I like to think I’m a charitable person. I open the door for people when I’m heading in and out of my local Starbucks; I’m happy to dig in my purse at the grocery store checkout line when the lady in front of me (who insisted on paying with exact change) comes up a nickel short; I have my weekly church offering set up with electronic “Autopay,” so even if I choose to sleep in one Sunday morning, my donation will still make it to the church on time.
But have you ever stopped to think – I mean, really think – about why giving to charity is (or, perhaps isn’t) important to you?
To be honest, I never have. I’ve always just written the check, signed the pledge card, clicked the “give” button out of the belief that it’s just what good people do.
I’d held that belief – that good people make charitable donations, and therefore I must be a good person – close to my chest for years. Then a few months ago, two phone calls made me completely reconsider my motivations.
The First Call
The first phone call came from the March of Dimes. I’d recently made a $100 donation to the organization; it was actually an unplanned, unsolicited charitable donation via the MoD website. The call was to thank me for my contribution, but the MoD representative also had a question for me: what had inspired me to donate? Was it the tax write off? (Nice, but not a factor.) Was it the free return address labels? (If you’ve ever donated to March of Dimes, you know what I’m talking about – and yes, this is a perk, but no, not my main motivating factor.)
The short answer was that I’d just read a very compelling story from a friend of a friend of a friend (thanks, Facebook) whose micro-preemie had overcome the odds, and her parents had specifically asked people moved by their daughter’s story to make a donation in her name to March of Dimes. But the longer answer went deeper – my own cousin had given birth to a micro-preemie, who also overcame the odds. So the real reason I donated? The organization had personally affected someone I loved and cared for.
The Second Call
The second phone call came from Catholic Charities. Again, the representative was following up on a donation I’d made to the organization during my parish’s annual campaign. We chose to donate $250. Again, it wasn’t for a tax write off, and this time, I knew I wouldn’t be receiving free return address labels as a “Thank you.” The CC representative once again thanked me for my donation, then asked me why I’d chosen to give; she also asked me if there was any particular division of Catholic Charities to which I wanted my money to go. Yes, I told her – if possible, I wanted it to go to adoption services. She applauded my decision, and asked again: why?
My answer gets to the very heart of who I am – an adopted child. 32 years ago, I was adopted via Catholic Charities in the same diocese in which I currently reside. In other words, I was getting the chance – for the first time in my adult life – to give back to precisely the same people who facilitated my adoption. As I explained my motivation for giving to charity to the representative, I suddenly felt the urge to give more: $500? $1,000? $5,000? I knew that no matter how many zeroes I added to my donation, the dollar amount would never be enough to sufficiently thank this organization for giving me life, for giving me a family.
So why do we give to charity? I think it boils down to one of two things: the organization has either helped, inspired, or influenced us or the people we love. Simple as that.
In writing this article, I did a little background research on charitable giving, and came across this amazing interactive tool from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. If you’re curious about the charitable activities of your neighbors – right down to your zip code – you’ll love this tool. Definitely worth a few minutes of your time!