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Don't give up on giving

From season tickets to tithing, helping others takes many forms.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 23, 2009 2:48PM

Last week I wrote about "radical optimism," or planning for a future I can't quite see. Now I'd like to talk about another optimistic step at an inauspicious time: giving away a little more money next year.

In 2007 I was pledging $20 a month to my church's social assistance programs. That pledge rose each year as my finances improved, to its current $80 a month. After some thought, I decided to inch it up to $100 a month for 2010.

Let me be clear: This is not an essay about religion. It is, however, an essay about faith.

I'm talking about faith in the future, both our own individual futures and the future of our nation. I think that anyone who can give should give -- even if it's only a token amount -- to charities, nonprofits, social service agencies, religious entities or the arts. 

Recently, MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston wrote a piece called "Are you giving beyond your means?" Among other things, she cautioned against giving "while failing to make progress on your financial goals."

She's right, of course, and I'm keeping that in mind. This is my final quarter at the university and I don't know what kind of job I'll be able to get -- especially since I'm 30 years older than my classmates.

What I do know is that a recession is no time to stop sharing. People are hurting. My own needs are met, my bills paid in full each month and I am planning for the future. This means that I can give, and I will do so unless my situation changes. In other words, I have faith that I am doing the right thing, at least for now.

Writing a check is the most obvious way to help, and money is always welcome at the organizations listed above. But giving takes many forms. Buy a season ticket from an arts group or an annual membership from a museum. Offer your expertise, be it plumbing or public relations, to a local nonprofit.

Mentor a teen. Donate blood. Take a bag of free-after-rebate toiletries to a shelter. Shovel an elderly neighbor’s front steps. Volunteer somewhere, especially for a task no one else seems to want to do.

Paradoxically, the act of giving enriches us. When we give something away -- money, objects, time -- we realize that we aren't just about ourselves. We're part of something much bigger. Our contributions matter.

What we do (or fail to do) today helps create the kind of world we'll be living in tomorrow. Cast around in your budget or your daily planner and find some way to become a part of that world.

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