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The Personal Side of Charitable Giving: Why Give?

The reasons why any person gives to charity are as varied as donors themselves. While the impetus for giving is personal, it is important to consider one’s intentions to achieve the desired outcomes. Giving to charity in a meaningful way is deeply personal.

It requires consideration of how you feel – really feel – about giving to charity, what your motives are and the outcomes you hope to achieve.  While accountants and attorneys are enthusiastic about the tax advantages of contributing to nonprofit organizations, what we have found is that donors are just as likely to cite numerous other, more personal reasons to contribute, not the least of which is the pleasure they derive from giving.    

Among the main reasons people donate:

Paying Back:  Many donors who have enjoyed success in their lives feel they should share their good fortune, often with those organizations and institutions that were instrumental in their success.   People who attended a university where their degrees led to careers and contacts may be inclined to give back to their alma mater.  Likewise, a religious institution that provided support in difficult times is often remembered.  You may feel an emotional tug toward another type of organization, such as a social service organization or hospital.  Indeed, you may already know that the satisfaction from such gifts is particularly meaningful.


Bonding with family members: Family members join together to make charitable contributions for many reasons.  Some want to learn about and support one another’s interests.  Some want to honor the charitable values their parents and grandparents held dear.  Others want to be involved in a cooperative effort to do something positive across the generations, especially if the family is separated by geography. Still others want to give family members the opportunity to have fun together, because being philanthropic together can be fun as well as enormously satisfying. 


Exploring personal interests, expressing values:  People’s charitable gifts are often a reflection of their own values and beliefs.  Whether they have a particular cause that ignites their passion ― say, fighting poverty or discovering a cure for cancer ― or simply have a broader sense of social responsibility, donors generally choose to support issues of importance to them or their communities.  


Responding to personal pleas:  People also react to specific situations that touch them, even if not directly.  For example, someone who learns of a friend or colleague’s serious illness may contribute to an organization that has a tie-in to the disease. Donors also respond to appeals from business associates, clients, friends and friends of friends, many of whom tap their contact lists for contributions to their own favorite causes. 


Establishing social and business relationships: In many communities, philanthropic boards and organizations are a way to connect with active participants in business and civic life.  Generous contributions can earn a seat on a nonprofit board of directors and provide an entrée to people whom a donor would like to meet for business or social reasons. In other words, it’s good business to donate.

Making a difference: In every community, whether where the donor lives or across the world, there are important unmet needs. After investigating these needs, a donor may choose an approach that concentrates resources in a few issue areas with the goal of alleviating a problem. For instance, some donors are interested in conservation, early childhood education or increasing health care in Africa.

Leaving a legacy: Philanthropy is a means of leaving an enduring gift that survives the life of any particular donor. Often these come in the form of scholarships, support for buildings or endowment gifts. They ensure that future generations will benefit from the generosity of the donor


Most of us give for more than one reason, and many of our motivations change as our priorities change.  The important thing to remember is that there is no one right way to give, no one right reason to give and no one right issue to give to.  If you give for a reason important to you it will pay dividends in many ways.

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