December Challenge: Give
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Well, we did it. We weathered the consumerist onslaught that is Black Friday (and Red Thursday and Cyber Monday . . .) Now we’ve arrived at the light at the end of it all: Giving Tuesday, which is very convenient for this month’s theme.
You’ve probably noticed many of my newsletter action items are financial donations: that’s because it’s one way for individual action to turn into wider social/structural change. This month I’ll ask you to give, yes, but also to consider your own giving philosophy and how you can make it sustainable for you in the long term.
According to Canada Helps, only 30% of Canadians claimed charitable donations on their taxes last year. Imagine what the world could be like if we doubled or tripled that?
If you’re a frugal Freddie or Freda, this conversation might be seriously uncomfortable. Hello, kindred, I see you. But frugal people are often best set up to give and know the value of spending judiciously. More importantly, generosity is a muscle that you can pump up — with or without a three-ghost intervention.
If this brings up stress because times are tight, don’t worry. We’re all about doing what we can here at FMFP. Even contributing the smallest amount to someone in need is a way to feel a little bit richer.
It does, in fact, feel good for everyone, and giving money away is one of the only scientifically proven ways to wring some happiness out of our hard-earned ducats. You can buy happiness, but it doesn’t look like a Lamborghini or the new it bag, which provide more of a sugar rush than true satiety. Sharing the wealth can make us feel healthier and wealthier, and the generosity rush can be seen in kids younger than two. Giving activates the same brain regions as food and sex! Generosity is, after all, evolutionarily useful, a way to make and strengthen bonds.
For me, a recovering cheapskate, donating money inspires feelings of abundance and reminds me I have more than enough — a rare feeling in a capitalist world set up to make us compare, climb, and compete. In our extraction-mindset world, sharing our wealth, however modest it may be, is a regenerative act that seeds new possibilities.
Now, not all non-profits are good ones, and there are important critiques of white saviourism and other colonial philanthropic mindsets. Some charities are corrupt or push their own agenda (e.g., religious conversion). But that doesn’t mean we throw our hands up and buy a new Xbox instead: we can make good choices with careful research. Look for organizations that have significant involvement from the communities they serve, and look at their most recent annual report. You can also turn to assessment sites like Charity Intelligence or, if you’re anxious about having the most impact, fund organizations recommended by Give Well, which does incredibly thorough research informed by the principles of effective altruism.
Hold up, isn’t this an environmental newsletter? But here I’ll quote Paul Hawken, from his new (and excellent) book Regeneration: “Social justice is not a sideshow to the emergency. Injustice is the cause. . . . Reversing the climate crisis is an outcome. Regenerating human health, security and well-being, the living world, and justice is the purpose.”
So this month our challenge is to not just give, but assess what we have to give and how it feels. Let’s help fund a better world, and buy ourselves a little happiness along the way.
As I’ve admitted before, I have hoarding tendencies. No one is going to find my cat entombed by old newspapers, but I love having stuff “just in case.” Somehow my hatred of waste and my foundational frugality means that I hang on to more than I need. But I’m learning, slowly, to stop hoarding resources, and let some of that go. That not only means I have a little more space, but I can help other people get something they need and prevent the purchase of redundant stuff.
This month, consider thinning out some of your superfluous stuff and giving it away in a targeted way (that is, not dumping it at the local thrift store). That might mean posting in a Buy Nothing or Free Stuff group, offering things to friends, or giving it to a newcomer family. (More on rehoming responsibly here.) For the full happiness effect, make sure you’re giving it directly to a fellow human. This month, I’ll be rehoming 24 items in what I consider a reverse Advent calendar: I’m giving away things instead of getting them.
You could also give food: shout-out to the Toronto Miracle, happening December 4, which will collect non-perishables right from your door. Last year, I tooted around my neighbourhood on my bike, picking up items, and it was a joyous thing. Across the city, we collected 140,000 items in one day. You can register for a pickup here. I also always support dropping off fresh food at your local community fridge, because no one wants to survive on Kraft Dinner and baked beans.
This is a great way to get kids involved in giving: while money is abstract, they can pick out a book or toy for a kid in need or help shop for a food bank donation, as FMFP reader Lindsay does with her kiddos.
Though giving stuff is nice, donating money has the biggest impact and gives the most flexibility to organizations or people in need. Here are a few tips to give like a pro:
Set up regular donations that organizations can count on. Imagine how hard it would be to live your life if you didn’t know when your next paycheque would be, or how much money it would bring.
Save those tax receipts. Not all causes will qualify, but many do. I have a “tax receipt” tag in my email and file those messages as soon as they come in. If you donate through a platform like Canada Helps, they’ll also send you a round-up of all your donations for tax time. In Canada, for the first $200 you get 15% back from the feds, and 29% over $200. Refunds range between 4 and 24% provincially.
Consider putting donations in your will, which expands your legacy and will also have tax benefits even after you’re gone.
Gift a charitable donation. If someone you normally buy a gift for has a cause they care about, make a donation to an appropriate organization.
Give things like Aeroplan miles (which expire regularly — maybe check on yours) or other loyalty points. Stocks, bonds, and securities can be donated too.
Set a goal (whether a dollar amount or a percentage of income) and track it if it’s not automated. I keep a spreadsheet where I can see where I’ve given year over year.
Give other people’s money.
Another way to do some good? Fundraise! This year I’ll donate about $1,500 of other people’s money, from sharing seeds and making bouquets and candles, which I do annually. Kids are great helpers here too: who, with a beating heart, can resist a lemonade stand?
