How do you give?

I’ve come a long way in regards to my stance on giving over the last few years. Girl Ninja has a generous heart, I have a frugal one. She frequently reminds me there are only four things we can do with money.

  1. Make it.
  2. Spend it.
  3. Save/Invest it.
  4. Give it.

It’s the fourth point I want to focus on today.

While we have always given a portion of our income to our church, we are really excited about the other ways in which we can start to give back. About a year ago, we instituted the following household rule “Ask and you shall receive.” This does, of course, have some caveats. If you say “Hey Ninja, can I have $10 to buy a pack of smokes?” I will punch you in the face. But if you say, “Hey Ninja I’m raising money to build a well in Africa, can you spare some change?”, I will gladly open my wallet. The other caveat is that “asking” must be intentional. A general “give me money” request emailed out to your entire Facebook contact list wont cut it. A phone call, text message, personalized email, or face-to-face meeting is what it takes.

In the last year, Girl Ninja and I have been specifically asked to… help build a well in Africa, support a friend going on staff with Campus Crusades, donate to Young Life, buy a magazine subscription from our landlord’s kid to help raise money for his school, and support Krochet Kids International. (The magazine subscription was only $24, so it’s not like we are always dropping big bucks.) We don’t take our income for granted and we make our best efforts to give back whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Moving on.

Have you ever hosted a party? That crap can get expensive real quick. In fact, upon closer look at our astronomical food budget last month, I’ve realized a good portion of this expense was used serving other people. Girl Ninja and I are both heavily involved in a high school outreach program called YoungLife. I lead freshmen boys, she leads freshmen girls. That means every week we have about 30 kids coming to our house for Bible study. We’ve recently learned the quickest way to a kids heart is through their mouth. Nothing says “welcome” like fresh-baked cookies, a few pizzas, or some candy. Our grocery budget has never been higher, but ya know what? I’m totally cool with it.

But what if you aren’t in a position to be able to help financially? That’s totally fine. It doesn’t make you a bad person. You can give your blood, your time, or your talents. Don’t make “giving” a strictly financial practice.

I helped coach boys Varsity tennis this last season and it was by far one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Many charities also accept large items as donations, allowing you to give even if you do not have the direct financial means to do so. We all have old items that we no longer use and these are the perfect thing to give to charity because it is unlikely that we will miss them. A good example of something that you can donate is an old boat. While you might be unclear on how to donate a boat, the process is actually very simple. All you have to do is contact a charity that accepts boat donations and they will make the necessary arrangements.

You have something to offer. Go offer it.

So reader, why don’t you take a second to share in the comments below ways in which you have given. What charities or organizations have you supported? How do you decide who to support and who to ignore? Have you volunteered your time or talents lately?

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  1. I’ve dabbled in giving time/money to the local United Way and area Children’s Advocacy groups over the last 10 years. But I never felt like I was really invested in any of the organizations. That realization lead me to start a new non-profit organization that allows me to use some of my unique skills.

    I have a Master’s degree in Dispute Resolution and am a qualified Mediator in the state of Texas. So, I decided to give back by using these skills and created a community Dispute Resolution Center which provides free or low-cost Mediation and Arbitration services to residents, businesses and organizations in North Texas and Southern Oklahoma.

    Although it is, admittedly, a time-consuming project- when I donate my time to mediate or arbitrate a dispute (financial, divorce, family, business, etc.) or to teach conflict management techniques to volunteers or local groups- it is extremely satisfying.

  2. I’ve tried to make it a point this year to give at least something (Usually at least $10) anytime I am asked. I’ve been in the habit of giving for a long time. I’m a tither and a regular giver, but now i’m stepping it up and trying to give at every opportunity.

    Just like I teach in my Celebrating Financial Freedom course, you cannot have lasting success (financial or otherwise) if you are not a giver.

    Love your blog! Remember…
    “when you help me with money, you help the world prosper.”-J.M. Dumont

  3. When my wife and I decided to actually start really tithing, we made an agreement. Every other month our 10% goes to the church and for the remaining months we take turns picking a charity. Some of the charities include Shriners, Ronald McDonald House, Lustgarten Foundation, Toys 4 Tots, Disabled American Veterans, and the local ASPCA. Usually for November and December we try to give to charities that either feed people or make sure kids have something for Christmas.

