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Go Beyond Gratitude // With Great Wealth Comes Great Responsibility

It’s Thanksgiving week in the U.S., and I’ll be happily reading all the gratitude posts that other bloggers share. I did a big one last year, if you’re curious. Also last year we shared how we’d convinced our families to do a no-spend Christmas — this is a great time, before Black Friday is upon us, to broach the subject with your families. For those families that tend to go all-out for the holidays, even spending just a little less than normal is a big win and great progress. Going giftless helped us remember that the holidays aren’t about stuff, they’re about love and being together. Cheers to that.


Gratitude: It’s All Good

I’m kind of a broken record on gratitude, mostly how there’s no downside to recognizing all the help we’ve received, and that doing so doesn’t diminish our own accomplishments. And that gratitude is good for our health.

Please take some time this week, especially if you’re gathered with friends and family, to express your gratitude to them. What they mean to you, how they’ve helped you in life, what you’d miss most if they were gone. Don’t assume anyone can read your mind. Share your sincere thanks out loud, and mean it when you say it.

They’ll feel good. You’ll feel good. It’s a win-win.


Gratitude Is Not Enough

Saying thank you is a wonderful thing, and reminding ourselves of the ways we’re fortunate is important. But it’s not enough all by itself.

Those of us on the path to financial freedom, even if we’re right at the beginning of that path, have an important duty. Allow me to misquote Peter Parker’s (Spiderman’s) uncle Ben:

With great wealth comes great responsibility.

-Ben Parker

Any of us who are even in a position to ponder the possibility of financial independence are already far luckier than most people walking this planet with us. We have more economic power than most, and with that power comes the responsibility to help, however we can.

OurNextLife.com // Go Beyond Gratitude // With Great Wealth Comes Great Responsibility

Getting Rich Isn’t a Recipe for Generosity

If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably had a thought along the lines of, “It will be great one day when we can afford to give more to charity.” It seems like such a natural idea: build up our own wealth, achieve a certain level of comfort, and then give away what’s left over.

But in fact, the wealthiest Americans give far less of their income than do the very poorest Americans. According to The Atlantic:

One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.

I’ve always thought of the many philanthropic gifts I see noted on museums and hospitals and cultural institutions and assumed Of course all rich people donate lots of money! But the data show otherwise. The Atlantic article goes on to speculate that the very mindset that helps a person become wealthy is a me-first mindset, one that prioritizes self interests over other people.

And it’s easy to see how that habit could emerge: as we optimize our budgets to think about how we can save more, we either don’t make room for charitable giving, or we start to trim it to free up resources for investing or debt pay-down or whatever else we’re focusing on. If we don’t make a conscious effort to give now, at whatever level we’re able, it will be that much harder to get in the habit later, even if we have more money at our disposal.

And this matters, because the stakes are high.

Ask Not What…

Everyone knows that JFK quote, right?

Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

– John F. Kennedy

Though the quote is famous, the sentiment behind it doesn’t get much airtime anymore. Maybe we have grown more greedy or more selfish, though I doubt it’s that. I see too much goodness on a regular basis to believe that about people. I suspect it’s that we’re overburdened by increasingly demanding work, and when we do have brain space to look outwardly, we’re focused more now on the niche causes that are close to our hearts.

But we find ourselves in a difficult, perhaps pivotal, time in history. And not just in the U.S., where politics has divided us more than anyone can remember. Divisions are arising all over the globe, from the Brexit vote between the UK and EU, to the continued unrest in the Middle East.

It’s time to go back to thinking about the big picture. About how we can all help each other. How we can heal the wounds that divide us. How we can protect the people and institutions that need protecting.

Giving While Still In Debt

Debt is a commonly cited reason why people don’t give. But consider: Eight in 10 Americans have debt of one type or another. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts:

Overall, 80 percent of Americans hold some form of debt, whether mortgages, car loans, unpaid credit card balances, medical and legal bills, student loans, or a combination of those. The most frequently held form is mortgage debt (44 percent), followed by unpaid credit card balances (39 percent), car loans (37 percent), and student loans (21 percent).

Debt is ubiquitous. Those who are debt-free are in a small minority.

If only the debt-free donated to charity, philanthropic funding of important causes would plummet. There simply wouldn’t be enough of us chipping in to make a dent on the important issues facing individuals, our society and the planet. Things would get demonstrably worse.

Instead of saying we can’t give while we’re in debt — which also runs the risk of burnishing in that bad habit of not giving, which is hard to kick even when we do have the means to give — what if we find ways to scale our giving so it doesn’t impose hardship, but does still make a difference.

Instead of thinking of the latte factor as inhibiting your personal financial growth, what if we look at it as inhibiting your giving? For those who haven’t cut the cord, could that money spent on cable do more as a contribution to the greater good? Could the funds spent on lunches at work be repurposed to feed the actual hungry? If money is truly tight, could you put some of your free time to better use to help out in your community?

All bundled up to stay warm... outside. ;-)

Keeping our house cold in a cold climate helps us save money that we can redirect to charitable giving! (We don’t actually have to bundle up like this indoors!)

Giving Is Contagious

The Guardian conducted a recent study on the science of giving, finding — perhaps unsurprisingly — that giving is largely motivated more by emotions and influence than by logic, including this nugget:

The good news is that charitable giving is contagiousseeing others give makes an individual more likely to give and gentle encouragement from a prominent person in your life can make also make a big difference to your donation decisions – more than quadrupling them in our recent study.

Everyone can remember a recent example of this, when people all over the world started pouring buckets of ice water over their heads in the name of ALS, a disease they knew little about. All because someone they knew asked them to.