If you’re trying to cut down on the physical gifts you receive, you could also start a fundraiser on Facebook or CanadaHelps, and ask people to donate there instead of giving you a gift. Donors will get tax receipts, you won’t get any more ugly sweaters or crappy mugs. Win-win!
Double your impact.
I’m extremely skeptical of matching drives run by charities — “a donor has a generously offered to match the next $10,000 in donations” — because is the moneybags matcher really going to withhold that money if they don’t reach their goal? Doubtful. You’ll see a lot of that today, but try not to let it sway you.
But what IS legit is getting an employer to match your donations. I love this perk, because it can double the good you can do. Not everyone has this option, though, including me. If that’s the case, maybe you have a friend who does have matching and is willing to donate the money for you. (Donation laundering, the most wholesome scam you can run.) I’ve done this for three years now thanks to a good friend. I give her a list and transfer the funds, she makes the donations. This can mean, as the donor, you’re giving up a tax receipt, but my lovely friend goes the extra mile and calculates her bonus tax break, then refunds me that money (which I roll into next year’s donation).
Talk about it.
We’re trained not to talk about money, to avoid bragging, and so often we don’t talk about the ways we give back. But I think that’s a mistake. We certainly show off enough other things — new boots or a vacation, for example — that don’t benefit anyone but ourselves. I think it’s important to normalize this discussion, because it often will inspire others. We spend so much time talking about what we have, or might like to have: let’s spend more time talking about what we give away.
When I did my giving project in 2018 — donating $20 a day for a month and writing about where I gave and how it felt — I had fantastic conversations with people about their own practices and philosophies, and I know what I did directly inspired at least a few others.
Where am I at now? I’ve upped my own commitment, moving from 1% to 5% to 10% of my modest after-tax income. I say this not to brag, but to be transparent. Not talking about money simply reinforces the status quo. There are, of course, factors that make this easier for me: having low fixed costs, not having children, expecting to inherit money someday (although I still save more than average for retirement). For me, it was important for my giving to feel a little uncomfortable at first, but before long I was wishing I had set aside even more to give.
Do you want help with a personal donation plan or finding the right places to donate to? I know a fair amount about the theory and practical execution and am happy to jump on the phone and talk things through.
Lastly, as eco-conscious folks, I’m sure you’re wondering where you might give some money to help ensure a liveable planet, so I’ve rounded up some worthy orgs if you’d like to make it rain.
But first, as a special end of the year occasion, with the newsy potentially winding down, I’ve set-up a special fundraiser on CanadaHelps just for FMFP readers. It’s in support of Ecojustice, which focuses on winning important environmental legal cases and setting new precedents. I chose it because large-scale change requires the force of the law, and it’s also an A-rated organization at Charity Intelligence.
If this free newsletter has been meaningful to you over the last two years, I’d love it if you made a (tax-deductible!) contribution by December 31. The dedication of FMFP readers has been a bright spot even in the many dark periods of the last couple years. Let’s all hold up our little flames and see what light we can create.
A green giving guide
(NB: I’ve added base of operations in parentheses so you can assess tax deductibility.)
Environmental activism: Ecojustice (Canada); the Clear Air Task Force (U.S., but there’s a Canadian tax-deductible avenue here), which fights for climate policy change in the second-highest-emitting country on Earth; advocacy group 350.org (U.S. & Canada); Sunrise Movement (U.S.), an incredibly effective youth activist movement; All We Can Save Project (U.S.), which supports women climate leaders (who are the most likely ones to clean up this mess).
Women’s reproductive health, because women deserve self-determination and bodily autonomy, and the world doesn’t need the stress of unwanted children: Population Services International (U.S.), Planned Parenthood (U.S.). (More on the overlap between women’s rights and the environment here.)
Indigenous sovereignty and well-being: Unist’ot’en Camp (Canada), where land defenders are still fighting the Coastal GasLink pipeline and recently were violently removed by the RCMP; Raven Trust (Canada), a legal defence fund for Indigenous environmental activists; Indigenous Environmental Network (U.S.), which supports various local land and water protectors; Sovereign Seeds (Canada), which supports seed saving and sharing of traditional foods and knowledge.
Food sovereignty: Black Creek Community Farm in Toronto, which grows organic food in the city and provides hands-on learning experiences; Sundance Harvest’s Growing in the Margins program, which teaches urban agriculture to those with lived experiences of oppression; La Via Campesina, an international peasants’ movement.
Wins of the Week
“One can help propel this work along — goodness knows I haven’t stopped giving speeches and writing articles and lobbying for its success — but I long since understood that I would never meet more than a hundredth of the people who have made this vision work. And that is a remarkably sweet thing to know: none of this depends on any one of us, all of it depends on all of us.” — Bill McKibben, “When Movements Work,” on the fossil fuel divestment movement
Everything you all do — things large and small — is a gift to the future. Here are a few things we’re celebrating this week:
Angelina got a Tushy bidet attachment and reports using much less TP! (More on TP here.)
Lyn is giving a charitable donation instead of a physical gift (she’s already ahead of the game!)
Steph thinned out her kids’ toys and offered them up on Facebook. At the same time, she asked if people had any winter clothes for donation, and she collected those when she dropped off the toys. (I call that a twofer.)
You too can have all the glory of having a win showcased! Just hit reply or share them in our FB group, because I love wins like a Who loves Christmas. I’m especially interested in how you might be giving this month, or hearing about your own philosophy. See you in two weeks!
PS: Duncan shared some work friends are doing to teach skills in their community: check out Life School House to see how these events work or to host one of your own!