Do I ever complain about my life? Well, maybe some days, but mostly I feel lucky -- lucky to have been born in Canada, to have received a good education and to have a supportive family and great friends.
Recently, after thinking hard about my good fortune, I decided it was time to offer a slice of my happiness to others by making room in my family's budget for regular charitable giving.
Giving to charity can be a meaningful activity both for you and the organizations you choose to support. But what's the best way to get started? Maggie Leithead, President and COO of Charity Village, Canada's supersite for the nonprofit sector, suggests taking the following steps:
Narrow the field
Leithead says with about 80,000 registered charities in Canada, choosing which one (or ones) to support can seem overwhelming. "The best giving comes from your heart," she says, "so think of the areas that are closest to you." Leithead adds many people are motivated to give through knowing somebody who's been directly affected by a disease, such as cancer, while others will focus on areas like the environment, children's rights or the arts.
In addition to figuring out who or what you want to support, Leithead recommends thinking about how you want to help them. For example, you might take the "big picture" approach to fighting poverty by giving to a group aiming to effect policy change or you might prefer the more hands-on approach of contributing to a local organization ensuring homeless people get hot meals each night.
Choose your charity
Once you've determined which sector to support, it's important to find a charity that makes you feel good about giving. "Who's most reflective of your own values?" Leithead asks. "Who's going to give the best expression to those values for you?"
The Internet can offer great help in answering these questions. Sites like Charity Village's nonprofit neighbourhood and Imagine Canada, an organization dedicated to supporting Canada's charities, nonprofit organizations and socially conscious businesses, are a good place to start your research.
Many charities also maintain their own sites and offer success stories outlining their accomplishments. Leithead says these types of stories can help you decide if a charity is the right fit for you.
Better safe than sorry
If you have any questions about the financial standing of a charity, what Leithead calls the "nuts and bolts" of the organization, look no further than the Canada Revenue Agency. Each charity registered in Canada must file an annual return and these are available to view online.
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How much is enough?
This is probably the most personal question of all and the exact dollar amount will be different for each family and individual. However, Leithead says to consider the following:
• Consider monthly giving. You might not have $50 to give today but may be able to manage $10 or $15 a month, thereby giving the charity a predictable stream of income.
• It costs money to raise money. Therefore, giving a larger amount to fewer charities is likely more beneficial than handing out $10 or $20 to every canvasser who comes to your door.
How much is the average Canadian giving?
According to Imagine Canada, the average Canadian gives $259 annually to charity. You can learn more about giving in Canada by reading Imagine Canada's fact sheets online (files are in pdf format):
Review your giving
Keep a charity folder containing information about causes and organizations you may want to support and pull it out once or twice a year to reassess your donations. "Go back to those beginning questions," says Leithead. "Are these still the organizations you want to support or is there something new?"
By taking the time to plan out your donations you'll end up getting something back when you give. "It makes us feel like we're part of a bigger whole," says Leithead, "that we're connected to our community or to the country or to the world at large, and that just feels good."
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