December 23, 2019


Don’t “Give Back” — Give

By: Peter Lipsett

As you prepare your holiday shopping list, I’m sure are looking at all the people you took from in some way this year and are planning your gifts such that you appropriately compensate them for your own earnings at their expense.

What, you bristle at that?

Of course you do! The presents under the tree aren’t guilt-assuagement – they’re gift wraps boxes of joy and love.

Yet too often we allow a sense of guilt to hover over our charitable giving. We see this most commonly with the overused phrase “give back.”

Many people with a free-market mindset are rightly uncomfortable with this phrase. Considering the “give back” idea juxtaposed with our yuletide gifting traditions makes the reasoning very clear.

Our philanthropy shouldn’t come from a place of guilt but rather a desire to make the world better. This is the real reason Bernie Sanders says he “doesn’t believe in charities.” He certainly believes in redistributing funds and think it can lead to positive outcomes. However, he and his ilk can’t fathom that non-centralize planning of those financial outlays could produce a better world.

You can and I can, though. We know that the spontaneous order of private giving allows for more prosperity and improved lives.

As we approach the end of the year, when so many Americans end up making their charitable donations, consider three reasons why you should care about and engage in charitable giving, even if you are still early in your career.

-Philanthropy matters for our principles. Government keeps growing, and as Howard Husock lays out in his recent book Who Killed Civil Society, the human aid sector is a big piece of that growth. Government is crowding out the private philanthropic organizations that used to do so much to help people get on a path to a better life. If you come from a conservative or libertarian mindset, you should be appalled by this on its face. Yes, shrinking government is a long, hard slog. One step in the right direction is engaging in charitable giving to organizations that take little or no government money. Let’s make those the driving force in human aid and allow philanthropy to crowd out government instead of the other way around.

-Philanthropy matters for the issues and organizations we care about. Think of a cause your passionate about. Whatever it is, it’s more than likely a cause that needs more financial resources to be successful. Every dollar going into an organization matters, but that’s doubly true for the smaller and local groups that younger donors tend to support. These organizations would welcome your involvement, and you’ll surely gain from being engaged and knowing you’re driving change. Giving locally also puts us closer to the mission, which means we can ensure our dollars are being used effectively.

-Philanthropy matters for you individually. Let’s dispense with the myth that donors should get nothing in return for their gift. No, a donation to a cause shouldn’t be the same as a transaction at Target (where you can get a nicer tote bag or mug than the one the charity offers as an enticement to give). At a minimum, you’ll get the much-hyped warm glow from giving, and that is a nice thing to have. But there’s more. Research suggests givers actually have broader networks, are happier in their lives, and even earn more because of their giving? We give because we want to benefit a cause, but let’s not completely discount the positive knock-on effects for us as individuals – benefits that over time allow us to give more and engage more, creating a virtuous cycle.

Just Get Started

If you’re already giving regularly, you understand the value of philanthropy. If you’re only giving a little here and there or not yet giving at all, there’s no better time than now to get started.

Here are three quick tips on getting off the ground with giving:

-First, make it a habit. Dedicate a time to give yourself headspace to think about giving and make it a routine.

-Second, focus your giving. Once it’s a habit, you’ll start learning more about what you really care about and which groups are most in sync with your goals. Focus more giving there and less elsewhere.

-Third, avoid going it alone. Instead, work with your spouse or partner, form a giving circle, or use a tool such as a donor-advised fund like the Novus Society, a program I run at DonorTrust that aims to cultivate the charitable practices of givers under 40.

You don’t buy that sweater for your mom out of a burdensome guilt about all she did to raise you (though, pro tip, she’ll probably appreciate you recognizing all that occasionally). You do it because it’s fun to do and you enjoy the act of giving.

Similarly, don’t “give back.” Be a giver. Do it because by engaging philanthropically, you indeed can change the world for the better. With that as the goal, why wouldn’t you go ahead and start now?