How to make your giving more effective

By Sean Stannard-Stockton

Originally Published: November 24, 2007 in the Financial Times

Thanksgiving is a time to “give thanks”, but giving thanks well is harder than you think. We are in the middle of Giving Season, that time of year when many Americans donate time or money to their favourite non-profit. Most people give reactively to a variety of causes that catch their attention for one reason or another. There is a better way to celebrate the Giving Season.

This year, when you are making your holiday gift list, consider one of these excellent books that will show you and your family how to “give thanks” well and find a deeper meaning to financial success.

Tracy Gary is a philanthropist and donor adviser extraordinaire. Born into a very wealthy family, Gary decided at the age of 25 to give away all of her money. Now in her 50s, she lives on $45,000 a year. She spends her time teaching donors how to give well and recently published a new edition of her book Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy.

Inspired Philanthropy is about how to move from reactive giving, giving to the charities that ask, to pro-active giving, giving to the non-profits whose missions match your values and beliefs. It is full of practical suggestions, and simple worksheets, and even includes a CD-ROM full of tools to make you a better philanthropist. Unlike a tax or estate planning book targeting the very wealthy, Inspired Philanthropy gives relevant advice for people who volunteer their time, donate $100 a year or $1m.

In addition to covering such nuts and bolts territory as creating a mission statement, how much to give and where to give, Inspired Philanthropy covers advanced areas that even experienced philanthropists will find instructive. Sections covering concepts such as engaging effectively with the non-profits you support, networking with other big donors and planning for your heirs will help big donors ramp up their impact to a higher level.

There are hundreds of books explaining how to spend, save and invest money well, but only a few that teach how to give effectively. Inspired Philanthropy was first published 10 years ago, and the newest edition is updated and is still the best book on the subject. Personal financial planning expert Suze Orman wrote the introduction and a new section on legacy planning was written with financial and philanthropic adviser Phil Cubeta.

There are only four things that money can be used for: spending, saving, paying taxes or giving away. I believe the tools and strategies employed to address these objectives should not be viewed in isolation. In the book Beyond Success: Building a Personal, Financial, and Philanthropic Legacy, author Randall Ottinger makes exactly this case.

A successful high-tech executive from a wealthy family, Ottinger interviewed a who’s who of successful Americans for Beyond Success. Through relating these conversations and presenting short stories of people who have moved beyond financial success to create a meaningful intersection of wealth, family and philanthropy, Ottinger leads the reader to a broader understanding of success.

Ottinger weaves together the various stories he tells to provide a road map for crossing a terrain he sees as made up of metaphysical mountains and valleys, where people get lost in their search for significance, leadership and success. Eight common practices of people who complete the journey are described at length as well.

Research shows that amazing benefits result from teaching children about philanthropy at a young age. Philanthropy provides an ideal venue through which children can be engaged on subjects such as investing, responsibility and family values. There is probably no better book for young givers than A Kid’s Guide to Giving by Freddi Zeiler. Zeiler was just 14 when she wrote this book to help other kids learn about charitable giving. With many tips and tricks for leveraging donations (from throwing a bake sale for charity to getting a local business to sponsor a matching gift), this accessible book is a great introduction to philanthropy. It is so well written that many parents will find themselves reading it when their kids are done.

This holiday season, give the gift of giving well. The books above will delight the budding or experienced philanthropist on your list. By helping them give well, you’ll be “paying it forward”, as your gift turns into an investment in a better world.

The writer is a principal and director of tactical philanthropy at Ensemble Capital Management and author of the blog