More Than Money
Issue #42

More Than Money Magazine

Table of Contents

“Sourcebook: Small Gifts Are Beautiful”

By Gail Shapiro

We have a penchant for bigness in America. Big cars, big companies, big salaries, even big food. Sad to say, philanthropy is no exception. Big largess and large-scale philanthropy are trumpeted so routinely that one may be forgiven for thinking that it's the only kind of serious giving. Or that it's pointless to add dollars to a cause when so many donors deal in seven-digit figures.

If you've reached that point, perhaps it's time to think again.

In philanthropy, I've learned, small is not only beautiful but often powerful and, with a little planning, extremely rewarding. Sent in the right direction, even modest gifts can solve a problem, change a life, or lift up or beautify a small corner of the world.

Of course, the guidelines for successful giving apply whatever the size of the gift. Developing a charitable giving plan, for example, enables givers to be more pro-active rather than simply reacting to requests for donations from worthy causes. It also forces givers to address important questions: Why are they giving? What do want from their gifts? What do they want their gifts to do for others? Thoughtful planning takes some time and energy, but it's a great way to get your ideas heard, express your passions, be creative, and have fun!

Another principle of successful giving that concerns us here is the recognition that, in the end, what may matter most is not the gift's size, but the spirit in which it's made. One could even make the case that, with smaller gifts, it's easier to be personal and creative.

Two stories show what I mean. While doing volunteer work, a woman I will call Lisa met a young Brazilian woman who had started a house-cleaning business to support her family in Massachusetts and her relatives home in Brazil. Around the same time, Lisa learned that the mother of her son's best friend, who was recently widowed, was working two jobs to make ends meet and having a difficult time. Lisa decided to pay the Brazilian woman to clean her son's friend's house twice a month-an act that gave the cleaner needed income and the other mother a small break as well as more time to spend with her son. "It felt great to know that my gift was having a positive effect," Lisa told me, "in this case a more peaceful home for a family going through a rough spot."

I know another woman whose brother, a fisherman, loved to surf-cast near a certain beach on Cape Cod. After he died of cancer at an early age, the woman spent $1500 to erect a lovely stone bench on public land facing the ocean he so loved. She still visits the area and says it gives her pleasure to see others enjoying the view and reading the inscription with his name.

The possibilities are endless. With a contribution of $2000 to $2500, you could make a capacitybuilding grant to help a small nonprofit to raise funds or hire a marketing consultant. Or help to finance a microbusiness by purchasing items such as ovens, sewing machines, hardware, software, or landscaping equipment.

A gift of $1000 could send two children to summer camp for a month, carpet a room at your house of worship or at the local senior center. Or be a radical recreationalist and buy a canoe for your town recreation department.

Here are some ideas for creative philanthropy on a $500 budget: Help needy children enter the classroom better-prepared by buying schools supplies for them. Or buy a gift certificate for seats at the symphony and donate the tickets to a charity auction (a double good deed!). You could also sponsor a clean-up of a pond, park or hiking trail in your community by printing posters and buying supplies and refreshments for volunteers.

What could you accomplish with a gift of $250? A lot! You could pay for the rental of a violin or for violin instruction for an elementary school student for one year. You could identify a small neighborhood organization whose work you admire and buy it a copier or printer. Or, through your local food pantry, purchase a month's worth of groceries to feed a small family.

Remember, no gift is too small-there are literally hundreds of ways even $25 can make a huge difference. When nonprofit organizations apply for grants, they are asked, "How many donors do you have?" That's because the one of the ways the IRS tests for non-profit status is by calculating the percentage of its support that comes from the public.

So, as you can see, even modest gifts can, and do, make a big difference. Happy Giving! ■

A charitable giving consultant, Gail R. Shapiro helps individuals, families and small businesses match their gifts with their goals. She founded Womankind Educational and Resource Center, a nonprofit community women's center in Wayland, Massachusetts, and is the author of Money Order: The Money Management Guide for Women . Shapiro is currently writing a book about how modest gifts can change lives. Her Web site is www.gailshapiro.com .


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