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The Power of Giving

If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart.
— Socrates

Start ArticleLet us speak, for a moment, about giving.

Someone once said that there is no greater power in the world than being able to give freely of one's money, time, or self. A little later, someone else came along and advised his contemporaries that, when push comes to shove, "You should be your own favorite charity."

It wouldn't be hard to imagine that if these two someones were to meet at a bar one day and discuss their respective ideas briskly over a few foamy brews ... well, Vegas bookies would lay high odds that all the bar's other patrons would get to witness a pretty ugly scene. Yet the two viewpoints aren't all that far apart, really. In fact, reconciling them is pretty easily done.

I too am my own favorite charity, though I've never really thought of it that way. For years now I've automatically contributed to my 401(k) and Roth IRAs monthly, thereby paying myself before I pay anyone else. Only recently, however, have I included in my monthly spending plans amounts designated as monthly contributions to my two "other favorite" charities (a local stray-animal sanctuary and a local food bank, for what it's worth). The amounts aren't large, but they're not tiny, either. They are simply meaningful.

And for me, for now, they're enough.

You can't have a perfect day without doing something for someone who'll never be able to repay you.
— John Wooden

For those of you who do not already make a monthly (or even quarterly) habit of donating to charity, I strongly encourage you to begin doing just that. I am deadly serious when I state that the amount of your gift does not matter. Five dollars may seem insignificant to you; that is not the case for the single mother who finds herself in a position far, far more troubling than yours. I am quite certain I could search the 'net and find several heart-rending stories concerning society's "needy souls" to relate right now, but I don't wish to do that. Television and other media will undoubtedly accomplish that task, again and again, in the future. Rather, just understand that your current realities and those of other, less fortunate people may be so far apart that neither of you can relate to, or comprehend the existence of, the other's.

If you cannot do great things, you can do small things with great love.
— Mother Teresa

I ask you to consider the areas in which you are fortunate. If you're here, on this site, you must have some measure of literacy and intelligence. You have access to instant and worldwide communication and all the opportunities that go along with it. You have comprehension and potential for growth and a certain access to technology and the benefits it can provide. You are immensely fortunate.

Now consider all the previous instances in your life in which events might have gone abruptly against you . . . but didn't. Somehow you emerged unscathed, or even bettered by the experience. (Remember that this could be something as "overlookable" as simply being born to a family with a viable income and a roof over their heads.) Consider the mirror-image of those instances the reversed view, the darker view. What if fortune or luck hadn't fallen at your side? Where could you be now? If something had gone wrong, what would your reality be tomorrow morning?

Whatever tumult, pain, and fear you can imagine, know that someone is there right now.

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Trite as it may sound, I will say that there is no way of describing the feeling that you receive from giving freely of yourself, and doing it with zero strings attached. At an emotive base, you are being selfish to the extreme:   You are giving your life's energy (time is life energy, as is money, because it was earned via your expenditure of time, of which you have a limited amount) simply because it's what you want to do. You have enough to help someone else, be it human or animal. For them, there will come insurmountable needs as surely as there will come new days, and hours, and minutes.

Checking Up on Charities

Want to find out how a charity spends the money it brings in (or how much of your contributions might actually go to the intended cause)? The easiest way to accomplish this is to get your hands on that charity's IRS Form 990, the income tax return which all "Organizations Exempt from Income Tax" are required to file each year. These forms are required by law to be readily available and "Open to Public Inspection." Most charity webpages offer links where you can download and view their respective forms.

As for deciphering the Form 990, well, the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York has a web page entitled "How to Read the IRS Form 990," and it gives a great tutorial for doing just that. There is a similar how-to page at the GuideStar site.

The GuideStar database, also linked in the text box above, is another good place to begin your research.

The "Finding Tax-Exempt Financials" web page at offers further information on tracking down the financial data of non-profit groups.

Personal growth requires that you give money away. The institutions to which you give will survive if you don't give, but you will have missed an opportunity to benefit. Somehow giving reminds us that the world does not revolve around us and that no matter what our financial status is, someone always is in a much worse situation. Good things that cannot be calculated or quantified are set in motion in your life and in your finances when you give.
— Dave Ramsey

Don't Do Silly; Do Good.

We've all done silly, stupid things with our money in the past. But we can change. We can give where there is need. Today I ask you to find the soft spaces in your heart, open them up every so often, and nourish them. Give of yourself, and know that now, this time, every time, you are doing the exact right thing. You are giving opportunity, light, freedom, hope. You are giving life — your single most valued possession — and you are giving it freely. It is a feeling you cannot truly comprehend until you write the check. It is self-respect. It is exhilaration.

It is power.

Consider this angle: Wealth is not about what you can buy, or the size of the price tag your account can cover. Rather, wealth is generosity.

Wealth is about what you can freely, and easily, give away.