  4. Great topic, Ninja. It’s been on our mind a lot these last few years.

    We support our local homeless shelter and food bank. We also support United Through Reading’s military program and AccesSurf. When our kid was in high school we were big supporters of her teachers’ projects through Donors Choose. And, of course, all my book’s royalties are going to Wounded Warrior Program & Fisher House.

    We use Fidelity’s Charitable Gift Fund– it’s a fantastic way to make charitable donations at tax time without worrying about picking a charity. Later we can send out the grants when it makes sense– especially for fund challenges or matching grants or in honor/memoriam. But best of all, we can support charities anonymously.

    I haven’t found any organization that I care to volunteer for– I’m too jealous of my own time right now and I’d rather support a charity with earnings than labor. But maybe that’ll change someday. I’m really stoked when I see AccesSurf setting up their sessions on my home break.

    Any kid with the guts to ring our doorbell and pitch a food fundraiser or youth sports program will get $10-$20 from us. It only happens a few times a year so I don’t even track it in the budget. But it helps us make friends with the local kids and keep in touch with the neighbors.

    Everyone else is told “We’ll think about including your group in our philanthropy plan”, which usually convinces them to leave us alone. We don’t really have a formal “philanthropy mission”, and we may never create one. After all the time I’ve spent reading about it, so far this is the right match of effort & reward.

  5. I volunteer my time by helping in the Kindergarten class at my children’s school. None of my children are in Kindy anymore but over the years I’ve seen how hard the kindy teachers work and how much they appreciate help! I also donate all our outgrown clothing and toys to families in need. In the past we’ve supported the backpack program in our local community to help fill backpacks for children who otherwise couldn’t return to school with the necessary supplies.

    Financially, we support the Stanford University Narcolepsy Research Center because our youngest child was diagnosed with a severe and disabling form of Narcolepsy. If you have a few extra dollars and are looking for a new cause to support, consider this one as currently, there are no effective treatment options approved for children with narcolepsy. For more details and how to donate please see the following url:

    Thanks Ninja, for letting me put our cause out there for your readers! I hope one day there will be a safe and effective treatment so my daughter can live a full and normal life.

  6. Yay a happy post:)
    The last fews years we have participated in the giving trees at Christmas. We let our 3 year old twins pick out toys and wrap them up for other children. When they were 1 and 2 they didn’t get it necessarily. But this year we are really excited to see their caring hearts in action.
    Great post!

  7. I make it a point to give. I help out my family right now until things pick back up for them. I give my time at church. I try to help as much as I can and I’m also an easy target. 🙂

  8. I donate to my church and I sing in the choir there. Giving back to God is pretty cool.

    I used to volunteer my time more, but I found over two years of volunteering that most charities have no idea how to make valuable use of a volunteer’s time. When I find a good charity, I’ll donate time and/or money to it, but I’m very picky about if I’ll let someone use my time.

  9. Some employers will not only match money that you donate to a non-profit through a Matching Gift program, but also donate to the organization if you volunteer your time. My company does both, dollar for dollar on funds I give and $10/ hr to the orgsnization for every hour I volunteer there.

  10. Was reading in Luke recently and came across this (6:30) — “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.”

    Jesus didn’t qualify ANYTHING when he said “everyone” and it’s really tugging at my wife’s and my heart! We give to the church and to missionaries on a regular basis, but we don’t do a good job of seeking out other opportunities to help those in need.

    Great post – very timely and encouraging!

  11. I find that I stick to cancer, education and animal welfare charities – well, the education ones are my alma maters (I mean, they gave me monster scholarships, it’s all I can do to throw some cash their way!). And if you show me a little kid fighting cancer or an animal in distress? I basically hand my wallet over and say “Take what you need”. Heartstrings…

    And with the little time I have outside of work and commuting, I do some volunteer work for a local animal shelter.

  12. Since a graduate-school budget doesn’t necessarily allow for a lot of extra money, I don’t donate financially. I volunteer as often as I can through a local literacy center doing fun writing activities with public school students, and my side hustle is through an NPO, so anything I do above and beyond my pay hours is considered volunteer time.

