Monday, June 11, 2007

Giving it all away

Today's topic: charitable donations. Giving moolah.

I think it's important to share some of what you've got that others might need, or support causes that you think matter, or to support friends. I do it as much as I can - personally and as a business. You know, to make a difference in the world and put a few cents where my mouth is and all that.

When I was younger it was just sort of haphazard - whoever called or sent me something on the right day when I had a few extra sheckles in the wallet. But some time ago I decided to be a little more organized about it. I made a list of areas that I wanted to participate in: the environment, relief and development, human services, the arts, local groups. Out of those categories, I researched a few organizations that I thought were the most efficient - meaning the most amount of cash went to the actual cause. And whose vision I shared, and results were tangible, etc. So became the short list. And I try to donate at least 10% of my profits to them, splitting it out evenly across the groups and over a year's worth of time.

Of course, there is always the stray phone call, the friend who's doing a run/walk, the occasional political or education or health care lobby group or earnest face at the door. I'm a pushover. But I do have some discipline - I quit the candy bars and magazine things - well, unless it's a neighbor kid I know.

And that doesn't count the business donations. You have no idea how many times I get asked to donate a basket of soap and bath goods to an auction. All kinds - schools, women's groups, neighborhood or community organizations, you name it. I usually really like to do it and help out, and reaching a new audience is never bad. And the few times that I'm overwhelmed by requests, I just have to say no, and try to do it some other time.

Side bar - did you know that artists can not claim their donations as deductions on their taxes? They can deduct supplies only - not the retail value. That totally sucks - because they get asked more than any other group (except maybe free wine for parties) to donate something. Doesn't matter what it is - painting, sculpture, photography - to decorate a public space or private space, to hang something on the wall, to auction it off. Maybe travel vacations get asked more - for free trips to Hawaii, I don't know. But if so, they can take off the retail value. I'm not totally clear on how the whole tax law works for everyone else, but I'm not quite in the artist category - I'm more of a product/manufacturing category. So I get to take off wholesale price - again not retail value. So it's really not great for me. But I like to help out and what's the diff? To be honest, I don't know that I've ever gotten a single order for all that exposure - but then again, I don't know that I haven't. I still have to believe in good karma.

Well, this is all long-winded and probably TMI and boring for y'all. But where I'm going is a new organization that I've just found out about that I want to throw money at and wanted to share too. It's Kiva.org. You donate whatever small dollar amount you want to specific entrepreneurs in developing countries that just need a few bucks to make their own little life-sustaining business work.

I love it because it's personal, they are just like me - little home based small business folks trying to survive and support a family. And the money they need to make it happen is small - usually $1,000 bucks or so. It's a not-for-profit micro loan, and the loans are almost always repaid in full. They can be rolled over from one successful venture into another hopeful little business that just needs a sewing machine, or a few cows, or car repairs to his taxi. Some of them are little loans for house repairs - it's so heartbreaking to see the little cinder block shacks they need to put a roof on.

My point is that you can see exactly to who, and for what, your few dollars are going to support. And it's all worked out so that it's a loan, not just a give away. You get updates as they complete their endeavor - and then the money gets repaid to you. Cool.