In spite of the overall sluggish state of the economy, there are many people–Old Money and New–who are doing well financially. There always are, actually. If you’re one of them, you may be contemplating how to give charitably and have the most impact for every dollar.
Giving can never be termed a “failure”, although I must admit that, as a family, we’ve had some experiences with charity that, in retrospective, were more effective than others. We’ve given to large charities in the past, and I’m sure that our contributions helped someone in need at some point.
But by far the most effective and rewarding giving experience has been when we’ve made our giving more personal and more local. We also tend to focus on education, as that experience tends to change lives more drastically and more permanently than anything else.
Here are two examples:
One year, we became acquainted with a young high school student who had tremendous potential. Her family had limited resources, but she had managed to be accepted to a prestigious east coast university. Loans, grants, and scholarships would help with tuition and other expenses in the future, but the application fee of nearly one thousand dollars was a clear and present obstacle. Her family didn’t have the money, so we paid for it. Otherwise, she would have had to stay at home and attend a local college. Her future, in all likelihood, would have been much different. (She recently obtained a graduate degree from another university and has accepted a job in her chosen field and has a great life ahead of her, we’re proud to say.)
More recently, we contacted the local private Catholic school where a family member had received a stellar education. We asked a nun there about the school’s needs. (Nuns always know who’s really in need and tend to manage funds astutely.)
She told us that, due to economic hardship, several families would have trouble paying their child’s tuition for next year, and that the students affected were exemplary. (In working class urban neighborhoods, the difference between a private school education and a public school education can make a huge difference in a child’s future.) We sent her a check the next day with instructions to use the funds to best help the most students with their tuition needs. We also asked that our donation remain anonymous.
The check was cashed, time passed, and, content that we’d done what we could, we largely forgot about the contribution. In the fall of that same year, we received a large envelope in the mail. When we opened it, we found a note from Sister Barbara, thanking us for our contribution to the students’ tuition needs. She had allocated the funds to a number of students, she said, and had honored our wish to remain anonymous.
But, she wrote, it was not possible for our gift to go without acknowledgement. The students wanted to thank us. Attached to her note were numerous handwritten notes from each student, and a few parents, expressing their gratitude. “Dear Sir or Madam…” many of them began. The students’ grammar was primitive, the spelling haphazard. But the sentiment was heartfelt and genuine.
As we read each note, my wife and I sat and wiped tears from our eyes, completely overwhelmed that such a small contribution had had such a large impact. It’s an experience I’ve rarely spoken of, but one I wholeheartedly recommend for everyone.
Life spins on a dime. Small acts of generosity can have a world of impact, especially when we focus our giving on education. So look for opportunities in your neighborhood and community to help someone get an education. Keep it anonymous if you can. And know that a little can go a very, very long way.
Education: it’s the best way to give today.