Keep On Giving: Times Are Even Tighter For Others

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, November 23, 2008

With rising unemployment and the stock market looking like a bungee jumper whose cord has snapped, it's hard to argue that people should continue their charitable giving.

And yet, I will make that plea.

I know that in tough times you want to pull back on your spending, including planned donations, but that's exactly when your giving shouldn't go down -- when the need is so great.

The way to continue giving is to be a regular donor. Although the percentage of American households that report giving to charity has remained constant in recent years at around 70 percent, it's not always the same households, according to new research by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The center studied the charitable giving of the same 8,000 families in 2000, 2002 and 2004, and found that nearly one-third alternated between donating and not donating. The researchers found that "persistent donors" give much more on average than others.

In 2004, consistent givers made total charitable gifts averaging $2,659. Occasional donors -- people who gave in one or two of the three years -- contributed an average of $820, according to the study.

Charitable giving is a vital part of the budget for my husband and me. We believe the line item on your budget for giving should be as important as your mortgage, rent or car payment. Make giving a priority, and you're less likely to dispense with it in hard times.

In an unscientific study, I've looked at the people I've been helping in a financial ministry at my church. By and large, those who make giving a priority -- whether it's tithing (giving one-tenth of your income to the church) or consistently donating money through a workplace giving campaign -- handle their money better.

Consistent givers can weather economic storms because they're better at budgeting. They let go of things that don't matter so they don't have to cut out the funds they've pledged to help others.

If I may, I'd like to recommend some ways to continue giving during hard times.

Let's start with how you organize the categories on your budget.

The category of charitable giving is often listed at the bottom of a budget form. If it's not dead last, it's tucked in the miscellaneous section.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company