More Than Money
Issue #20

How Much to Give?

Table of Contents

“From the Editors”

Thirteen years ago, my wife Anne and I decided to give away all of my anticipated second inheritance. Risking my grandfather's incredulity and disapproval, we asked him if he would be willing to change his will to direct our $300,000 share to a charitable fund. As it turned out, Grandpa signed in the change the day before he died.

Since then, even with an unpredictable stock market, increased family expenses, and giving between 5 to 20 percent of annual income, our assets from my first inheritance have grown. We often feel torn about how much to give, and we recognize that we aren't fully committing ourselves as givers. We know many hard-working social entrepreneurs and creative nonprofits that continue to fall short of their life-changing capabilities for lack of more support. How satisfied are you with what you give and how you determine that amount?

In our work counseling wealthy people, Anne and I often hear how difficult it is to figure out how much to give, even for those who give a lot. Many find their methods arbitrary and unsatisfying.

Clearly, "how much" is not the only question to consider. What to give to is at least as important, and quite interconnected: when we are deeply moved by a project, and clear about our goals, our giving increases. Yet we decided to focus this issue of More than Money specifically on the "how much" question because, other than the age-old guideline of tithing (giving 10 percent of annual income), there are few helpful models for people who wish to grow as givers. Our goal is to show some specific, creative strategies people use in deciding how much to give, and how to address some of the most common barriers to actualizing full giving potential.

Giving is hard when it challenges us practically or emotionally. If our lives are crazily full with careers, parenting, or other pursuits, how can we make the time that thoughtful philanthropy requires? How can we involve ourselves deeply in nonprofits so we have a visceral experience of their needs and successes? Furthermore, if our peers are alienated by wealth or our families react with fear or outrage when we "invade our capital base," where do we find support for greater giving?

Deciding "how much" also requires looking factually at our assets, income, spending habits, taxes, and financial goals. It may mean talking to aging relatives about their estate plans, facing our own deaths, and thinking through exactly what kind of financial boost we want to give our children. It may stir up questions about faith, security, justice, privilege, and life purpose.

These challenges don't need to inhibit us. As inspiration, we offer this issue, filled with stories of people who are surmounting these barriers to give more boldly. One key lesson is that giving will sustain few people's interest if it is about "shoulds" or feeling guilty for what they enjoy. Giving is more exciting to most of us when it is an expression of our love for the earth and humanity, and an exploration of the potential power of our creativity, commitment, and pocketbooks.

I deeply believe that if all of us were part of a community of givers, where we talked about the joy of giving, and where we helped each other with the nitty-gritty tasks and daunting questions, we'd find the path of greater giving not only do-able, but irresistible. May More than Money encourage you to find or create such a community, and to grow into the kind of giver you most want to be.

--Christopher Mogil, for the editors  

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