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For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. —Luke 12:48
My charitable giving is not predicated upon religion or religious belief; I haven’t contributed to a church in more than a decade. However, I am not afraid to take words from the Bible, or any other religious tract, and integrate them into my life and worldview. I am not the kind of guy who needs the biggest bank account to feel validated so when fortune smiles my way I selectively contribute to causes I feel make a difference in the quality of human life around the world.
Selecting a charitable entity to contribute to is a process for me. I donate to only a few causes with donation tending to be $1,000 or more per donation. My giving is also lumpy. I go for extended periods without any charitable work and then give large amounts at one time. Taxes are not a part of my consideration process, but I do take the deductions allowed. Some of my charitable giving is not deductible on Schedule A. Some charitable work is considered a promotional expense for my business which allows me to kill two birds with one stone: helping a charity and getting a deduction before it ever gets to my personal tax return.
Luck of the Draw
From the first human to live to today I have outlived the vast majority of people. I am 52 and live in a Western country where food, water, sanitation and medical care allows most people to live to a ripe old age. Large populations of Asia and Africa still have life expectancy similar to a century ago in the United States or European nations. I have already outlived most of them. Mortality rates have decreased drastically and the quality of life for many, including me, is an outlier of human history.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011, 94,281 people out of 100,000 born alive were still alive at age 50. Nearly 6% cashed it in. Looks like I am a winner again. Lucky I was born in the right place at the right time. The same CDC table shows 84,368 out of 100,000 still alive at age 65. It seems another 10% die between my age and what is considered retirement age. One in ten! I might need to reconsider my attitude toward working one more year.
Life expediencies for most of human history has been lower than 50 years of age. Even in our modern world a large number of people do not survive to “normal” retirement age. Outside North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and a few pockets of longevity, a majority of populations die before living to my age. It is this luck of the draw, this gratitude I feel each day I wake which motivates me to improve the human condition wherever I can.
Non-profit organizations file Form 990 with the IRS. You can review a candidate for your charitable money here before you send money. My policy is always research the organization before supporting. I look for a few key points. I want to see most of the money going to the charitable cause they claim they support. Large percentages going to fundraising or to executive salaries are a bad sign.
The choices are endless. There are over 1.5 million non-profit organizations in the U.S. alone. Research takes time so I have a limited number of charities I support and keep supporting. Here is my list.
- Doctors Without Borders: The next time you think all doctors are overpaid with a bad bedside manner, think of the doctors working in this organization. They travel to dangerous parts of the world and provide medical care to people with serious needs at no cost. I can’t imagine what these doctors go through to help their patients. Talk about house calls! I have supported Doctors Without Borders for over a decade. I am not sure I would even want to live in the conditions they work in so they are on my short-list of organizations to fund.
- Special Olympics: In the past I have supported Wisconsin Special Olympics Wisconsin Special Olympics provides sporting opportunities for over 10,000 athletes each year. Once again, this is work I do not think I could handle. Working with these remarkable people would bring me to tears. When I see these outstanding individuals reach for the stars I am humbled. Anyone who can personally help the disadvantaged do something I know I am not man enough to do myself deserves kudos. Just writing about this makes me emotional. Even now I fight tears knowing I am not good enough to help these people who really need support. Regardless their disadvantage, they never quit. They have more fight, more spirit than most people with no disadvantages. We can learn a lot from these outstanding men, women, and young people.
- Bethesda: This is the closest I get to donating to a religious organization. Twenty-five years ago when I still attended church services, a man from Bethesda came to my church and shared some of the work they did. They provide a home setting for severely mentally challenged people. What stuck with me was one story. He explained how they broke down the process to tying a shoe into 87 steps. They would patiently work with some of their clients for years teaching them just one more step in the process to tying a shoe. Their patience moved me emotionally. My personality has no room for that kind of patience. The cost to run such homes is expensive. People with special needs frequently have no money for that need. Bethesda is possible because people like you and me support their work. I take my hat off to all the patient men and women who help these people day in and day out. If there is a heaven, these are the people who will populate it. There is no room for people like me there.
- CommunityFest: This is one local event I periodically support. Every few years I donate a slug of money supporting this local event over the 4th of July holiday. Prizes, games, music, fireworks, and great family fun are all free for families in our local community, paid for by local businesses. From a tax viewpoint, the donation is really a business promotional expense and deductible by the company. Technically not a charitable donation, it shows how individuals and businesses can support local programs to improve our local communities.
- Children’s Hospital: I never donated directly to Children’s Hospital, but I have supported Children’s Hospital through the Vic Ferrari Golf Event and similar programs. The Vic Ferrari Band is a client. They are awesome performers and do more than jam tunes; they make a difference. Vic supports several local charities through special events. The Vic guys deserve a humble bow; they are valuable members of our community. If you never saw these guys perform you need to fix that.
- Other Charitable Work: To a lesser extent I have contributed to charities in a wide variety of fields. In a limited fashion I have supported the arts (Wisconsin Writers Association) and other charities through special events.
I have a few additional rules when supporting charities. I never support a cause whose sole purpose is to raise awareness. It might be an unfair rule, but my resources are limited and I want the bulk of my money to support disadvantaged people with few options for a better life available. You can see I strongly support the down and out. The truth is I support organizations that help people I am unable to help myself. The patience, love, and kindness these people show every day in such challenging situations is more than I can bear to think about for any period of time without tears coming to my eyes. What they do every day without real recognition is beyond my comprehension. I support them because they are better people than I will ever be. I hope you will support them too.
List your favorite charities in the comments below.