The season of giving

Most of us like to think we're generous, giving people, particularly at this time of year. We take the time to consider gifts for friends and family. We donate spare change when we see someone outside a store ringing bells and soliciting funds for a good cause. We buy raffle tickets, give to the food bank and attend fundraising events.

But most of us give randomly, if also generously. We do it without a great deal of thought for the number of charities and causes that are out there. Indeed, the range can be so overwhelming that umbrella organizations like the United Way, that provide funding to numerous causes, are appealing because they simplify the decision.

We may spend a great deal of time planning our savings and investments throughout the year, but most of us who can afford to give spend considerably less time planning our giving. And as the year-end nears, and the deadline for tax credits for 2010 charitable donations looms, a plan for giving is in order.

Like most things, it starts with a budget. If you can't afford to give this year that's fine. But understand that charities and charitable causes are responsible for many of the services and institutions that we now take for granted - locally, nationally and internationally. Remove the charitable organizations and more people would go hungry, there would be fewer opportunities for children, cancer research would slow.

Cumulatively, the amount of money wrapped up in charities rivals big business. Individually, some of them are barely surviving. And the work of most charities is limited by their funding.

So even if you can't give this year, think about it for the future. Think about what is important to you. Who helped you get to where you are? Who inspires you?

Last week Whistler's Keith Reynolds and Kirby Brown told the story of what Playground Builders is doing in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Their presentation at Millennium Place inspired the approximately 150 people who attended to donate $7,500. That total was matched by an anonymous donor, which provided the organization with enough funds to build three more children's playgrounds in war-torn countries.

Playground Builders is a tiny, hands-on organization founded by Reynolds. It's based in Whistler - it's one of 33 charities with Whistler addresses listed with Canada Revenue Agency - but does work internationally.

Providing hope to children in desperate countries is a great cause, but what about the children in the corridor who need help? As financial columnist Ron Lieber wrote recently, "In an investing portfolio, making large, single bets is generally a recipe for anxiety and unhappy outcomes. With contributions, too, an equal split among global, national and local causes may be a good approach for the first draft of your giving budget."


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