So today, we’re going to try to create a little contagion. And we hope you’ll pass it on.

I know it’s intimidating to think about which organizations are worthy of your hard-earned funds, even with resources like GuideStar and Charity Navigator out there rating charities on their effectiveness and stewardship of resources. If you don’t already have a list of organizations you could support more generously, I humbly offer the list of those that we support regularly, all of whom meet our criteria for effectiveness and worthiness.

And to strengthen the nudge, we’re making an extra donation to each one today. If you would consider chipping in a little to the charities of your choice, too, and then asking someone else to do the same, we’ll be on our way toward making a difference.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — legal protection for first amendment rights, as well as other social justice issues like mass incarceration and voter disenfranchisement

Feeding America — combats hunger by supporting food banks across the country

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) — combats climate change and other pressing environmental issues

Doctors Without Borders — provide medical aid during crises around the world

American Refugee Committee — provides support for refugees in crises around the world, including Syria

Earthjustice — legal protection around critical environmental issues

Our NPR member station — news from a trusted source who is not-for-profit, providing a critical check on the power of government

The Trevor Project — provides support to LGBT youth, including suicide prevention

MALDEF — civil rights protections for Latinos

Planned Parenthood — largest provider of routine exams and cancer screenings for women in poverty, many of whom have no other health care access

Whether you choose to support any of the same causes that we support is not the point — what matters is that you give however you can, whether it’s with your money or your time or both. Don’t wait until you’re the Monopoly man to start giving — use your powers for good now.

How Will You Use Your Power?

Let’s discuss in the comments, and then pass this on to others in our lives. How will you use your economic power for good today? What causes do you wish would get more attention and more fundraising dollars? How will you translate your gratitude into action? How can we all spread the word and spread the contagion?



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101 replies »

  1. This is a very timely blog post. Mr.Hodgepodge and I were discussing how we need to start donating more and we’re looking into charities that specifically match your above list. Thanks for saving us the research time… I’ll go get the checkbook :)

    • Oh, hooray! All of the orgs here are great ones doing hugely important work, and I endorse them wholeheartedly. If you find others you find worthy, please share them! :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing. The numbers in your post are surprising, but when you think about it they make sense. People that become wealthy are particularly focuses on themselves in order to grow their own wealth.

    I looked at our own giving after reading this and was a little shocked myself. I’ve always felt we were pretty generous. We’ve given regularly to several charities for the past 10 years. However, we fall right in line with the statistics in your post. Our giving amounts to 1.7% of our gross income. When I think about it, as our income has substantially increased in the last several years, our giving hasn’t increased at the same rate. Maybe time to rethink our giving plan.

    • I had a similar reaction to those stats — they’re surprising, but they make sense. And knowing them is good, so we can all make the conscious choice not to become those money-hoarding rich people.

      You get a major high five for looking at your own giving and contemplating ramping it up. More of us need to do that, but it’s not easy. Sending you some good vibes as you rethink your plans. :-)

  3. I’d like to pitch GiveDirectly (https://www.givedirectly.org/) as another worthy charity. It is one of the most efficient charities in the world and helps some of the poorest people in the world. This means that even if you can only donate a small amount of money, you will be making a huge difference in a family’s life.

    I agree with everything in this post. I was one of the people that was saying “I’ll donate more once I hit my money goals,” but I realized that I would be better served to start donating right away, even if it means that it takes a little longer to hit my goals. I am extremely lucky even to be able to aim for the goals that I am aiming at, and I should take advantage of that to help others who aren’t so lucky.

    I believe it was Tony Robbins that wrote something to the effect of “If you won’t donate 10 cents out of your dollar, then you aren’t going to donate $1 million out of your $10 million.” For some reason that hit me and got me to start building the habit of donating from each paycheck rather than waiting until I have some future amount.

    Thanks for the great reminder and for spreading the giving contagion!

    • I love that Tony Robbins quote, and it feels so true. I would think it would be much harder to part with $1 million even if you have $10M than it is to part with $100 or $1000. So we all need to build up that habit! Good for you for recognizing that and acting accordingly! And thanks for the shout-out for Give Directly!

  4. Great and timely reminder

    We can definitely step up our game in this area (both time and money) should probably work it into our yearly goals so we can improve each year.

    I was recently reading about “The Giving Pledge” and the various members that have given over a billion dollars away – there are some pretty impressive stories and the list has been growing steadily.

    • I love the idea of working giving into your yearly goals! We’ve never done that as a percentage, but have always sought to give more each year than we did the year before. That probably can’t continue in early retirement, but we’ll keep thinking of ways to give actual money in addition to volunteering our time.

  5. Earthjustice and Sierra Club are going to be seeing a lot of my dollars in the next four years. One of the items on my 5 to 7 year plan is “increase conservation efforts.”

    I didn’t know those stats from The Atlantic, but I’m not surprised.

    • Yeah, I’m not surprised by the stats either, sadly! I think Earthjustice is going to become more important than ever since they are the people who bring the lawsuits, and if the EPA is going to be severely compromised, we need those lawsuits like never before. :-(

  6. The very first post I ever got pushback on was called “You Don’t Have to Give But You Absolutely Should.” I was floored by how many bloggers (especially those who were close to early retirement) felt that giving later or never giving (and possibly volunteering instead) is enough. It’s true that it’s absolutely everyone’s prerogative to spend however they choose. I just can’t help but think how I would feel if I were ever in need and that was the general public’s sentiment. And volunteering is amazing, don’t get me wrong. But shelters and other organizations can’t pay their bills with our time. They have an overhead to cover, and if my piddly donations can help offset that just a bit, I feel pretty good about myself.