    The BF and I have talked about charitable giving for later in life (donations to charities may be something we request in lieu of wedding gifts, if we ever decide to get hitched, since we’ve already started building a household). We think we’d like to donate to the two NPOs above, Planned Parenthood (controversial, I know), and NPR (since we’re both addicted to This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and their music-centered podcasts).

  13. My husband always gives a donation if someone knocks on our door. I donate blood as often as possible, which is usually 3-4x a year since there is a required waiting period between donations. Last year, I ran 8 races and most of those had some sort of charity attached to it that got a portion of my entry fee. This year on Thanksgiving, I am attending a donation based yoga class and will be bringing a bag of clothes to donate. They are going to a local clothes closet for those in need. I’m a pet owner, so I also like to donate to animal charities occassionally as well.

  14. I have a background in international development, and contrary to what you might think, it has made me REALLY picky about the organizations I will give to. So I refuse to give to every African well-drive or flavor of the day, and concentrate on putting our resources (about 10% of income) into organizations that we know are doing good and sustainable work. one of my many wishes for the non-profit world would be for them to stop contracting out their fundraising to low paid high schoolers and earnest university students who don’t know the basics of the causes they’re fundraising for…

  15. My wife and I try to give back to our community in many ways. The first of course is with money. We give fast offerings every month to her church. This money is used by that church for their world-wide humanitarian efforts. We have a couple charities we give some money to as well.

    We donate our unused or unneeded items to our state’s version of Goodwill, Deseret Industries. These items are then given to the needy or sold and the money is used for the needy.

    We volunteer our time. I have volunteered at the State Prison where I taught inmates the skills they will need once they are released and try to assimilate back into society. This course is called “Bridges Out of Poverty.” I am also taking a “CERT” class and once completed, I will become a volunteer responder in my community when a disaster happens. You can read about the program here and see if there is a program where you live:

    While money is a nice way to help, I find it much more rewarding to give back with my time and talents. Besides, I have much more of the latter.

  16. I think that giving is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and for others. Personally, I don’t give as much as I feel that I should because I am also saving aggressively to return to school. That said, volunteering and making a difference in other ways is as important as just giving money in my opinion.

    One thing that I struggle with, and I think a lot of people do as well, is giving selflessly. While I’m not a Christian, its definitely a Christian principle that I learned from my parents. When I donate money or give it away, I don’t always feel like it’s ‘appreciated’ enough. I know that when I give, I have to give not for my own sake and the benefit it might bring to me, but for the sake of others and that is something I find that really hard to do sometimes.

    Random question : can you ask YoungLife for a tax reciept for the money you spend on food? If they are registered as a charity, you might be able to get one for an ‘in-kind’ donation.

  17. We have the opposite policy- I feel like so many people/organizations ask for donations & even at church we get bombarded with give to this missionary/cause. And most of them seem to be worthy causes- but we only have so much to give. So we picked two charities to give to & we try to give to them on a regular basis. Everything else we say no to. It feels a little harsh, but we’ve decided it’s more helpful to support the causes we believe in & let others support the causes that are important to them. Me & my sister-in-law have also been leading a 4H group the past couple years, and have enjoyed giving our time.

  18. I’m a generous but lazy person. So I’ve pick a couple of charities that:
    1. Utilize donations efficiently (i.e. low administration costs)
    2. Have a mission statement I agree with
    3. Make a difference “on the ground”
    I then have them take a small amount from my bank account every month.

    Yes, it’s a little lazy compared to having 30 kids come to your house every week, but I can live with that. It’s super easy. It’s tax deductible. It’s making a difference.

  19. I give bi-weekly through payroll deductions to the United Way in my area. I have 2 children on the Autism Spectrum and have received wonderful services through United Way sponsored initiatives for both of them. So I give back financially in this way. I also work on my office’s United Way committee.

    If a friend is doing an activity for charity (something like the Ride to Conquer Cancer), I will sponsor them in the event, but like you, they must ask me personally.

  20. I have hosted many parties and we usually ask the guests to bring something to make it easier on the hosts. Although I earn a lot more now, we still do this and do our friends. It encourages more people to participate rather than be a burden to give parties.

  21. I used to give back my time to Habitat for Humanity. Ever since buying my own house — I have no need to help them because I need to help myself!

