The nature of New Year’s resolutions is shifting. No longer can we rely on the usual suspects of self-improvement. There are no gyms to join (yet). We can’t commit to weekly dinners with friends (yet). It’s a beautiful opportunity to think beyond our habitual ideas of change and consider making a commitment to help the broader community rather than one aimed more ourselves.
As we come out of a remarkable season of giving, during which more people gave more money to more charities, we have a chance to take a deeper look at where we want to focus our philanthropic efforts for the coming year. December brings with it a deluge of asks and needs, all legitimate, all immediate. And while the generosity of donors is significant, a good December does not eliminate the ongoing funding challenges many charities face.
Couple this with the fact that we’ve all been spending more time together as immediate family units, unwittingly developing a sense of collective identity in a way we likely never have. The air is ripe with the potential for conversations about what’s meaningful to you as a family and what you can do—as team—to effect the change you all want to see in the world.
However, included in these fireside chats is the need for prudence and due diligence as we ourselves become more informed donors while also raising the next generation of philanthropists. Here’s how I suggest you start:
1) Name your team
Use your next breakfast or dinner conversation to share with each other the causes you care about most deeply. It may be different for all of you. I know in our house, the kids are drawn to the needs of people they can relate to: teens and young people who are struggling to feel connection and self-worth. Witnessing the challenges of growing up in today’s social media age, my husband and I share their desire to help kids in this age group find their way. In other households, the divide may be wider, especially if you have a four-year-old who cares about puppies and a ten-year-old who’s eager to save the planet.
Following this next step will help take your family’s giving from sentimental to sustainable.
2) Do your research
I’ve been known to mention on the odd occasion that Canada’s non-profits make for a $10 billion industry. It’s a significant portion of the Canadian economy that, remarkably, often isn’t seen or treated as such. It’s probably fair to say a lot of people think of charities and non-profits as smaller-scale operations that rely on volunteers and the goodness of others to survive. In reality, many are significant operations with large operating budgets, numerous employees and noteworthy capital assets. This doesn’t mean your contribution is needed any less, just that there may be more homework for you to do.
Just as you would put time into understanding where your investment dollars are going, so should you for your charitable donations. This means looking at funding models and strategic plans to see if a charity’s outcomes match their mantras. It’s perhaps not the most exciting way to spend time on the Internet—unless you’re a numbers person—but understanding how the money you donate is spent is the only way your actions can lead to sustainable change.
One organization, Charity Intelligence, has already done a lot of this work for you. Started in 2006, Ci offers annual examinations of more than 800 charities across Canada. They assess each organization’s annual report, financial transparency, actual need for funding, how much of each donation dollar goes to effecting change and finally, how successful the charity has been in doing so. Essentially, they do a lot of the hard work for you.
“This means that more of what donors can afford to give goes toward making a difference. Charity Intelligence’s analysis goes beyond plain subjectivity or narrow financial analysis to dig deeper to arrive at those charities proven to be the best in their field: not just ‘do gooders’ but ‘good doers’, too.” – Charity Intelligence website
It’s important to note that there are some important and worthy charities that aren’t listed on Ci’s site. This doesn’t automatically mean you should steer clear, just that you’ll need to do your own research. Ci has some helpful criteria to consider in evaluating your preferred charities or to act as a guideline for asking your own questions. There may be very valid reasons why they don’t match up—or match up, yet. You can also request a rating if you’re unable to find your preferred charity on their site.
3) Make a plan
Once you have an idea of where you want to focus your philanthropic ventures, you can come up with a plan for how to make it happen. A lot of us save our larger donations for year-end. While this type of funding is necessary and appreciated, there are ways to bring giving into the fold throughout the year.
As a family, you can discuss the different ways you can each make a difference, whether it’s setting aside a certain percentage of monthly income or allowance for donation, encouraging a 50/50 birthday (people give money, half of which the child keeps, half of which they donate) or considering ways to give at a community level. This can be anything from donating toys, shoveling people’s walks, or offering food to friends and neighbours in times of struggle.
Really, it’s about starting the conversation to demonstrate how being charitable can mean something different for everyone. Some may be focused on the larger scale impact. Others, children especially, may choose to demonstrate giving in a way that’s closer to home. Decide what feels right for you as a family, then start to make it happen.
4) Follow through
This is perhaps the most important step of all, but one that doesn’t come until next January rolls around. That’s when you look back over your year of giving and assess how your dollars, time or actions made a difference to those around you. Where did you give? Who did you help? What programs were made possible as a result of your donations? You can then use this as guidance when you sit down together and make next year’s plan.
I’m not often one for resolutions. I often figure if there’s something that needs to change, why wait for January to make it happen. But it’s hard to deny this year was born from a seed of hope. With the need amongst charities still great, starting the year with a strong sense of how you want to effect change—either as an individual or as a family—and making a plan to see it through will make 2021 a year to truly make a difference.