    Maybe later today I’ll scrounge up the link. :)

  7. I don’t know if this is the meta post on charity you’ve been mulling over, but it’s powerful! Thank you for addressing the debt piece. Charitable giving is truly what curbed a lot of my over-consumption and frivolous spending–it really is more motivating, especially once you make a commitment to giving to an organization regularly. Perhaps waiting till you’re out of a debt is putting the cart before the horse, even though it feels like giving first would be, because giving can help teach financial discipline and “sacrifice” that is necessary for getting out of debt & building wealth.

    • This is not *that* post, which I still want to do with you guys! :-) But glad you found it powerful! And a few commenters here have made the excellent point that maybe negative net worth is when it’s okay not to give, but once you flip to positive, even with debt, that’s when it’s time to contribute. I think anyone who has some amount of discretionary income to spend on wants is in a position to give *something* even if that is a tiny amount. And those with negative net worth can probably still give of their time. It all builds those healthy habits! And you guys are such a great example of generosity in action — thanks, as always, for leading by example!

  8. The question of how much to give and how much to save is one I struggle with. We are probably around 3%, and should definitely step it up. We are so fortunate to be in the position we are in! I did make my first ever gift to the ACLU last week.

    • <3 for donating to ACLU. :-) I don't know what the right answer is for us, either, but we've tried to do more every year than the prior year, and we're currently figuring out how we can continue giving after we leave our careers. If you come up with the answer, please let me know! ;-)

  9. I’ll admit that I could certainly give more and it’s something I’m actively working on. My favorite organization is donorschoose.com

    You can donate to classrooms across the country. I love it because you can choose something that you’re passionate about (I’m all about math/science) and each project clearly lists where the money is going. Teachers also provide updates so you can hear about the impact you made.

    I also love Animal Humane Society and Second Harvest Heartland but became annoyed with how many pieces of direct mail I was receiving. Made me wonder how much of my donations were going towards those costs instead of the actual cause.

    • Yes, giving to classrooms is a great option! The librarian at my old school does several campaigns on donorschoose each year, and that allows community members to give even what might seem a small amount to help provide a greater variety of books and resources for our students.

      • That’s so awesome. I love that there are more ways to give to schools now that don’t always involve bake sales and wrapping paper. Hahaha. (Am I super old for thinking that’s still a thing?) ;-)

    • I suspect we can essentially ALL do more than we’re doing. So maybe this is the nudge you need to step up your giving, even a few dollars higher. :-) On the direct mail side, I’ve found that a lot of orgs will take you off the mailing list if you ask — I hate the wasted paper and wasted money for printing and postage.

  10. We give consistently to PBS and Planned Parenthood, and we recently added the ACLU to the list of routine donations we make. Locally we give to the animal rescue and the VA. In addition to cash, as we declutter we donate usable clothing to the VA, and I pick up socks when we’re shopping for the grandkids to drop off there (it’s never too early to learn how fortunate we are, and warm, clean socks are a desperate need). We donate any blankets, towels and the like to the ASPCA, again there’s a huge need. I changed my Amazon Smile donation to the ACLU, seemed like a great deal more money may be needed over the next few years. Our favorite donating remains paying for groceries or essentials for others while shopping. Since relocating to this small mountain town, we have been shocked at the need. Families struggling to pay for formula and diapers, the elderly putting food back because they can’t pay for what’s in their cart, disabled people struggling to pay for medicine. It’s heartbreaking. I no longer think to myself “I’ll give more when the car’s paid off,” although I did that for years. The car can wait, these people can’t. We are still around 1% donations (we only show substantially more than that last year because we donated a car to PBS), but we give a lot that doesn’t show up anywhere (I don’t track the small stuff that’s not deductible). My goal for next year is structured, monthly giving through automatic deduction. Debt is secondary to the issue for the foreseeable future, and I’m okay with that🔗.

    • Thanks for highlighting Amazon Smile! For those who shop on Amazon, it costs you nothing to make sure that a small percent of every purchase goes to the charity of your choosing. (Ours goes to Sierra Club.)

      I love how ingrained generosity is in your mind, and how much you do to help out those in need. So perfect: “The car can wait, these people can’t.” If we’re able to cover our own needs and some wants, we’re doing better than a huge percentage of people, and we have some responsibility to help them. I especially love that you’re helping to teach your grandkids about the importance of giving — that’s a service to them that will pay many dividends over their lifetimes!

      I love your monthly giving goal — for those who are able to do so, it’s by far the most painless way to give. (And thank you for all the safety pins! Love that so much.) :-D

      • Depends what you’re interested in. I like 350.org for climate-specific action, NRDC for being a heavyweight in DC on broad environmental issues including climate, Sierra Club for conservation, Earthjustice for legal challenges and watchdogging, Environmental Working Group for research and advocacy around product safety for the environment and consumers, and could probably give you a few more. ;-)

  11. We donate to the food pantry at my hospital. People come to us for healthcare, but often what they really need is food, clothing, and shelter. How can anyone be healthy without the big three?

