Self-portrait of a donor 2016

GGifford photo Aug 2015With a challenge from the December 2016 nonprofit blog carnival, I thought I’d update my “self-portrait of a donor” from 2009 to see how my own giving might have changed since that time.

Why do I give? And why do I give to the groups I give to?

The Inventory

The top tier

Because I strongly believe that board members should make leadership gifts, it’s not surprising that the organizations on whose boards I sit are at the top of my giving. They include:

  • WaterFire Providence. WaterFire Providence jumped to the top of my giving list from 2009 when it was in tier 2. I have such profound respect for the genius and generosity of its artist creator Barnaby Evans, our dedicated board and staff team and WaterFire’s critical role in rejuvenating my hometown, Providence. So I give to this one-of-a-kind arts and community building hybrid. Not to mention that I’m vice chair of the board, we have a minimum giving commitment, and I’m making an additional pledge over five years to our growth campaign. My annual gift I pay in monthly installments.

  • Blackstone Academy Charter School. I pay this gift in monthly installments. I’m also board chair. In 2008, I asked to join the the board of this compelling, progressive, social change focused public charter high school and former client that serves high school kids from neighboring Pawtucket and Central Falls and now Providence. I am a huge supporter of public education and diverse student bodies. All my kids attended public schools and they are thriving. Yet, I’ve also seen first hand the incredible difference that small schools make, especially in the societal, social and emotional development of their students, and especially for kids who didn’t start with the same privileges as mine did. All public school kids deserve quality schools like this public charter.
  • Latino Dollars for Scholars Foundation of RI. I’m on the advisory council and am passionate about these exciting and promising future leaders of my Community and Country. While I’m not really a big scholarship person, we sponsor a scholarship under Cause & Effect because we’ve both been so moved by the personal testimony of what a supportive community means to these students. And because I also benefitted from scholarships as a first in my immediate family college student. A few years ago I invited a friend to co-sponsor this scholarship with me.

Added up, those three organizations are about a third of my giving.

Level two

  • Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. Though I rotated off the board almost a decade ago, I’m still passionate about the role of the public humanities in enabling us to find meaning in our life and to better understand our communities and world. In the world of charities, state humanities councils are a bit of a underdog that need our support. My gift is now through my sponsorship of their annual Celebration of the Humanities.
  • ACLU and AIUSA. Because protecting civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad is absolutely essential to a free society, I’m a longtime member of the American Civil Liberties Union (not tax-deductible) and Amnesty International USA (tax-deductible). I have been very privileged to work with their local affiliates first hand. I also make tax-deductible gifts to both the national and RI ACLU affiliates through the ACLU Foundation. I give an annual gift to AIUSA Group 49 in Providence during the annual Write-a-Thon for Human Rights. I’m pretty sure my giving to ACLU will go up this year, in light of the election. (seriously sad and angry face)
  • Rhode Island Public Radio. What can I say. My kids could be in the ad that used to run about how NPR was always on the radio at home growing up. I admit that I’m a lifelong junkie of its brilliant news and talk shows. Every day I find a new connection to my life and work. And they’ve convinced me that my gift should at least be as much as the subscription to my daily newspaper. This year I donated by car.
  • Providence Community Library. Fairly new to the list is my local library, which is a public charity. There’s a long story in this, but the PCL broke off a number of years ago from the PPL in order to save the branches. I love my library, my library branch and what it does for adults and kids around the city. I wouldn’t describe its fundraising as great, but I send the check regardless.
  • Audubon Society of RI and Women’s Voices for the Earth. As a long-time environmentalist, I used to give to many more organizations. I’ve been a member of Audubon for over 20 years, I hike their properties. WVE is a fiesty former client who works at the intersection between women’s health and the environment. They truly are pulling way above their weight and deserve more donors. And they regularly connect with me and remember to call me each year before their charge my card.


