There are five financial activities in our lives and we strive to excel in all of them, including:
- Spending, and
We are also trying to teach our children to excel in each of them. We are proud of the progress they are making, although at times they remind us that they have a long way to go. For example, Whitney learned a great deal this year about earning money working as a lifeguard and even starting a photography business. When she cut back on work to play soccer, she failed to cut back on her spending habits and got to learn some painful lessons about the importance of spending wisely.
Long-time readers know that we have an annual charitable giving meeting with the children each December. This is a habit that we hope will continue long after we are gone. The kids may not yet realize this, but the vast majority of our wealth will not be going to them, although we hope they will be capable of wisely controlling where it does go to do the most good. We think this annual meeting is good training for future responsibility. Before the meeting, Katie and I meet at our monthly “budget meeting” and decide how much we’re going to give away to charity. So we know the total as we go in, but we have no idea where the money is going to end up.
Even though our giving is most intensely focused during this giving meeting, we actually give throughout the year. We’ve always given at least 10% but now give more. We give to our nieces and nephews through 529s. They are offered a 200% match on any earned income they put into the accounts. We donate regularly to our church. We endowed a couple of scholarships this year (more on that in a separate post). We fund a large part of the WCI Scholarship every Summer. We also try to be generous to those around us in other spontaneous ways as opportunities come up. However, the annual giving meeting is special, not just because of the opportunity to identify and support worthwhile charities, but also because of the opportunity to teach our children and pass our values along to them.
While I don’t write often about religion on this blog, we view giving wealth away as a very spiritual activity. So as we start the meeting, we typically pray and read some scriptures about giving, generosity, and the poor. Each of us, including the children, share a scripture or two and explain why it has impacted us and motivated us to give. Naturally, that includes our family’s favorite verse about giving:
Think of your brethren like unto yourself, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. But before you seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.
We use this verse as a guideline to select charities. If the charity doesn’t do one of these four things:
- Clothe the naked,
- Feed the hungry,
- Liberate the captive, or
- Administer relief to the sick and afflicted,
then we don’t support it.
Then, one at a time, each of us gets to present a charity we have researched to the group. We focus on their mission, their ratings from charity rating organizations like Givewell, Give.org, Charity Navigator, and Charity Watch, and the ways in which they have helped those we know personally. This year we chose to support the following eleven charities.
11 of Our Favorite Charities Worth Supporting
# 1 Rick Hodes via the American Jewish Joint Distribution Center
Podcast listeners know that we had Rick on the podcast in December talking about his work and mission treating those with severe spinal deformities in Ethiopia. They also know that Katie and I offered to match every dollar they donated. (Yes, I checked with Katie before promising that). This charity “relieves the afflicted”. 37% of our charitable donations from this meeting went to the clinical work of Rick Hodes. We encourage you to join us.
# 2 Utah Food Bank
We’re serious about feeding the hungry, especially those near us. The Utah Food Bank supports soup kitchens, food pantries, and even mobile food pantries. They can make a dollar go much further than we can when it comes to buying food, so we let them do the shopping and we write the check. Katie is always a big supporter of this one, probably because she knows how I get when I get hangry and doesn’t want to live in a world where anyone feels that way! This charity obviously “feeds the hungry”. 20% of our donations went to the Utah Food Bank. We encourage you to join us in supporting your local food bank.
# 3 The Road Home
The Road Home runs our local homeless shelters. In Utah, they have a big focus on Housing First in helping those experiencing homelessness, of which we very much approve. Katie presented it this year as one of our “clothe the naked” charities. 8% of our donations went to The Road Home. We encourage you to join us in supporting your local homeless shelters.
# 4 GiveDirectly
I really like this charity, a new one on our list this year. But this one is Afton’s pick. She just wanted to give money to poor people. The GiveDirectly folks go to some of the poorest places in the world (and run a similar program in the US) and give people money. That’s it. Super simple, but super effective since they know best what their needs are. Then they ask them what they spent the money on. It turns out they usually don’t spend it on booze and cigarettes as you might at first imagine. They spend it on medicine, cows, goats, chickens, school fees, water, tin roofs, irrigation, and starting businesses. It’s a bit of a stretch, but we consider this one as a “liberating the captive” charity since many of the world’s most impoverished are imprisoned by their poverty. 6% of our donations went to GiveDirectly. We encourage you to join us in supporting them.
# 5 Operation Underground Railroad
This one is a perennial favorite charity for us. It always feels like we’re supporting Liam Neeson in Taken with this one. You want to talk about “liberating the captive”? That’s literally what these guys do. They stop human traffickers and return their victims home. How can you not support that? Maren gets credit for advocating for this charity. 6% of our donations went to Operation Underground Railroad. Please join us.
# 6 Malaria Consortium
Malaria still kills over 400,000 people per year. Every year. Malaria Consortium, among other things, provides malaria prevention meds primarily to children four months a year in high-risk areas. They estimate every $3,000-5,000 saves a life. While it isn’t technically relieving the sick, I figure preventing sickness is even better than relieving it. 5% of our donations went to The Malaria Consortium. We encourage you to join us in supporting them.
# 7 Against Malaria Foundation
Can you tell I read The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator this year? The Against Malaria Foundation primarily provides mosquito nets. They cost about $5 apiece and they estimate they save one life for every $3,000 to $5,000. We couldn’t decide whether it was better to give meds or mosquito nets, so we did both. 5% of our donations went to Against Malaria Foundation. Please join us.
# 8 Utah Refugee Connection
We have a lot of refugees in Utah, and this organization helps to give them a fresh start in a new place. We have done some work personally with this organization. Katie gets credit for this one as a “clothe the naked” charity. 4% of our donations went to the Utah Refugee Connection. We encourage you to support your local refugee organizations.
# 9 Disabled American Veterans
Jonas has a soft spot in his heart for veterans and this is the best-rated veterans organization we could find. Our discussion about this one covered everything from military medicine to the role of the Veterans Administration to PTSD. We consider this one a “relieve the afflicted” charity. 3% of our donations went to the Disabled American Veterans. We encourage you to join us in supporting them.
# 10 The Trevor Project
Whitney presented two suicide prevention organizations this year. The Trevor Project has a specific focus on LGBTQ youth. In my work in the ED, I spend a lot of time talking to people feeling suicidal. I know many don’t make it that far so I’m happy to support organizations better equipped to make a difference than I can. 3% of our donations went to The Trevor Project. We encourage you to join us in supporting them.
# 11 American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
This organization has a more general focus than The Trevor Project but also works on suicide prevention. Given that physicians are far more likely than the general population to die by suicide, we feel a personal connection to this cause. We view both of these organizations as “relieving the sick” charities. Unfortunately, it appears that a large percentage of their donations are “in memorial” donations. 3% of our donations went to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We encourage you to join us in supporting them.
We now do our giving through a Donor Advised Fund. It provides convenience and enough anonymity to keep our mailbox mostly free of “charity porn”. We don’t really keep any money in the DAF so there is little cost for that service. It certainly makes it easier to donate appreciated mutual fund shares to charity.
Giving to charity not only helps us to feel good while supporting worthy causes but reminds us that we are merely stewards of the resources with which we have been blessed. None of the dollars in our bank accounts are going with us when we go. By giving away our hard-earned dollars, we are in effect telling our psyches that “we have enough”. This results in less anxiety about running out of money, less hoarding, and less scrooge-like behavior. I encourage you to incorporate some type of giving program into your life. Done wisely, it can enrich your life and that of others.
What do you think? What are some of your favorite charities? What charities did you support this year and why? Comment below!