    • A big percentage of our donations are local and include food, clothing and money to help families at our school. I work with people everyday who have minimum wage jobs and few/no benefits who are trying to do their best for kids. We also give to our local NPR station and a variety of other organizations – although sometimes I wonder if it would be better to do larger amounts to fewer ones…

      • I don’t know the answer on bigger amounts to fewer orgs vs. smaller amounts to many. We give to many because we don’t want to leave out anyone we care about, but that’s just us! I think it’s great that you give in different ways — and keep giving that money as much as you’re able to. I used to volunteer at a large food bank when we lived in the big city, and they said that food donations were nice, but the effort it took to sort through things made it a break-even proposition. That bank at least would rather receive money that they could spend on bulk food at highly discounted prices. So while we still donate extra food when we have it, we focus on giving cash as much as possible!

    • So true. We don’t spend enough time talking about root causes (future post in the works!), but absolutely — if someone isn’t clothed or is hungry, how much good can you do them with health care?

  12. Thanks for the great article. This was very uplifting.

    I’m a little weird about the debt definition, because I know people with millions of dollars and they have mortgages. It’s their choice not to pay them off. I would instead look at people with negative net worths. I know it’s harder to find studies that do that, but the study had set that as their baseline.

    That charity list is like a Who’s Who of the charities that I support if you throw in the USO.

    I wish the ACLU would protect my first amendment rights against MLM/pyramid schemes that harm tens of millions of Americans each year. I’ve probably helped more than 2 million Americans on the topic, and the smallest escrow account for legal fees from them could help 6 million more. See John Oliver: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6MwGeOm8iI

    • You’re welcome! :-) And you make a great point about debt — we’re “in debt” but have a very positive net worth, so it’s different. And I think anyone who is struggling to make ends meet gets a big pass on this stuff. But once we have discretionary income and aren’t struggling, then it’s time to start thinking about doing what we can, even if that’s tiny.

      On the MLM point, it’s likely the next administration will shut down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and I’d expect a few nonprofits to pop up to try to fill that void — that could be a good thing for you to support, with your focus on that.

      • Unfortunately the CFPB hasn’t tipped its toes in the MLM/pyramid water. I wish they would. I’m more concerned that the next administration will appoint a new head of the FTC (and add commissioners to it).

        For years, the head of the FTC was an ex-Amway lawyer.

        The non-profit Truth in Advertising has been doing great things in pushing the FTC to do their job.

        Unfortunately, I need to focus on self-funding my own first amendment rights since there is no organization out there to help. That was my point about the ACLU. There is a lot low-lying fruit for them to support, that could help millions, but they don’t pick it. Not to single out ACLU, because they do great work. Public Citizen also does great work along the same lines. I just wish that there was someone to fill the gap.

      • It does sound like something is telling you that YOU need to start this organization to combat MLM! That’s how every cause-based organization starts, right? Someone cares a whole lot about something and sees an unmet need… maybe your second act?

      • Lazy Man and Money is my second act.

        I talked with lawyers about making it a non-profit, but they didn’t feel that would give me legal protection that I need.

        My “power” is that Google seems to love the Lazy Man and Money brand on MLMs. I think it has to do with backlinks, SEO, and stuff like that.

        There’s already an organization that I’m a part of: http://mlmpetition.com/. It’s just that there’s a gap where I have to scramble for legal representation. Starting an organization is great, but it puts me back at square one, “Who is going to supply legal representation for it?”

      • Gotcha. Clearly you have thought about this a TON, and are already seeing some traffic from your efforts. I wouldn’t begin to know how best to proceed from here, but it sounds like you’re getting good counsel and asking the right questions!

  13. I must admit it took me awhile to start giving regularly to two charities I believe in. I thought it was a bad idea when I was financially struggling (I’m still not not sure I was wrong, but I could have given more of my time), but when I started doing OK, parting with money was harder to do. I had gotten so used to penny-pinching that I felt almost stingy! But I have to remember just how well off I am compared to the rest of the world, or the country for that matter, and people could really use a lending hand.

    • I think if you’re truly struggling, you 100% get a pass on giving. But there’s a LOT of gray area between struggling and diving into a Scrooge McDuck-sized pool of gold, and that’s where most of us find ourselves. So high five for adjusting your thinking on this and building up those generosity muscles! :-)

  14. We give about 12% of our income after taxes and I’ve always wondered if we should consider the before taxes income or after taxes income in deciding how we want to donate our money. As someone who works for a nonprofit, I completely agree with the sentiment that volunteering will not pay for certain services that truly help people in need. I really wish more people would take on this mentality of splitting their charitable giving between volunteering AND donating, because those donations really make the difference.

    Also, thanks for covering the concept of donating even when you’re “not ready” or still in debt. I’m currently pursuing a master’s degree while working, and although it would be easier to say no to giving back, it’s also helping me build my philanthropic muscles for when I get older and really have the means to make a difference.

    • Thank you for chiming in with this! We are big proponents of giving cold hard cash (well, the electronic version) instead of just volunteering, for all the reasons you said. While volunteering is wonderful, it takes staff time to train and manage volunteers, sometimes so much so that the volunteering really only serves to pad a person’s ego instead of actually helping. So write those checks, people! And then volunteer on top of it if you can.

      Congrats on being such an incredible philanthropist — your donation rate is super impressive, especially knowing that you’re doing that while in grad school! You already have some pretty hefty giving muscles built up! :-)

  15. We give to several animal shelters, especially those in our area and beyond that have been ravaged by storms. The animals are often fostered by individuals or they are temporarily relocated. Those taking care of them out of the goodness of their hearts could use some monetary assistance for basic items, like food.

    I especially like your line “debt is ubiquitous”. Events/net worth can change for the good or bad in a second. This sort of reminds me of Maggie’s post at Northern Expenditure about becoming your future self now.

