Transformative Charity

My wife Sarita had a transformative insight several years ago. It changed our lives.

Her insight had to do with the way we invest for charitable causes–our charity portfolio. It had to do with FOCUS.

I want to talk, here, about that focus. Next time, I intend to talk about how the focus changed our lives.

BACK STORY

Sarita and I committed ourselves from the very beginning of our marriage to a fundamental discipline of giving ten percent of our pre-tax income to charity. And with that pre-commitment always in the back of our mind, giving was a joy.

Now, we didn’t go into business to get rich. We did it to serve. But an amazing thing happened.

Over the course of about eight years or so, we went from being poor to being quite wealthy. And while our money-making increased, our ability to give increased as well.

It is my understanding that our experience isn’t (or wasn’t) all that unusual. The more we gave, the more we would receive appeals from charitable organizations. Someone would call or send us a letter with a strong emotional appeal: “Wouldn’t you like to give to such and so?”

We would receive all these appeals, and we would often respond. So the various charitable organizations would get a donation. They would put our name and address on their mailing list, and we would receive at least one appeal letter a month from each organization. . . .

If you own and work in a profitable company, you will receive a salary. But you will also have profits. And with a relatively young company—and, sometimes, even with a relatively mature company—you won’t always have a good idea of how many profits you are going to have until close to the end of the year.

Now, Uncle Sam offers a great deal to charitably-minded taxpayers: You can either pay taxes to him or, if you give up to 50% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) to charity, he’ll not charge you taxes on that money.

If you want to give to charity and take the tax deduction, you have to give the money before December 31st. No extensions.

So there we would be, about two weeks before the end of the year, thinking about profits and taxes and charitable giving: “We’ve got so many thousands of dollars to give; who do we want to give it to?”

We figured that task shouldn’t be too hard.

We had collected all those appeal letters from all the places that we’d given $25 or $10 or whatever we’d given them some time previously.

After so many years of giving a little bit here and a little bit there to all these different wonderful charitable groups, we began to become overwhelmed with appeal letters. At least one a day and sometimes three a day. Throughout the year. Hundreds of appeal letters. We weren’t interested in reading them, but we weren’t willing to throw them in the trash. So we dumped them in a “charitable appeals letters” box.

And come mid-December, when it was time to calculate our profits for the year and decide where we would send our donations, we would pull out the box, maybe open some of the letters, and decide who we would give to.

Well, it was about three years into this end-of-year giving process and we were preparing to figure things out.

Sarita had grabbed one of the now two bankers’ boxes full of appeal letters and was hauling the second one out when she said something to the effect of, “This is crazy!

“Here we have given these agencies, maybe $25, and they have sent us a letter every month for the last year or more . . . and that has eaten up all the little bit of money we gave them in the first place!

“We ought to narrow our focus. Choose just a few agencies to whom we will give, and tell all the others, ‘Thanks for what you do, but . . . please take us off your mailing list. We’re really not interested.’ Wouldn’t that be a great service to those agencies?”

WHAT WE DID AS A RESULT OF SARITA’S INSIGHT

When you’re looking for profits, you usually invest in a collection of investments, and you call that collection your investment portfolio.

As we discussed our charitable giving, we asked ourselves what we would want in our charitable investment portfolio. What would match the values and priorities that we believe in most deeply?

For us, those priorities were actually very clear in our hearts and minds. They had been clear for well over 10 years. In fact, we even had an acronym for our priorities. Each one had a letter, and when we put them together, they spell THUMB.

“What if we found five charities, one each for each of the five causes to which we are committed, and determine to invest in those five charities as proxies for those causes? Wouldn’t that be cool!??”

We agreed that it would, indeed, be cool.

So that’s what we did.

We found five agencies— . . . No. Actually, we found four. (It turned out that one covered two of our charitable goals). And then we wrote letters. Or I should say, Sarita wrote letters. I drafted, and then she handwrote all these letters to all these different agencies and said, “Thank you so much. We appreciate what you’re doing, but we will not be supporting you anymore, please save your money and remove us from your mailing list.”

Focusing like we did, and deciding not to be distracted has made a dramatic difference in our lives.

POSSIBLE ACTION STEPS FOR YOU

I want to encourage you to consider:

  • To what charitable causes are you particularly drawn . . . and why? –Write these things down. Meditate on them. Make them root deeply in your heart and mind.
  • What charitable causes really require someone to give (because, as far as you can see, the need really and truly will not–cannot–be fulfilled by profit-making and/or profitable means)?
  • What charitable causes are generally underrepresented in the broader landscape of charitable giving? (I.e., where is the need the greatest . . . because it is currently being ignored?)

It was the answers to these questions that led Sarita and me to our THUMB portfolio.

What charitable investment portfolio will inspire you?