Tips for building your generosity practice

Friends who get our free monthly newsletter (and the incredibly special fireflies enrolled in Summer Goals Camp!), already know that we in the Fortuna household consider financial generosity to be an important part of our lives. We’re committed to it for ethical reasons, but it turns out that financial generosity is also an incredibly powerful means of leveling up your financial life by shifting your money mindset. An excerpt from the exclusive content:

A lot of us begin our financial transformations with a fear- or scarcity-based money mentality. We believe deep in the back of our lizard brains that there won’t be enough for us, and so we’re making all of our decisions with that in mind…

Generosity tells us a different story. Generosity tells us “I have enough to share.” Even if you’re starting with single digit — heck, single dollar — generosity, it’s going to start that mindset shift. Giving when you’re still working to get out of debt or reach another money goal is a particularly hopeful gesture that you believe you will have enough to do both things that matter to you.

Generosity also tells us “I have power” — specifically, “I have money power.” If you see something heartwrenching or inspiring on the news or social media, or if there’s a cause that’s near and dear to your heart, wouldn’t you like to be able to do something about it? And wouldn’t you like to be able to do something without stressing about your account balance after the fact?

Photo by Diego Madrigal on Pexels.com

I’m not saying that you should give only for your own good… but I am saying that the practice of planned generosity is good, both for our communities and for us as individuals. 

If you would like to begin or expand your giving efforts, here are a few things that have helped Mr. Fortuna and I to develop and sustain a consistent generosity practice: 

  • Commit to a target that fits your wallet and your heart. In our household, over the last seven years or so, we’ve consistently allocated 10% of our monthly take-home pay to charitable giving, inspired by the traditional idea of the “tithe.” A true tithe is 10% before taxes, but we are a little lazy about calculating these things because our budgeting app runs on after-tax amounts. (A true tithe is also given to a church, and although some of the organizations we support are ministry-affiliated, we aren’t giving directly to a church.) 

    You don’t have to start there — the key is to find an amount that feels meaningful and manageable. Build that amount into your monthly spending plan, and commit to honoring it. 

  • Pick a main cause (or two, or three) that are really central to your values and interests. Our current hometown of Charlotte has some serious issues with economic mobility – “for a child born in poverty in Charlotte, it is harder to get out of poverty than any other large city in the United States.” Much of our recent giving has centered around anti-poverty, anti-racism, and pro-education efforts in our community, because these things matter deeply to us. 

  • Investigate enough to feel confident about what and how you choose to support.  Giving strategies vary by household, issue, and affected community. The more money you consider giving, the more research you’ll want to do. Whether you are giving to a major international nonprofit or sending funds to a tiny grassroots campaign, the investigative approach is similar: get as much publicly available information as you can, leverage your trusted network for vetting, and — where appropriate — reach out directly and engage with real people. 

    If you consider supporting an established nonprofit, there are a couple of sites that do some legwork for you, like Guidestar and Charity Navigator, which offer analysis about things like financial transparency, leadership, accountability, and impact. It’s also worth spending some time on an organization’s website and doing some Google News-ing of the kind of press they get when they’re not the ones writing the story. 

    You can also contact an organization directly, and request information or even a tour. Most development (a.k.a. fundraising) officers are genuinely compassionate, enthusiastic people who will be only too excited to talk with you if you reach out with a call or an email. Their job is to find prospective donors and persuade them to give — if you’re approaching them, you’ve done half their job already! Ask about their major high-profile/public donors and their history as an organization. Ask if they have any donors, volunteers, or beneficiaries who have offered testimonials or who would be willing to share their thoughts with you. You can also sign up to be a volunteer yourself, which is an excellent way to get a feel for how an organization operates. 

    We have also discovered several organizations through personal connections. As just one example, my sister taught with Teach for America here in Charlotte, and offered us a fantastic referral to an organization that provides support to local teachers and students in need of resources. (I’ve shared a list of our favorite organizations at the end here in case you’re interested.)
  • Focus your impact. I’m personally a big fan of staying generally focused on a geographic area, at least for some period of time, and supporting the same cluster of organizations for a few years. (Moving on every 3-5 years or so is fairly normal and expected donor behavior, by the way, so don’t feel bad if you shift your focus.) For us, it was really meaningful to invest in our local community. It helped us feel more connected to Charlotte when we were new here, and it’s helped us learn about our community’s needs and concerns. I like the idea of making a big difference (even in a smaller pond) instead of diluting our impact. It’s motivating, especially when we’re emotionally invested in the outcome.

    You don’t have to put your effort where you live — it can be where you grew up, or a place far away that has a hold on your heart. There are also plenty of other ways to focus besides geography: a specific beneficiary population (like wounded veterans), research into a particular issue (like pancreatic cancer), or even organizations with a specific way to approach a problem that matters to you (like self-sufficiency-building programs). It doesn’t matter as much how you focus, just that your focus matters to you in a way that keeps you invested.

  • Leave room for spontaneity. I know, I just talked a lot about consistent, meaningful, focused impact. But when something terrible happens out there in the world and you feel powerless, or when something beautiful is happening that you want to be involved in, there is something to be said for being able to open your wallet and take action. Give your giving strategy enough room to respond if inspiration comes a-knockin’. 

  • Track your giving. If you use a budgeting app, this will be way easier; otherwise, you’ll need to do it manually with your spreadsheet or written spending plan. One reason for this is so that you can submit all applicable documentation at tax time if you and your donations qualify for itemized deductions. Another is so you can keep a big-picture sense of what you’ve done. Also, if your employer offers donation matching, tracking your philanthropy is a good reminder to make sure you apply for those matching funds! 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 60 years, you’ve almost definitely heard the line from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben: “With great power comes great responsibility.” If we are fortunate enough to have enough, we believe it comes with an obligation to help. Where would you like to make a difference? 

A peek at our personal list 

Here are some of the organizations we’ve supported over the years. I’d be honored and delighted if you wanted to support any of them, or if you find inspiration to support similar organizations and missions within your own community of care.

  • Roof Above: working to end homelessness in Charlotte. Offers a spectrum of services and housing programs.
  • Catherine’s House: a Charlotte-area organization that serves women and children facing homelessness through safe housing and supportive services that build self-sufficiency.
  • Wheels4Hope: provides affordable, reliable transportation to economically vulnerable families and individuals in North Carolina.
  • Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina: education, advocacy, and partnerships to eliminate hunger by the solicitation and distribution of food.
  • Loaves & Fishes: providing groceries for neighbors in need at pantries located throughout Mecklenburg County. 
  • Digi-Bridge: supporting STEAM education and technology in the learning environment, ensuring that all 21st century learners have opportunities to succeed in the digital age.
  • Classroom Central: equips students in need at over 200 Charlotte-area schools to effectively learn by collecting and distributing free school supplies to their teachers.
  • Heal Charlotte: a holistic neighborhood revitalization organization committed to building trust, creating an open dialogue, and fostering a legitimate bond between the community, its laborers, the police, and elected officials of Charlotte. 
  • YWCA Central Carolinas: eliminating racism, empowering women, providing transitional housing, supporting childhood literacy, offering racial justice and advocacy events.
  • Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation: libraries are inherently amazing, and many libraries have charitable foundations that allow you to support their efforts to provide free and open access to information in your community. 

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