    Mr. Groovy and I can and should do better. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Hooray for fellow animal lovers! We always give to our local Humane Society, but I had to leave the local charities off this list to avoid giving away where we live. :-) And I always love Maggie’s point of view — couldn’t agree with her more about being your best self now!

  16. During my recent research for a post I discovered that in 2014 over 72% of charitable dollars given in this country came from individuals (out of a staggering total of $350 billion!). That just made me so proud and grateful to be here, and inspired to give more.

    I’d also like to make a plug for leveraging geographical arbitrage for giving. It is a fantastic way to get the highest ROI from your donated dollars. I wrote about this here:


    • Wow, what an uplifting statistic! When I’m feeling discouraged about the direction the country is headed, I will be sure to remember that. Thank you for sharing!

  17. We currently donate 3-4% but I would like it to be at least 10% (this would include donations to our church and public school PTA, which are tax deductible but IMO not really charitable since they support institutions we directly benefit from), so this is a major financial goal for us. I find the statistics about the difference between less wealthy and more wealthy people’s donating habits to be very motivating!

    I like to make sure I am donating both to meet direct needs (e.g., local food bank, and, like Matt, GiveDirectly for international needs) and to support efforts for structural change (e.g. to legal advocacy orgs that I think are particularly effective). I aspire to give for both direct needs and systems change to meet local, national and international needs, but don’t always succeed (hence the need to up my overall giving level). We live in an ultra-blue bubble in a blue state, and so one of my new goals post-election is to support local-level organizations outside my state– for instance, donating to an organization that supports LGBT youth in a state where those kids are particularly likely to face discrimination and hostility.

    • What a fantastic goal! And I’m with you — I find those stats motivating, too! We don’t want to be among those rich deadbeats. ;-) Haha.

      I LOVE how you think about giving — focusing on direct needs and systems change — and I love even more thinking outside of your ultra blue bubble to places where the money is even more needed. You rock. :-D

  18. Wow you pumped that charitable organization portion out pretty fast based on my comment suggestion over the weekend! :-D

    Which one encourages the healthier lifestyle and such? That is something that I would want to support.

    I’ve been going back and forth on this a lot as I near the end of a tax year where “tax deductions” are more valuable than the subsequent year. Which is kind of it’s own kind of it’s own fuckedupness when you really think about it, but everyone else in this position is considering Donor Advised Funds and “bunching deductions” and what have you has the same amount of fuckedupness. I had ot ask myself: If I’m considering taking $5,000 and starting a DAF, why don’t i just give $5,000 to charity and bypass lining the pockets of the financial industry? BUT, the 2% fee that the DAF charges to manage it is less than a lot of the organizations would incur in credit card fees to accept my contribution.

    I recently read this post which is the counter-argument that we should leave the charity to the super rich until we too become super rich: http://www.businessinsider.com/most-people-shouldnt-be-giving-to-charity-2014-10

    I guess, for me, I know that I’m not going to end up as the super wealthy scrooge because the environment I grew up was a very financially generous environment – towards me and towards the community.

    For that reason, I don’t think I’m okay with calling myself myself truly retired until I reach 25x current expenses AND let’s go with, say, another 20% towards charitable giving. So I guess at some point I’m going to need 30x expenses to feel ethical about not having to wake up and go to work for the rest of my life.

    I also think I’m not entirely sure who I want to support. I have a lot of problems with a lot of charities. People paying themselves $200k or more to manage their non-profit. Plus, there are so many organizations whose 990 clearly states they exist for lobbying government, I don’t have a problem with people supporting these entities, people should be able to support whoever they wish to, but it seems backwards that we can deviate our tax dollars from funding the actual government into entities whose self-stated main mission is an attempt at lobbying the government.

    As someone who isn’t a baller, I try to focus smaller operations so that I feel like my $1,000 or whatever is going to make a difference rather than feel like a rounding error.

    I absolutely would rather give $1,000 to five or $2,500 to two organizations than $100 to 50 organizations.

    If you had to twist my arm today, I would probably be supporting:

    – A local symphony which gives free concerts for it’s community as well as scholarships for middle school music students. If that allows some kid to take the risk to pursue music as a career, that is awesome. Plus, I want to make sure others have the opportunity to have a cathartic experience at a concert to get through some emotional struggle like I so often had. Plus, if we don’t keep the arts funded, what kind of society have we become?

    -Water Charity. When it comes to humanitarian issues, access to clean water is something that I feel is more important than almost anything else. We in developed countries are so lucky. Plus, I look at the projects they’ve been doing and it looks awesome —> http://watercharity.com/completed

    If you twisted my arm and I had to dilute it among a 3rd organization, it would either be an animal shelter, a homeless shelter, or one of the military non-profits to pay it forward for everything the military gave to my family in form of lifelong military pension for my grandfather, and access to USAA insurance and Navy Federal banking which I’ve locked in for future generations. Or Hope 4 Young Adults With Cancer, which I mentioned on a previous comment. The group who definitely can’t FIRE or take an extended road trip? Young cancer survivors.

    Last year, when my income jumped from $57k to $76k, I did give “a lot”, mostly to Soldiers Angels, financially and in the form of writing letters and mailing care packages (via Amazon) to troops in hazard zones. As a portion of my gross…well at least it was higher than the wealthy stat you cited, but it still was away lower than it could have been.

    The act of writing and mailing stuff definitely felt like it made a difference but the $$$ felt like a rounding error.

    • The post we talked about on Twitter is a future one, looking at root problems that cost us all money. :-) Though you can definitely support the Alliance for a Healthier Generation if you’re interested in funding work that focuses on driving healthier habits.

