By Kathy Richardson, executive director, Our Community
As millions of people are thrown out of work, entire industries collapse and the world braces for the medical ramifications of the COVID-19 emergency, if you have your job and your health, there’s no doubt you’re in a better place than most right now.
The crisis may drag on for many months; the ramifications may be felt for years. It may help you feel less guilty about your good fortune, more in control of what is undoubtedly an uncontrollable situation, and more comfortable that your giving will have the greatest effect, if you develop a giving strategy to take you through till the crisis ends.
Your Giving Plan can be short or long, detailed or very simple. The important thing is to go through a process of thinking about your giving, so that you can be certain you’re giving as much as you can, and making the difference you want to make.
We recommend you jot down answers to all the questions below. Take your time. You don’t need to decide anything right this minute. Try to be specific. If you can’t help everyone (and you can’t) you’re going to have to make some choices.
Step 1: Why do you want to give?
A good starting point is to ask yourself why you want to give (or give more) right now. What’s troubling you most about the current situation?
Ask yourself: If you could change three things about what’s happening during this crisis, what would they be? Write them down. Try to be as specific as possible. Use these answers to frame your response to all the other questions below.
Step 2: What are you giving already?
Take stock of your current donation habits. Review last year’s records (log into your My Giving Account if you have one), or jot down the people and groups you remember giving to last year.
Presumably these are groups that you already know and trust. Ask yourself:
- Are any of them doing the work you identified in step one? Do they need more help right now? Could you step up your contribution?
- What’s missing? Thinking about the needs you identified in step one, where else could you focus your giving? (See also Step 7.)
Step 3: How much can you give?
Giving doesn’t have to be only about money, though let’s be blunt: money is what many people and groups desperately need right now so if you have some spare, please do consider contributing financially.
How much should you give? We can’t tell you that. What we can tell you is that you should get a clear-eyed view of your capacity and you can do that by checking on your income and expenditure over recent months, factoring in whether that is likely to go up or down during this period, and then working out what’s left over.
Be conservative in your estimates of what you can give (for starters, at least); no one wants you to give so much that you join the ranks of the needy (well, some would say you should “give until it hurts” – it’s up to you which approach you want to take).
Some rules of thumb if you really have no idea how much you should be giving:
- Tithing: Tithing dates to biblical times but is still practiced by many. Traditionally, tithing involves giving away one-tenth of your income (in the old days you’d give that to the church; these days we recommend instead that you give it to a good cause, or a consortium of good causes).
- Effective Altruism: Australian philosopher Peter Singer, founder of the ‘Effective Altruism’ movement, has calculated that if everyone gave within their abilities, we could cure some of society’s worst ills while having a barely noticeable impact on most people’s current standards of living. He has created a calculator that allows you to receive an estimate of how much you should give based on your income – use it here.
Step 4: What else could you give?
If you don’t have money to spare, or if you want to give more than money, there are lots of other ways you can give. Check out this list. It includes information on how to give everything from bikes to blankets to medical supplies to furniture – and even corks and hair!
Some COVID-19-specific giving ideas include:
- Giving blood – The Blood Bank is urging any blood donors to keep their regular appointments if they are fit and well enough to do so – see more information here. Of course, if you do go out to give blood make sure you keep your distance from others (and wash your hands).
- Getting to know your neighbours – Local networks are more important than ever right now. Drop a note in your neighbours’ letterboxes with your phone number letting them know you’re around to help (or chat) if needed, and/or consider joining your local Good Karma Network or a Kindness Pandemic Group (or forming your own).
- Share what you have – Don’t join the ranks of those buying more than they need. This does nothing but empty the shelves and is particularly disadvantageous to people on small incomes who are unable to stock up. Instead of hoarding, consider sharing what you have with others (if you had a rush of blood to the head and suddenly found yourself with a surplus of toilet paper or pasta, perhaps offer some to your neighbours?)
- Volunteer from home – If you find yourself with some time on your hands right now, it could be a good time to see if you have skills people need. See if you can find some virtual volunteering opportunities via Vollie, Seek or GoVolunteer.
- Start a crowdfunder – Now could be the perfect time to start training (in a solitary fashion) for that marathon you always wanted to run or to grow that enormous beard. Set yourself a challenge and invite your friends to support you in your quest, while supporting a good cause at the same time. Get started here.
- Stay at home – Staying at home (and keeping your distance from others when you absolutely can’t do that) is the most precious gift you can give to your community right now. The diagram below shows how what you do now will have a huge impact on how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out across Australia over coming weeks and months.
- Wash your hands – please, please, please, please wash your hands with soap (or sanitiser if you don’t have soap handy) every time you touch something. Do it right now.
Step 5: When will you give?
This crisis is unlikely to be over quickly. You should be prepared to play the long game with your giving.
Pace yourself. Remember the “continuous note” analogy – a choir can hold a beautiful note strongly and continuously for a very long time, even while people drop out to take a quick breath when needed, provided there are enough voices left to carry the note on. Right now we need as many of us as possible to be adding our voices to the choir, but we should take time to step out when we need a rest. (Do make sure you come back when you’re able to do so, though.)
Many groups favour smaller, ongoing donations over larger one-off donations as it allows them to more accurately forecast their income (which allows them to plan better). Consider setting up a monthly donation if you think your own situation is likely to be stable over the next 12 months or so (though taking into account Step 9 – we recommend you review your giving plan regularly).
