Trying to give

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When I first started working, I decided to give away about a month’s income (about 8% before taxes) every year to nonprofits. Working in the tech sector during the boom, I figured I’d always have more money than time, and that I could be most useful bankrolling groups doing work I believed in.

It was relatively easy at first. My costs were low, certainly low enough to give away a bit. I think back to how freely I pulled out my checkbook at the time, and how much I gave without thinking about it. As I got older, costs started going up, and I realized that I needed to get serious saving for the future. At the same time, I realized I enjoyed volunteering, and that small groups sometimes need manpower more than they need money. The more time I gave, the more my donation rates slipped. B and I got married, we bought a house, and took on a mortgage.

As we were doing our 2006 taxes, we realized that as two white-collar working adults without dependents, we’d only given away about 4% of our income in the past year. It was embarrassingly low. (The average household earning under $10,000 a year gives away 5.2%.)

Over the past year, we’ve been working to change that pattern, giving away more to groups we already donated to (e.g. Asha for Education), and becoming first-time donors to groups we admire but have never supported financially (e.g. Stop Prisoner Rape). As I finished our 2007 taxes in April, I was happy to see that we made it to 10% in the past year.

I’m inspired by the stories at Bolder Giving in Extraordinary Times, which advocates for substantially higher levels of giving by those of us privileged enough to do so. (Which, per the Global Rich List, is pretty much everyone I know.) I’m not there yet, but it’s something to aspire to.

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