      I love how focused you are on generosity — how cool that it’s just in your wiring. and the causes you outlined are all good ones. We do tend to give to a broader array of groups, because we care so much about a range of issues, but I understand wanting to concentrate your giving. The lobbying point is an interesting one. My view has always been: if the laws are bad, then lobbying for better laws that promote environmental protection, for example, is a good thing. That said, any 501(c)(3) that takes fully tax-deductible contributions can only spend like 10% of their funding on lobbying, so it’s a small portion. 501(c)(4)s can lobby more, but those contributions are only partially deductible. And I also am at peace with heads of charitable orgs making a competitive wage, because if we paid them all peanuts, we’d lose them to the private sector. We need them to earn enough to keep them in the nonprofit sector, contributing their great thinking and talents to work that’s a lot more important than selling toothpaste or sneakers. I definitely get people’s hesitation around that stuff, but to me at least, the economic argument for needing to pay people enough to keep them makes total sense.

      • I guess I’d like to believe that people starting non-profits and working for them aren’t doing it for the money. If I wanted to be wealthy, starting a non-profit or managing one doesn’t seem like the rational first choice. 200k is just stupid amount of money to most people, and it’s 4x more than I would expect to make going forward from wage income because my mantra is more responsibility = more stress = more unhealthy life. I see these people starting non profits living in New York City, having their non-profit office paying New York City rents, and paying themselves NYC salaries. Why do they need to be based in NYC and be subsidized by other people’s good will?

      • I think that’s a totally valid question. But what if their mission is to serve people in NYC? Should expensive places not have charitable orgs? I think it’s a totally personal thing, and you should give to the orgs that you’re comfortable giving to, and not give to those who spend too much on staff in your view. And if overhead is a concern to you, NEVER EVER give when someone is running a race for charity. Those things are a total cluster of overhead and money going to some fundraising consultant. If friends say “I’m doing this X for charity Y, and will you give?” I say, “I’ll write a check directly to the org instead.” I know it sounds cold, but I can’t let 50% of my donation line the pockets of some fundraising company.

      • Of course expensive places should have charities, I’m talking about global organizations that put their home base in NYC for no reason other than they want to live there. And no kidding about those races. That’s why I hate Crowdfunding in general – needless middle man taking a cut.

      • Oh, I gotcha about the orgs in expensive places. Though having worked with quite a few orgs like that, I doubt it’s because they just want to live in NYC, but more because that’s where things happen, and where the most socially-concerned people who would work for them tend to congregate. Same for DC or San Francisco. Not defending it, but I think it would be tough for, say, the ACLU to fill its ranks with top attorneys to defend our civil liberties if they were located in some random small city.

  19. I’d like to remind everyone that giving doesn’t have to mean giving money.

    Sometimes giving can also mean giving others the gift of our time.

    Ms. Our Next Life focused on monetary charitable giving, but there are plenty of other kinds of giving that shouldn’t be forgotten.

    • In a perfect world, we’d all do both. And while it’s true that volunteering time is important and is essential to the work of many organizations, charities can’t keep the lights on or keep their staff employed without dollars. So this really is a call to action to give monetarily!

      • For now, my main donation to the community is time. I hear you: theyneed money to pay the electricity bill.

        My time is donated to the school, mostly into organising events that make profit. We then ask the school how we best spend this money for them.

        For now, this is what I do. I used to donate to the red cross. After a comma failure from them towards me while donating blood, I stopped. I yet have to find a good new cause.

      • You already made my argument for me. :-) I think it’s fantastic that you donate your time, so please keep doing that! And then over time if you can donate a bit of money, all the better. There are so many important causes out there, all of whom would benefit from your contributions.

  20. My biggest consistent donation recipient is what Kate mentioned already, donors choose. (https://www.donorschoose.org/)
    You can choose classroom projects from any subject that tickles your fancy that day. Plus, you can set up a recurring donation each month and it just stashes it until you get a reminder email that “you have $XX to spend”. Then I go and search around and find something to donate to.

    The other donation recipients I usually give to is Denver Rescue Mission. They have a lot broader reach than just “helping homeless” and I like their message and mission. No, I haven’t lived there in over 8 yrs now, and yes, I’m sure I could find someplace similar around here, but I like them and so I give to them.

    The rest of my charity currently goes to conservation efforts. Trout Unlimited (http://www.tu.org/about-tu) is my fave – protecting North America’s coldwater fisheries – i.e. our streams and rivers. I also give to Sierra Club, and Ducks Unlimited occasionally.

    And finally, our church. Although i don’t think of that as charity, so I forget about it when thinking of these thing.

    This post made me realize all of that still doesn’t add up to a lot percentage wise. BUT, considering it all comes from my allowance fund, it adds up to a big percentage of that. Except for church, that comes out of the general fund. Some years it’s been as much as 30% but most years it’s around 9-10%. It’s a lot for me considering it’s allowance based and that’s money not going towards “selfish things.”

    • It’s great you make such a point of giving, and maybe this is the nudge you needed to give just a little more. :-) A lot of the things we all care about are going to be under increased threat in the next four years, so it’s time for those of us who can afford to do so to step up.

      And to you donating to the Denver Rescue Mission — I left all of our local causes off of this, for obvious reasons. ;-) But we still donate to two orgs where we used to live, because they do such incredible work. So I love that you still give to help Denver!

  21. A few years ago, I started giving the profits of my small business to some local charities, and it feels really good. Since the small business is a new creation and thus money new to the pot, I don’t “miss” the money I donate.

