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,"Ě Lisa told me,
"in this case a more peaceful home for a
family going through a rough spot."Ě
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?"Ě 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
Order: The Money Management
Guide for Women
. Shapiro is currently
writing a book about how modest
gifts can change lives. Her Web site
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