    Sad that my own rehab has ended my time giving back to habitat.

  22. My husband and I give a set percentage of our total income to our church every month. We also try and help out with other church charities when the opportunities arise. We sponsored a kid to go to a week-long youth retreat (to the tune of $250, but totally worth it) and then helped our small group sponser a second one. I’m also one of the suckers who will stop and give homeless people money when I pass them by (not much, usually just a couple of dollars.) We also will give to the humane society, and we donate a lot of food to our local food bank. My husband and I feel very blessed with what we have, and we figure why not share whenever we can afford it?

  23. My husband and I have decided to follow as closely as possible Mary Hunt’s 10-10-80 plan (giving 10%, saving 10%, living on 80%) but had been uncertain as to how to find charities that would make the best use of our limited funds. We found a website called Charity Navigator ( and are so glad we did. Check out this site. It’s great! For example, we were planning to begin a regular donation to our local public television station because I’m addicted to Masterpiece Theater and our 2 yr old gets such a great benefit from their commercial free programming. However, according to Charity Navigator, its CEO earns over $300K!!!! That made us stop and think about it a bit more. Instead, we will be donating to Adopt America Network ( an organization that helps children in permanent foster care find adoptive families. This is a wonderful organization and although we did not end up finding our child through AAN, they were extremely helpful to us along the way. We also sponsor 2 brothers at a Haitian orphanage called God’s Littlest Angels ( This year they began a program where you can elect to have them automatically deduct from a bank account via Paypal and I can honestly say that over the past several months that we have been donating I have never missed that money. I also have given as gifts donations to this organization on behalf of family members who do not need any more junk cluttering their house, and they are happy to get the tax receipt.

    I think the important thing is to try to make an informed choice about where your charitable donations are going and then simply give it away with an open heart.

  24. Instead of gifts for our birthdays, Hubby and I have made donations to our local Animal Aid Shelter (a no-kill shelter for stray and abandoned puppies and dogs, kittens and cats). For Christmas, we don’t exchange gifts between my Dad, my sister and the 2 of us; we take the money we would’ve spent and buy food and kids toys to donate to my Dad’s church’s Christmas Drive. We’ve also talked about volunteering at the Good Shepherd this Christmas to help serve meals to homeless and less-fortunate people that otherwise wouldn’t have a hot meal on Christmas Day.

    I think I’ll also start donating blood several times a year… I’ve got Type O… Universal Donor!! LOL!

    What an awesome subject to discuss; not everyone is in a position to donate cash, but donating/volunteering your time may make all the difference to someone else… great post Ninja!!

  25. For the amount of income my parents brought in for a family of five, we were in the very low income class if not poverty. My parents make even less money now as their health is deteriorating but they don’t have three kids to support anymore. We never received any kind of welfare or went to the food bank as my parents didn’t waste money and we make do with the little we do. Our basic needs were met but there were no summer camps or extracurricular activities or traveling or eating out or pre made food in the grocery store, etc. I want to give this bit of background for you to better understand my view on giving to charity.

    I prefer to give time than money if my time is being used effectively. Most recently, I’ve volunteered at the food bank a couple of times then I stopped and will never go back when I realized the food bank often give away food that I don’t normally buy myself as I consider them a waste of money or treats. Examples of these are canned soup, fruit salad, granola bars, cookies, etc. The people who come to the food bank are getting stuff I consider treats myself.

    Regardless I still believe in giving and helping others when I can. I give a very small percentage of my income to charities where self sustainability is promoted such as Engineer Without Boarders. I generally always give when friends/co workers are raising money for a cause. I give a percentage of income to help my parents out financially because they need it (if my parents don’t need my help I would donate a larger percentage to charities). I am still a big believer in giving my time where needed.

  26. […] over at Punch Debt in the Face is talking about giving.  I think this is a plenty timely post with the seasons changing.  Remember, it’s not just […]

  27. I am more likely to give to educational and cultural non-profits than to philanthropies, but I do some of that too when major disasters like those in Haiti or Japan strike. I always donate clothing and household items I don’t need as well. No volunteering at this point, but I’m likely to do so when I retire. My will allocates 80% of my assets to various non-profits.

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