    My SO does a lot of pro-bono work, and I support him by paying for his health insurance, and contributing more to our shared accounts, so I play a small role in that too. I worry a little bit about the amount of pro-bono work he does because it may not be sustainable, but so far it’s been working out ok.

    I’m excited to read about the charities others support because they align with my values as well.

    • That is SO AWESOME! I’d definitely love to have a “charitable second act” job in retirement, one that entirely funds causes we care about. Maybe if I ever monetize the blog, I’ll treat it that way. And with your SO doing a lot of pro bono work, it seems like you guys really live your values! High fives all around. :-)

  22. Thank you so much for this! We are getting on the donating band-wagon and I wanted to share our method. Of note, the husband is not on board with consistent donations (he’ll sometimes give when someone comes along asking, but nothing more and unless directly approached, he’ll never think of it), so we’re starting small. This year every month we add up last month’s income and donate 1% to some charity (My argument to him: if you make a dollar, you can afford to give away 1 penny, and live on the 99 cents left). Each month it’s a different charity (and if the hubs comes up with one, it’s auto-donated, no questions asked). Then every year, I am going to double the amount; so next year we get to up it to 2%, then 4%, 8%, 16%, up to 25% (is my ultimate dream budget). This way we’re easing into it, as our debts are paid off (we have 2 mortgages and a 0% car loan), we have more wiggle room and it’s put to good use. The 25% goal timing aligns nicely with our FIRE goals as well. We’re (I’m) hoping that after a few years of a different charity every month, we’ll come across a few we really like, and then can focus on (or we may just continue on the “flavor of the month” method :)

    • Wow, you have ambitious giving goals and I LOVE IT! What an awesome plan for your life and spending. And though I definitely see the argument that we should funnel more money into fewer causes, I think we’re more like you in wanting to support a lot of things. And so I totally appreciate spreading your money around to several orgs over time. We’ve given one-time donations to lots of folks, and have definitely zeroed in on those we want to support forever (a lot of whom are on the list in the post), so I’m sure you’ll figure out quickly how you want to proceed. High five for being awesomely generous! :-)

  23. I asked a friend who works in fundraising and politics and so on for some insight and my list includes many of yours plus SPLC, CRR, and Lambda Legal. I’ve donated half of my annual allowance already, so I can’t hit all of them this year, but I will cycle through them. As a percentage of our income, our giving is still low, but part of that is the uncertainty of how much of my Dad’s healthcare I will have to foot the bill for in the future. The good thing is that I regularly think about how I want to give back and find other ways to do it if I can’t “afford” to right this minute. While wealth building, there isn’t a year since I made my way out of debt that I haven’t found a worthy cause to donate time or money to. Being actively giving makes a huge difference in maintaining the mentality that it’s as much my responsibility to help others as it is to help myself. I hope we all remember that.

    • Those are great additions! Thank you for adding them! And I love how you think about it: fostering the mentality that we need to help ourselves AND help others. I definitely understand needing to hold funds back to support your dad, and that’s its own form of helping others!

  24. We decided that we would give no matter what when we got married. We were $50k in debt and made $12k that first year. Not really a winning combination. But it was a line in the sand for us. We now have two kinds of giving. One to a few organizations that we give to every month or year. Then we also have a giving fund. We put money into that every month so we can be responsive to the needs around us. It’s funny because although it was featured on Rockstar finance. It had the fewest views of any of the my posts featured. http://www.montanamoneyadventures.com/the-giving-fund/ Even if others aren’t super interested in it yet, it’s central to our personal finances, so it will get a bit of blog time. =)

    • I love that you guys keep your giving fund, and I think the lower clicks on that feature compared to others make sense the same way that lower giving among rich people makes sense. By encouraging wealth building, we’re encouraging people to focus on their own self-interests. That’s why we all need to keep beating this drum to remind all of us that it’s not just about our own interests. We have a very real responsibility to do good in the bigger world, too!

  25. I think my husband and I could do more, but we currently give to our local public broadcasting station, Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, and Amnesty International. Also, since we don’t have children (we’d probably do this even if we did – just not as much), we’ve indicated that a large percentage of our estate is to go to our favorite non-profit/charity.

    • That’s a great list! And what a terrific point about including charitable giving in your estate planning. We have that, too, since we also don’t have kids, but you’re making me wonder if we should update ours… Hmm… ;-)

  26. I typically do all my giving to the local community where I know the effect of my hard earned money is making a difference. I have a tough time sending donations to big large firms as I am never certain how it will be best be put to use. I believe in the tangible I guess.

    On the topic of gratitude itself, thanks for reminding us and I am thankful to enjoy your blog and always thankful for the link on your blog roll.

    Happy Thanksgiving Mr and Mrs ONL

    • That’s a great approach to giving, Chris! We do a lot of our giving locally, too, but couldn’t include that on this list because it would give us away prematurely. ;-) But there are so many causes locally that we care about, especially land conservation. I’m grateful for your voice in our community, too! I know you already celebrated Thankgiving, but it’s always a good time to be thankful. :-)

      • I think my biggest giving is sweat equity and providing my skillets to local groups, we all know our time is valuable and I donate it the most. Environmental awareness initiatives, tourism, chamber of commerce, trail stewards, the list goes one. Have a wonderful weekend to you both :)

      • It’s awesome you are so involved, especially if you’re willing to do that hard physical work that not everyone can do. Every time I walk up a trail that has steps carved or retaining walls built, I send out a thank you to the amazing people who volunteer on trail crews. <3

  27. I love your thoughts here, ONL. Giving begins before the wealth accumulates, and lasts long into perpetuity. :)

    Yesterday I just launched a Charity Challenge on my site and I’d love if you would comment in favor of one of your charitable organizations!


