Why I'm making a family giving plan in 2012

The commercial says that just a couple quarters can change a child's life. But you have to know where your quarters are to give them away.

The wrapping paper is finally picked up – well, all besides a few errant scraps littering my living-room rug. The stockings have slowly been depleted of their candy stash. The kids’ gifts have migrated to their bedrooms and the toy box (except for the Captain America and Thor masks, which Owen and William have not removed in days.)

In short, though our tree still stands and school is out of session for another week and a half, life is getting back to normal.

Which leads me to wonder if my kids really realize how, well, abnormal our version of “normal” is?

I know that, though we work to keep our Christmases relatively simple, I have come to rely on being able to provide the kids with gifts that, in other cultures, would be nothing short of extravagant. Not even just world standards: there are families right in our community who would find our “scaled back” holidays unthinkably luxurious.

I want my kids to understand just how lucky they are, even when money is tight. But it’s not so easy to make my children understand it when I can’t quite wrap my brain around it myself, and frankly, sometimes don’t want to. Even knowing that there is true, desperate need in the world doesn’t make my first-world “problems” completely disappear. And it can feel so starkly hopeless when I consider that, even if I gave away every last penny I owned, I still couldn’t solve that true and desperate need the world over.

I’m reminded of a lovely post that Tsh of Simple Momwrote last summer. Tsh had been blogging about her trip to the Philippines with Compassion International, and acknowledged that it can be difficult to read and watch and learn about huge need, like the kind of need she witnessed on her trip, when we feel powerless to really change things. But she also stressed the importance of letting that discomfort spark action. From Tsh’s post:

The thing I’ve realized this week, though, is that there’s a difference between guilt and conviction. The guilt is what causes that lump in your throat, where you can’t decide whether to swallow down your apathy or puke it all up in anger.

But conviction is that stirring deep inside you, when you acknowledge that guilt-like feeling, and instead of letting it fester, you mold and shape it into something productive.

I’m generous in principle, but I’ve always been disorganized about giving; which has led to not giving enough when I could make a real difference, and at other times, impulsively giving too much. I think I’ve always had this sense that giving should be something you do from the heart, spontaneously. Something that should just happen, without having to think a lot about it ahead of time. It takes the romance out of giving to plan it and research it and budget for it.

Well, true. It’s not terribly romantic to spend hours researching a nonprofit or entering charitable giving line-items into the budget, but it turns out, it’s kind of necessary. I can say “sure!” when the cashier asks me if I’d like to donate a dollar to the charity du jour, but if I don’t even know anything about the organization, is it really a smart use of my money or just a way to feel good about myself for a few seconds and then go about my first-world business once again?

The fact is that unless I make a concrete, organized giving plan with my family, I’ll never give as much as I know I could, or as much as I’d really like to. And it’s time to stop being so sloppy about something so important.

I know many of us will be thinking about New Year’s resolutions and goals and intentions this weekend. I’ve got a lot of plans and hopes for 2012, some of which are relatively frivolous, others that are purely selfish. And I think that’s just fine. But while I’m thinking about my personal and professional and family goals, this year I’m taking a sharp look at our charitable efforts and making a real plan.

Because if there’s one thing I want to help my kids learn, it’s how to give: not just to want to give, not just why to give, but how to actually make a plan and make it happen. Just like any other goal, a plan is essential. So I’m making a detailed family giving plan for 2012. Would you like to join me?

I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to work with Kidworth, a free online service that helps kids learn to save, spend, and share wisely, on this series of sponsored posts. Learning to use Kidworth has really encouraged me to become more intentional in teaching my children about money…especially the “sharing” part.


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