(Illustration by Hannah Agosta Illustration, based on a photo by Jessie Fox)
How to Give is a biweekly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @FancyLansie.
THIS WEEK’S FIRST QUESTION:
I recently moved from Boston to Philadelphia for a new job. I was in Boston for my PhD and while there I supported several nonprofits including the Boston Children’s Museum. Now that we’ve moved, my husband and I would like to volunteer and become involved in our new local community. What responsibility do I have, if any, to continue supporting those organizations in Boston?
Ooooooh, great question. First off, welcome to Philadelphia! Did you know we have a children’s museum? We do! We also have a giant slide and a world-class science institute! It’s a great city for museums, especially ones that help kids to learn about cool stuff. Get ready to get nerdy!
The short answer to your question is that you’re under no obligation to support those organizations in Boston if they no longer fulfill your philanthropic priorities. Donating is an act of love, and love is a personal, and sometimes fickle, thing. But let’s go deeper and explore this from two sides …
On the one hand, you came to support those Boston organizations because they were doing something you thought was noble and important. That work isn’t going to stop being noble or important because you moved away.
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You know the old saying: If a tree falls in the forest and an intrepid nonprofit reclaims that tree and turns it into a canoe for ecologically friendly nature tours, but no one is there to see it, does the work still get done?
Yes, yes it does.
So in that sense, you should continue to support the Boston orgs because you’re still passionate about certain causes, and those nonprofits are still serving those causes, ergo you should continue supporting those nonprofits.
On the other hand, part of the thrill of being a philanthropist is knowing that you can have a positive, tangible impact on the world around you, and the world around you now is Philadelphia. I’m not privy to your financial circumstances, but let’s assume that it isn’t practical for you to continue supporting the old Boston spots and invest in new Philly places. So that means for every new cause you put on your plate, you have to take a different one off.
If that’s the case, critically evaluate all of the organizations you support in Boston and Marie Kondo that ish. Decide which ones will truly bring you joy when you support them. Which ones do you still want to hear from, and which will give you a tiny thrill when you see their emails in your inbox?
Make those decisions, tell certain development directors that you’ve moved on, and then redirect that monthly giving into a separate little account that you can deploy once you find a Philly spot that makes your heart sing. On behalf of the city, I thank you in advance for your support!
THIS WEEK’S SECOND QUESTION:
My friends are very athletic and often participate in charity events where they have to run/bike/swim/strut for a cause, and it feels like I’m constantly being asked for support. I honestly do not care at all about any of these causes plus I just flat-out can’t afford it. How do I tell them no without looking like a jerk?
This is a familiar type of friend, akin to the musicians and artists who always pop into your newsfeed Kickstartin’ a new album/theatrical performance/donut carousel or some other creative endeavor.
It’s tough because each person does have an individually good case for support — they’re doing a thing that matters to them and they want to involve their friends and family in that cause — but when taken as a whole, it can start to feel like your Facebook feed is just one continual charitable solicitation.
The way I see it, you have three options.
Option #1 is to my old standby: “That sounds like a great cause, but my charitable contributions have already been designated for this year.” Let them know that you’re rooting for them, but you, too, have philanthropic passions that you’ve designated your charitable gifts to.
Option #2 is to predetermine an amount that you’re comfortable giving to each friend and clearly communicate that you will support him/her/them, but you are sticking to a strict household budget and only have $___ to give for the year. Then they can determine which ride/run/sock-hop they’d like it to go to.
Option #3 is to see how you can support your friends with their charitable endeavors in non-financial ways. Perhaps you can be a running buddy or help publicize their crowdfunding campaign to a wider network. You could even volunteer at the run/walk/hootenanny and help the organization that way.
Heck, supporting in person is awesome as well! Break out the puffy paint and make a bangin’ sign for the sidelines.
If you decide to go this route, clear communication and strong follow-through is key. Tell your friend that you’re not in the financial position to contribute money, but that you really admire his/her/their commitment to the cause and you’d like to help in another way. Then, actually do the thing you say you’re going to do. If this person is truly your friend, they will be appreciative and think you’re awesome. And if they don’t, hide them in your newsfeed and focus your attention elsewhere.
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