    I’ll be donating $100+ to someone’s favorite charity and all it takes to enter is a simple comment. For every unique commenter, I’ll add an additional $1 just for fun.

    Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours. :)


  28. The last few holidays and special events I’ve been giving gifts that involve donations to try and have at least part of the holiday budget go toward charitable causes. For example, my kids are obsessed with pandas and narwhals (why narwhals I don’t know), which are both endangered species, so I got them both an “adoption kit” from the world wildlife fund. My aunt helps rescue a certain breed of dog, so I got her a donation to that rescue mission. Etc. People seem to like it and it makes a difference.

    I have two big charitable giving goals that are in my long-term financial plan. One is to one day set aside enough to open a Vanguard charitable giving fund (currently $25k), and the other is to start a scholarship for community college students. Long ago I started out at a community college, and today I have my MBA from the top public school in my region, and I would like to help other students do what I did through a scholarship.

    • That is such a great way to go! We love giving donation gifts, too. It both gives you, the gift giver, the chance to give, and helps reinforce the importance of giving to your recipient. And I LOVE your long-term giving goals. How wonderful that you’re working to give back to help other students get the same boost you did — especially community college students, who often don’t have all the advantages that other students have. :-)

  29. ONL,

    I really liked your post, in particular your focus on giving now, while in debt and working towards FI. I grew up giving a bit to charity now and then, but when I met my wife, we both committed to give 10% of our gross income to charity. We started when we got married and continued through my medical school and her graduate school, where we essentially gave 10% our “income” from school loans.

    In the middle of my residency program, we found ourselves talking about giving more some day when I became a rich physician. But after really thinking about it, we realized that if we didn’t give more then, we probably wouldn’t in the future, so we started giving 20% of my 50k/yr gross income. It made things a little tight at the time, but set the stage for us to continue giving that percentage of my current salary, which allows us to have a much bigger impact. Also, by giving some to a donor advised fund, this will allow us to keep giving larger amounts well into early retirement. This has delayed our early retirement date by a few years, but is so worth it. We are also doing our best to teach our kids to consistently give as well.

    Thanks again for a great post!

    • Thanks so much! And WOW, you guys are so impressive. I love that you have made such a point from so early in your careers to give in a focused way. The world needs more people like you! No doubt you’ve got some major giving muscles built up by now. I definitely punted my responsibility to give early in my career (I remember getting a fundraising call from my university, and I said, “Can you please give me five years to get my act together, and then I promise I’ll give?” And they really did hold off on calling me for five years! And then I did give.) ;-) And while I wish I’d given more in those early years, I’m focused on doing more now to make up for it. Thanks for sharing your super inspiring story! We could all stand to take a lesson from you. :-)

  30. I usually start with charities people I know are working with or for timely donations depending on time of year. For example, Movember is here and so I gave to my co-workers team in his name. Also with Thanksgiving season here I gave to a food bank.

    One thing to note, there is no shortage of charities to give to so it is important to pick and choose wisely. Once you get on a list of people who donate, you are hounded until the day you die. About 10 years ago I was donating fairly regularly to a few charities ( EarthJustice, American Trees, Cancer research etc…) . Since then, my phone rings all hours of the day and night and they will NEVER stop. I actually got a call from the Red Cross on Thanksgiving day !!! It makes me want to stop donating to some degree. I won’t but it makes me a bit annoyed. My house is my sanctuary but they invade it. Oh well, no good deed goes unpunished ! :-)

    Nice post, glad to hear others are charitbale and care about the plight of others as I do.


    • It’s true that the charity hounding is no joke, though we’ve found that more and more of them are responsive to requests for emails instead of paper. And in all honesty we don’t give all of them our phone numbers for this very reason.

      But thank goodness you give in spite of that and recognize our important responsibility to do so!

  31. I love giving to really good local organizations, too. I support Independent Media, which I think will be more valuable right now than so many people realize. I give to Lambda Legal. Then I give to my local abortion access fund and a community organization that supports LGBT youth in really incredible ways. Then I give individually to folks in need, whether that is diapers, straight cash, or something else.

    • It’s so admirable how wired you are to help others! I love that you give at all levels and to both organizations and individuals. Keep doing the good you’re doing in the world, ZJ! :-)

  32. Thanks for writing about this. Charitable giving is one of the issues that causes me to really struggle with the whole concept of personal finance. I notice that during periods when I’ve been really focused on optimizing my own finances, I become much, much more selfish and less willing to give money or time to worthy causes. In fact, I often feel that caring about my own finances and caring about giving to others are mutually exclusive mindsets. (Like, in theory I should be able to care about both at the same time, but in reality I’m either focused on what I can do for myself or on what I can do for the world.) It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    • Glad it resonated! :-) I feel the same way — sometimes we get so focused on our goals that we don’t give what we should, even though we can clearly afford it. And I sort of refuse to believe that the two mindsets are mutually exclusive, only because I can’t find a way to be okay with that, though I think it’s definitely hard. And I know it’s easy to say this year because we’ve already hit our goals pre-bonuses, but we’re determined to give more this year than we ever have before, and to try to keep building that giving muscle. I’m not sure yet what our giving will look like in retirement (other than giving lots and lots of time), but we’re determined to keep at giving actual cash, since that’s what most charitable orgs actually need. And geez, if you see those stats about what people too poor to itemize their tax deductions give, it’s a reminder that truly everyone can give.