(Photo by Jessie Fox)
Ask a Millennial Philanthropist is a biweekly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about both being a millennial philanthropist and engaging with them.
Lansie is the director of engagement at Here’s My Chance, a creative agency that aids mission-focused organizations, as well as the program director of Next Stop: Democracy! An active supporter of the arts, Lansie is the founder of Philly Give & Get and current secretary of the Charlotte Cushman Foundation. She holds an M.S. in Leadership for Social Change from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.
This week’s question:
I’m an early career millennial and want to make my charitable giving structured and less reactionary. But I also want to buy a house and have a lot of competing financial goals right now! How can I work philanthropy into my everyday financial life?
Anyone can be a philanthropist. It doesn’t matter how much you give, just that you give. So, don’t worry about giving the “right” amount. Just put together a Giving Plan that works for you.
Start with what matters.
Take an evening and think honestly about the issues that are truly most important to you. Sometimes people feel guilty because they think they should care about something but they don’t.
Repeat after me: “That is a good cause, but it is not my cause, and that’s okay.” Sometimes you care more about pit bulls than you do about pandas or malaria or ocean plastics, and that’s totally fine.
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If you’re having trouble figuring out what you’re most passionate about, think about your opposite reaction: What burns you up the most when you see it in the news? Abuse of animals, racist remarks, bad environmental policies? Redirect the rage into thoughtful giving!
Now that you’ve got your cause(s), I recommend giving to two to three nonprofits per year, and then supporting them for at least two years. It is always better to give $100 to two charities than $20 to five because it is expensive for those nonprofits to get your attention! Once they have it, they’re going to want to keep it. If you keep giving small amounts to multiple places, they are going to spend money sending you updates, newsletters and event invitations — all to a person who never planned to give them a second gift in the first place.
Give what you can.
How much should you give? People are normally going to tell you to make a “contribution that is meaningful to you,” but that doesn’t really give you a concrete starting place, does it?
Different faiths suggest tithing to the tune of 10 percent, but my personal philosophy is to “give until it hurts.” I like to give a comfortable amount, and then a little more. That way, I really have to drill down on what my philanthropic priorities for the year are.
MATH ALERT! The way I start my yearly Giving Plan is to set aside seven percent of my dispensable income to philanthropy. What does that look like? So glad you asked! Let’s say you make $65,000 per year. Now let’s take away your food, shelter, savings needs and Uncle Sam’s cut.
- $10,000 for taxes
- $12,000 for your rent ($1,000 per month)
- $5,200 for food ($100 per week)
- $2,400 for healthcare ($200 per month)
- $9,000 to save for that house you mentioned ($750 per month)
Dispensable Income = $26,400
But that doesn’t include things like gas for the Honda, pet-related expenses or worldly travel. So let’s call it an even $20,000. Seven percent of that is about $1,400, which is roughly $27 per week to support the causes that matter most to you.
Does that sound reasonable to you? If so, then set those automatic monthly donations up, baby! Recurring monthly donations are an excellent way to ensure your giving is painless and consistent. If not, keep tinkering until you hit a formula and amount that works for you.
Stick to your guns.
Now that you have your Giving Plan, what to do when your friends, family members or coworkers ask you to support their latest 5K/gala/bake sale? If they’ve supported your events or charities in the last 12 months, I say support theirs for an equal, or meaningful, amount. This builds good will and reciprocity.
If they haven’t financially supported your causes recently, it’s perfectly OK to say, “That sounds like a great cause, but my charitable contributions have already been designated for this year.” This way, they’re aware that you, too, have philanthropic passions, and that you’re putting your money where your heart is.
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