching a charity through websites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator before giving. It seems we Millennials do have hearts despite what the economy has put this generation through.
Align your money with your values.
Giving Away $100,000 and Making it Count
My husband and I have never been percentage-of-income donors. Instead, we choose dollar amounts that feel reasonable (but may stretch us) and organizations aligned with our values.
Our giving themes focus on four main areas: women’s rights and education, financial literacy, supporting the families of enlisted troops (my husband is a former helicopter pilot for the Navy), and animal welfare. We started tracking our charitable giving a few years after we married:
- In 2014, we gave a combined $2,750 across two organizations. The following year, that amount increased to a total of $3,380 across three organizations.
- In 2017, we committed to a two-year giving pledge that stretched us financially but saw our giving jump to $8,790; in 2018, it went to $16,884 across ten organizations (but four causes) throughout the year.
- In 2019, we opened a Donor Advised Fund and began adding assets for future grant-making, while also continuing to give to causes important to us in real time.
- Our annual giving has remained steady since 2018 and we closed out 2022 with annual donations at $21,660, bringing our total since 2014 to $104,600.
Setting Goals for Giving and Tracking Progress
Looking at the annual breakdown, what you really see when we talk about giving six-figures away is the cumulative impact of setting goals and tracking progress along the way. For us, giving is about the journey and not the destination.
So how do we actually go about it? We set aside funds each month into an account marked for donations. We use some of those funds throughout the year for immediate causes that pop up – helping our cleaning lady with her car troubles or a GoFundMe campaign for stories that hit our hearts – and we donate larger chunks during the fourth quarter of the year.
We look for impact when we make our grants and donations: reflecting on the type of support a donation might provide, the burden being lifted off of a family, or an education being provided. Instead of donating to “general” funds, we direct our funds towards specific issues being targeted by a non-profit.
I also keep track of each entity we’ve donated to (whether a non-profit, GoFundMe, or a check to a friend) not just as a record of what we’ve given, but also as a “reverse bucket list” of sorts. Sitting down at the end of each year and seeing what we’ve given throughout the year (and in years past), along with our cumulative efforts, motivates us to keep going and to further the impact we make.
The Benefits of a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF)
In recent years, our donor-advised fund has become a bigger topic in our family. Our kids are still young but our goal is to include them in conversations around giving to understand why we give (and how lucky we are to be in a position to do so). When they’re older, they’ll be brought further into the giving conversation; we’ll use that opportunity to explore their unique values and ways their giving can create impact in their lives and for the causes they care about.
Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are a flexible and tax-efficient tool for charitable giving. They let you donate cash and appreciated assets such as stocks, mutual funds, or real estate and receive the full tax deduction for your charitable donation (while skipping any capital gains taxes you may have owed on the assets). When the time comes to give funds to a qualified charity, you don’t owe any taxes on the donations.
Additionally, when you contribute to a DAF, your contributions are invested and can grow over time. Then, when you’re ready, you request a grant from those funds to charities of your choice. Essentially, DAFs are a way to both invest and donate in an intentional and impactful way.
How to Get Started
It’s important to remember that your giving journey, just like your financial plan, will be unique to you. It should be customized to your budget, goals, and values. That said, you must always remember to check off your baseline financial goals first like emergency fund, retirement savings, and paying down debt. When you’re ready to get started, remember:
Live your values by how you
spend, save, and invest your money.
Do Your Research
Ensure the organizations you donate to are ethical and will use the funds in ways that offer the most support. Use websites like Charity Navigator, GuideStar, or the IRS searchable database to learn more about the charities you’d like to donate to.
Give to Causes and Organizations Important to You
By focusing on the areas most meaningful to you, you’ll have a larger impact. Instead of donating random checks or volunteer hours, perhaps you’ll prioritize a few key areas of interest to ensure you can amplify your efforts. Focus your time and dollars in areas that will maximize your impact, which will set you up for long-term giving.
In lieu of writing a check or giving cash, consider donating appreciated assets and securities. By doing so, neither you nor the organization needs to pay tax on the gift, which maximizes what you can contribute (and saves you capital gains taxes).
If you’re not in a position to give financially, there are many other ways to contribute to causes that are meaningful to you. You can give your time, talent, or treasures – items that charities are often most in need of.
Maya Angelou said, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” I have found that to be true as well. Although we didn’t include the amounts we’ve given to family or items we donated, those items add up to a lot for many people. We’re proud of our giving journey and look forward to others joining us in growing our impact on the future.