In December 2016, right before Christmas, a work colleague of mine’s house and garage burned down taking everything in the house – including his family’s Christmas gifts – with it. Luckily, he, his wife, and three kids were all unharmed. When my office heard about the accident, we were eager to help. His team arranged a company-wide potluck and began accepting donations of money and gift cards to aid his family. When I heard about the tragedy I wanted to help, too. But, I took a look at our budget and realized that we didn’t have a lot of money to spare that month. I talked to my husband and we decided to give a small gift card, but it broke my heart that we couldn’t do more.
How do you give to urgent causes? There was no way for me to plan to give to my colleague’s tragedy and when the time came we just weren’t in the right situation to join in with a large gift. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard about an urgent cause I wanted to give to but wasn’t able to. I’d had to pass by natural disasters, school fundraisers, kickstarter campaigns, GoFundMe pages, and even opportunities to comfort a grieving friend.
I knew these opportunities would all spring up again and I wanted to be ready. I realize that you can’t give to every urgent cause, but I didn’t want to have to pass by the causes that I really felt called to invest in. So I decided to plan for the unexpected by starting a giving fund.
I take 10% of all of the honorariums that I receive for my stewardship speaking and writing work and put those funds in a savings account. My husband and I still contribute to many causes we care about on a monthly basis, but this fund gives us room to be more spontaneous – responding to needs as they arise. We let the money accrue and then divvy it out as needs arise.
This fund has been one of the greatest sources of joy in my financial life over the past year and a half. It has allowed me to be more generous, more spontaneous, and more carefree about my giving. I often find myself looking for opportunities to give since the money is ready and waiting to be used.
I have only one rule for the giving fund – I can’t spend the money in this fund on myself. The money doesn’t have to go to a non-profit. I won’t get a tax deduction for every dollar in this fund, and that’s just fine with me because that’s not why it’s there. I’ve used this money to buy flowers for family members when they’ve been hospitalized, cupcakes for a friend who’s had a tough day, and gift cards grieving co-workers.
I’ve become the unofficial giving organizer on my team at work. Whenever someone is going through a tough time I gather together funds from our team to support this person with a card, flowers, and a sweet treat. I can do this with integrity because I know I can fill in the gap if others aren’t able to join in. We’ve even started a sort of giving fund at work that allows us to support those in need on our team whenever the need arises without taking up yet another offering.
I’ve been able to support GoFundMe pages of people that I haven’t met whose causes inspire me. I’ve been able to explore giving to new causes that my husband and I haven’t committed to give to on a regular basis. And, I’ve been able to give larger gifts to causes that I’ve cared about for a long-time. This fund has given me the ability to give with a sense of reckless abandon. For someone who loves to give away money, it has been a source of great joy and deep satisfaction. It’s given me another avenue to live out my values in my everyday life.
Want to start your own giving fund? Here are a few small steps to take:
1. Put away a percentage of your income. You could certainly do a dollar amount, but a percentage is nice since it allows your giving fund to expand and contract with your income.
2. Put the money away in a savings account. I put it in a savings account that’s connected to my checking account so it’s easy for me to get access to the money when I need it. However, if you’re going to be too tempted to spend it, you may need to put it in a separate checking account.
3. Establish the rules for your giving fund. Like I mentioned, I have very minimal rules for my fund. I can give away as much or as little as I like to any cause as long as it isn’t self-serving. You might want to add more regulation – that’s up to you. Just make sure that you and your partner agree at the outset about what this money can be used for.
4. Give. Now the fun begins! Give freely and spontaneously. Look for unique opportunities to give, or let the opportunities come to you. I’ve found that there are seasons where I give a lot, and other seasons where the money is growing as I look for my next opportunity.
How do you give spontaneously? Let me know in the comments below. Looking to create a giving fund of your own? I’d love to hear about it.