Step 6: How will you give?
This is always a hard question to answer; even more so when the need is so great. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you find the right approach.
Personal or anonymous?
Do you want to help individuals or families that you know personally? Or would you like to help those most in need, even if they are strangers?
You may feel that your giving will have the most visible impact if you give close to home. You are more likely to see first-hand the need for and benefits of your gifts, and you will be better able to investigate or engage in the activities of a local organisation.
On the other hand, your donation may have a bigger impact in a community with less government support. Your definition of "community", whether it be geographical, social or economic, will also affect your decision.
Of course, you can choose to do a bit of both.
Local or global?
Are you more interested in supporting a local cause, or are you willing to widen your focus to a state, national, or international level?
If you want to stay local, how local is local? Is it enough for a beneficiary to be in your country? Or do you want to support people in your state? Your suburb? Your street?
Again, it doesn’t need to be either-or; you could do both.
Direct or through an intermediary?
Do you want to give directly (e.g. by supporting an individual seeking help via an online group), or would you prefer to give through an intermediary like a community group or charity, and let them decide how and whom to support?
There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. Giving personally allows you to tailor your giving and respond to immediate needs; giving to a community group or charity puts you at arm’s length, but they will most likely have more efficient systems for delivery of assistance than you might have personally, and are likely to know who’s most in need and what they can best do to help.
Immediate or long-haul aid?
You can choose to give for things that people need right now (food vouchers, clothing, furniture), or you might opt to contribute to causes designed to contribute to longer-term response and recovery efforts (funding research or public education campaigns, for example).
Again, you could, if you wanted, do a bit of both.
Step 7: To whom will you give?
Once you’ve answered (or at least thought through) the questions above, you should be in a better position to choose the beneficiaries of your donations.
Do some research to find which organisations are doing the sort of work you want to contribute to (or the individuals you want to support), making sure you include on your list the groups that you’re already supporting that you want to support more right now.
Then start carving up your giving budget. You might opt to give to a variety of causes, creating a giving portfolio. You don’t need to give each group the same thing, or even an equal amount; you might choose to give all you can afford to one organisation, or spread it among a few; volunteer for this one, donate to that one.
Here are some hints if you’re having troubling finding groups to support.
Check out GiveNow
Look close to home
Make a list of all the community organisations that make a difference to your life and to the lives of your family and friends: from support for childhood (including kindergartens, schools, universities, TAFEs, and other educational institutions) to support for your older friends and relatives, giving them a place to go or belong.
Call or email (and/or check their website) and ask them if they need support right now; and if so, what type of support.
How to evaluate an organisation
Giving is often a matter of individual preference. Think through these questions to get some clarity on the type of giving that makes the most sense to you.
- Do you like to fund specific projects, or are you happy to give money to an organisation that’s doing good work and let them get on with it?
- Do you prefer to give to organisations mainly run by volunteers, or do you prefer organisations with professional staff?
- Do you prefer to give to small organisations (who often do a lot with a little) or large organisations (who may have economies of scale and may be in a position to have a bigger impact)?
- Do you prefer to support an organisation that is just getting started or one that is already well established?
Community organisations operate in different ways and use their funds differently. Before you give, it's a good idea to be aware of how the organisation operates. Some questions that you may like to ask yourself about a group include:
- Do I agree with its programs and goals?
- Does it achieve worthwhile results?
- Do I like the way it is run?
- Do I like how it reports its activities and accomplishments?
- Is it already financially healthy? Would it benefit from my donation?
- How does it compare to other organisations of similar size, age and mission?
- What criteria will I use to decide if the money I contribute is well spent?
- How will my contribution be used?
- Will my donation be tax deductible? (Does it matter to you if it’s not?)
Don’t fall into the trap of equating low administrative overhead with effectiveness. Sure, make sure the groups you support aren’t wasting money, but we recommend you give to organisations that are effective, not just frugal.
Step 8: How will you give?
Maimonides was a medieval Jewish philosopher, who proposed eight levels of charity. It can be helpful to think about your own giving within this frame (while acknowledging that any giving is usually better than no giving, and that the distinctions between each level are not always clear-cut). This list appears in descending order (highest level first):
- Level 1: Support someone to become independent
- Level 2: Give without knowing who you are supporting, and without the recipient knowing who the donor was (that is, give anonymously)
- Level 3: Give knowing to whom you are giving, but without the recipient knowing who the donor was
- Level 4: Give not knowing to whom you are giving, but the recipient knows who the donor is
- Level 5: Give openly, but without being asked
- Level 6: Give openly, after being asked
- Level 7: Give inadequately, but willingly/gladly
- Level 8: Give begrudgingly
Step 9: Be flexible
The COVID-19 crisis is set to continue until scientists find a vaccine. As we said earlier, as a donor, you need to be in it for the long haul.
As the situation changes, so too should your giving strategy. Consider setting aside some of your giving budget so you can respond to emerging needs.
Review your plan at least once a month to make sure it still matches the needs that are emerging, and your capacity to contribute.
Some of these tips are derived from those originally proposed by world-renowned giving expert Tracy Gary.
Community organisations, not-for-profits and charities can find free information, tools, templates and other resources on the #SaveOurSector webpage.