Six Lessons I Learned While Pledging to Donate Every Month Six Lessons I Learned While Pledging to Donate Every Month

Six Lessons I Learned While Pledging to Donate Every Month

by Jennifer Barbour

January 17, 2014

In February of 2012, I started my very own Giving Pledge. I was frustrated by the lack of donations to worthy nonprofits on my part at the end of 2011.

The problem was that my husband and I didn’t make giving a priority throughout the year. Once the “giving season” and the last chance to get those tax-deductible donations in arrived, we simply couldn’t afford to donate a lot of money all at once. Not many people can, I suspect.

I noted that waiting until the end of the year to donate money to a good cause is a terrible giving strategy.

I should know better, considering I’ve worked in nonprofit development and fundraising in some capacity for nearly 10 years. There’s a need for money year round, not just in December.

Since I declared my Giving Pledge -  to donate to at least one nonprofit each month - I’ve blogged about whom I’ve donated to and why. My goal was for my husband and I to give to more organizations and feel better about our philanthropic efforts at the end of the year.

After two full years of my Giving Pledge, I can safely say "mission accomplished." Compared to my 2011, my charitable contributions when up significantly in 2012 and 2013. Looking back at my donations in these two years, I learned a few things about myself and my giving habits. Here are six of those lessons:

1.     Personal connections make a big difference. In many cases, it was less the cause I donated to and more the person I was supporting through the donation. And it wasn’t always someone close to me personally. My husband often suggested a donation based on his own professional relationships. It felt good to publicly show our support.

2.     My donations often coincided with my philanthropy-related blog posts. Not to say that if I write about your nonprofit, I will donate money. But I was affected when I wrote about organizations and their work. I suspect this is due to my getting to know the organization better through research and that newfound personal connection.

3.     Sometimes I donate on a whim. I suspect many of us do this. Some of my donations were to support the recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy or the local youth and family services agency after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Closer to home, I also supported The One Fund Boston. These were all no brainer donations for me. I wanted needed to help. Immediately.

4.     The more tangible the gift, the better. During the two years of my Giving Pledge, I purchased four faucets to provide clean, safe water to areas that lack sanitation and contributed to microloans that helped women start new businesses and new lives for their families. I also helped pay for three months of education for a child. Bottom line: it feels good to know exactly how my money will be spent.

5.     Good communication after the donation matters. Being on the nonprofit development side of the coin, I pay close attention to the follow up that is made after a making a gift. A handwritten note or personal email goes a long way in my book. Some organizations were amazing at this, while others failed to send me a generic thank you letter. When an organization sends me too many solicitations, I start to tune out completely.

6.     Giving does become a habit once you become deliberate with donating your money. I did not have problems finding organizations to which to send money. In fact, I often found the donations would just come to me, somehow, each month. After a while, there was very little thinking about where my donation would end up, and I almost never had to remind myself of my pledge.

While I can’t say I’m surprised by my observations and lessons learned from the experience, it’s interesting to look at my donations as a whole. I’m still participating in my Giving Pledge and blogging about it. At some point, I may choose one cause or organization to maximize my donations even more. For now, I’m donating and narrowing down where I most want my money to go. My family has been a key part of this process as well. We make a difference together.

We might never get on this giving pledge list, but together we can make an impact by simply designating some of our money each month to put back into our communities.

Do you make charitable contributions on a regular basis? What observations have you made about your giving?

Image courtesy of Sarah Shreves

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Six Lessons I Learned While Pledging to Donate Every Month