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The Spirit of Giving, Part 2

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Now that the holidays are behind us, I wanted to let everyone know who donated what, and to whom, in my family’s agreement to forego gift exchanges and instead give to worthy causes and organizations of our choosing. (See The Spirit of Giving.)

No surprise, Dad gave to Birthright, an anti-abortion group, as well as to Catholic Charities. But he also gave to the Sarcoma Alliance, an organization focusing on research and treatment for a unique type of cancer, which one of his sons battled many years ago.

Mom’s choices were even less surprising since she simply took my father’s lead and gave to the same organizations! Proving once and for all that traditional Catholics just get more so with the years.

My brothers all gave to the Sarcoma Alliance, and one also gave to the American Cancer Society. The brother who actually had the cancer also gave to the Cancer Support Community, of which he was once a board member. And, he supported an educational charity, an environmental group and LAANE. I gave to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the Program for Torture Victims and to a group that helps subsidize heating costs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

But what does all this tell us, other than that my little brother is the most generous and comprehensive in his giving? Well, it might say something about how people who’ve faced a life-threatening illness become more generous and empathetic. But it also illustrates how people support organizations that seek to help those who’ve been through crises that are familiar and personal to them. For example, I give to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation each year because I have had a direct experience and involvement in the AIDS pandemic and know how essential that support is to people living with the illness.

Spirituality has a big effect too. Clearly in my father’s and mother’s case. But also for myself. I’ve been a meditation student for years and I donate to the scholarship fund at a Bay Area meditation center so that others might get the benefit from it that I have. I also gave to the Pine Ridge group because I heard about that when I attended a sweat lodge, and was motivated when I learned that people in Pine Ridge, the poorest county in America, were subject to having their propane tanks removed when they fell behind on their monthly bills.

Giving is like financial planning or one’s health—it’s a mix of the long term, the short term, prevention and crisis management. More and more, my younger brother and I want to support groups that empower people so that what we give keeps on giving. That’s not to knock charities, some of which also do that, but it is a different, more strategic way of giving which is worth considering. For example, in the past, I’ve supported economic development and education at Pine Ridge, which is really a much more strategic way to give than subsidizing energy costs.

When one wants to create a better world, one has to look beyond attending to crises and think more about their prevention and a planet where more people are less in need. That would be an ideal world and I’m not sure we’ll get there unless we expand our circle of giving to include those who are fighting for justice, peace, equality and a healthier earth. It’s not always as direct, but it’s certainly as important and an essential part of any giving strategy.

But getting back to why people give in the manner they do, it really does come down to one thing: community. The ones we come from, that we’re a part of, that we’re building and trying to create. What we get in return is becoming a part of a community. And the more we develop and cultivate our sense of community, the more skillfully we can give and the more helpful we can be. It’s a feedback loop, dynamic and invigorating. Because it’s never really about writing a check, it’s about making an investment in a future that benefits us all.

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