  • Colleges. I personally think that private colleges consume way too much of US charitable giving (they do) and serve a largely privileged class of people. But I also appreciate the role that college played in moving this blue collar girl up the societal ladder, so I can’t leave off my undergrad alma mater Clark University and my grad alma mater Antioch University New England. But my gifts to Clark now go to the Robert J. S. Ross Social Justice Fund to support an internship in social justice .I think I’ve finally outlasted my children’s colleges calling me me for gifts. I’m not going to give to them.
  • Women’s and Reproductive Rights Organizations. While I’m still an strong feminist and pro choice advocate, there are fewer organizations on this list. But it’s not as if I’m ignoring them entirely as AIUSA and the ACLU are strong international and national advocates for women’s rights. And I’ve added Women’s Voices for the Earth.
  • Disease organizations. Not my giving thing. The only gifts I make here are from time to time to honor two special friends who ask. So if you work at a disease organization, it’s really fruitless to solicit me directly.
  • Friends runs, races, rides or personal asks. I can’t support all of them. But if you are persistent and I know the group, I might.
  • Peace and Justice. While near and dear to my heart, I’ve also largely moved away from some of the national organizations and sublimated with my above mentioned human and civil rights orgs.
  • Clients. I support a number of current clients with smaller gifts, usually in the form of non-tax deductible ad books, event tickets and raffles. But some rise up because we especially love the unique work they do, like Manton Avenue Project.  But I am fickle in this category.
  • Inkind. We donate our usual share of used clothing and household items to different organizations. And Imentioned I donated my used car. Though I should have done a better job investigating that as I forgot about the tax deduction change. It would have been much more beneficial to me to have sold the car, and I would have made a bigger gift to public radio
  • Professional associations. I still give my same small amount to the  Association of Fundraising Professionals Foundation but have stoopped giving to the local foundation largely because they stopped asking. But I do give time to them .

Taking stock

Before the year draws to an end, I review my all my charitable contributions to see how I’m doing and to be sure I’ve haven’t forgotten any of my favorite causes.

I can do this pretty quickly. Throughout the year as I make gifts I record them on my “Contributions” spreadsheet. That way, I can see at a glance whom I’ve remembered and whom I’ve forgotten.  I find this a lot easier than my old system of searching through my canceled checks and credit card statements.
The spreadsheet also helps me remember when I receive a new appeal if I’ve already reached my giving target for that organization.  And it has really helped speed up my tax preparation.

Giving schedules

The end of year is a real cash crunch for me as our house insurance, car insurance, life insurance are all due. There are also holiday gifts and birthday gifts. So it’s not a great time for me to be making donations.

I’ve been trying to spread my giving out throughout the year. Larger gifts I’ve been making in monthly installments via my online banking or when I feel more cash flush.

I really don’t love putting gifts on credit cards as I’d rather all my giving went to the organizations I support. But at the end of the year, if I’ve missed an important cause, out comes the credit card. And then I’m often also adding the transaction fee if my charity is using something like Network for Good.

Giving Benchmarks

One of my speculations about giving is that people would be more generous if they had better benchmarks for how much to give.

In 1987 Independent Sector launched a campaign to Give Five, encouraging individuals to give 5% of their income and five hours a week to the causes they cared about.

Average giving as a percentage of household income, according to the latest data, is between 2.5 to 3.6%.

So how do I compare?

If I look at tax-deductible gifts, our total contributions are up, from just over 4% of our adjusted gross income in 2009 to just over 7% in 2017. When I include the non-tax deductible gifts we make by supporting charitable events, that puts our total contributions to public charities and membership in advocacy organizations at about 8.9% (5.8% in 2009) of our adjusted gross income.

Why  up?  We’re no longer paying college tuition? I can’t really explain.

Pet Peeve: Gayle’s giving is not Jon’s giving

So, just because I use the joint checking account doesn’t mean that Jon is making the charitable gift.  Rule of thumb: if I’m signing, it’s my gift unless I tell you otherwise. If you don’t know, please ask.

Second Pet Peeve: Taking me for granted

I used to give to my local alternative fund. They stopped asking me or thanking me. I stopped giving. Ditto other gifts that have been reduced over the years or eliminated entirely.

Third Pet Peeve: I’m not going to give you my credit card over the phone so stop trying to convince me

I don’t mind telemarketing. I’ve done it myself. But I just am not going to give my credit card number to a telemarketer I don’t know. Period. Call me old fashioned. I’ll go online or respond to your mail appeal. I  know all the reasons why you want me to do it, but I’m not.


Let’s save that for another day or I’ll never finish this blog.

Quick Analysis

Surprisingly, most of my giving is local. That’s a 180 from my giving 30 years ago when viritually everything was to national organizations. While I’m extremely engaged in national and global issues, I’ve locked into the giving pattern of most Americans.. My take on that is that I’m very involved in my local community, both personally and professionally, so it’s not weird that my giving is primarily local.

So that’s me. What’s your self portrait look like?

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