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Until recently, I thought donations to charities should be made anonymously, that I should hide my giving, not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. I thought that I should not announce or ‘advertise’ my giving, that this was ego-based, self-serving, less than altruistic. Even donation plaques in auditoriums bothered me: “This seat was donated by William A. & Susan R. Jones.” But I’ve changed my view on this.

I have been reading in the philosophy of effective altruism, and these have convinced me that people are more apt to give if they see other people giving and hear other people talking about giving. Many are inspired by it and want to do the same. As well, many people want to be reassured that it is alright to give, that they’re not alone, that it’s not foolish for them to give. So, I had to come to terms with these facts. I realized that if I’m really interested in doing the most good, it would be better for me to tell people what I am doing because research shows that this will lead to greater giving overall.

We feel a warm sense of basic goodness that surpasses all other considerations.

I should not be afraid to be a fool: I should tell people what I’m doing! Let them accuse me of egoic posturing; it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that there be more giving. From this perspective, it is more altruistic to submit myself to such criticism than to ‘hide’ my giving and, by so doing, decrease the potential for greater giving overall.

Many of us think we cannot give because we live on such a tight budget. Every month seems like a challenge to our solvency. But is that really the case?

My wife and I are retired. Our past donations have been erratic, sometimes large, sometimes small, sometimes not at all. We now live on a modest fixed income—social security plus a few hundred dollars, and my wife has Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This is reason enough for caution and prudence. Nevertheless, we donated $1200 this month. And here is how we did it:

  1. Direct Giving—$75: This is the most common way of giving—nothing new here: We made an online donation to Mercy for Animals, an animal advocacy organization that focuses on relieving the suffering of factory farm animals.
  2. Selling Stuff to Donate—$950: Selling one’s stuff is a common practice: garage sales, Craig’s List, eBay, etc. But usually people keep the proceeds for ourselves. In this case, 100% of the proceeds went to the Against Malaria Foundation and Oxfam America (for famine relief). In doing this, I came up with a rather unusual payment idea: I gave buyers an option to make the donation themselves. I realized that if they did it themselves, they would receive the tax benefit. I’ll give them that. In some cases this was quite attractive. Those who did not want to do it themselves simply paid me in cash. My wife and I then made the donations. Last month, I sold a telescope. This month it was a wristwatch and stereo speakers.
  3. Garden Vegetables, Herbs, and Flowers—$50: I love to garden. So, over the years, I’ve developed much of our property into vegetable, herb, and flower gardens. Now that they’re complete, I am using the gardens to save lives. I’ve dedicated all the gardens to charity. Whenever I have flowers, vegetables, or herbs to donate, I post an message on ‘NextDoor,’ a free private social network for neighborhoods here in Longmont, Colorado. With one stroke, I can be in touch with over 5000 local households. People email or phone me to arrange a time to pick up the things they want. This is a real joy, particularly because the people I meet are some of the most wonderful people in Longmont: they love working with plants and they love to give. For many of them, there are no boundaries between the two.
  4. Donating a Service Provided—$140: I provide a twice-a-week transportation service by taking a child from school to his father’s house. In return, the parent makes a monthly donation to the Against Malaria Foundation . . . and takes the tax benefit for himself. This really works for everyone. We feel a warm sense of basic goodness that surpasses all other considerations.

TOTAL DONATIONS THIS MONTH: $1215.

We cannot donate at this level every month, simply because we don’t have enough stuff to sell. But it can work for a while. Until the stuff is gone. And until we think of new ways to give.

I hope this inspires you  to give more, and that it helps you see several creative ways you can do the most good. In future posts, I will expand on these and other ways of giving, showing how, with a little creativity, most people can give much more than they think they can.