12/24/2014 09:07 EST | Updated 02/23/2015 05:59 EST

Give To Charity All Year Long, Not Just Over Christmas

Face it: when it comes to charitable giving, we can be pretty lazy.

That's not to say Canadians aren't a generous bunch. We all have giving instincts. But most of us only give to charity when we're asked to do so directly.

Sure, you might throw a few coins in the Salvation Army Christmas kettle at the mall, or write a cheque for the charity canvasser who comes knocking on your door, or send some canned goods to school with your kids for their annual fundraiser. But you probably do it without giving it a lot of thought, at least if you're like most of us.

Charities overwhelm us with pleas for donations because they know -- and studies have shown -- that most people only give when they're asked. So you can hardly blame them.

As donors, it's really our fault that we're bombarded with charity asks. Because we don't give regularly or out of habit, charities have been forced to adopt more aggressive fundraising tactics in order to raise the money they need to fund their work. What option do they have when most of us don't give unless provoked?

And the more we respond to their asks, the more they keep asking -- especially at Christmas time. We all play a role in the creation and maintenance of the fundraising-driven charity sector.

Stats show that 30 per cent of charitable giving happens during the holiday season. It's a time when we're more aware of the need to give back, but it's also a time when we're busy and our budgets are stretched. And, despite our best intentions, our giving becomes rushed, or we give out of obligation and end up feeling financially stressed.

All of these factors can lead to a less-than-positive charitable giving experience. Or, ultimately, it can lead to the belief that we simply can't afford to give.

And that's a shame.

It's time to take back ownership and control of our charitable giving, and make it the experience we want it to be: positive, joyful, rewarding and, ultimately, impactful. If we do, more charities will become more effective at solving problems in our communities.

Make a Plan to Give all Year Long

If we reframe the way we think about charitable giving, we can make it an experience that reflects our values, goals and budgets. By taking the time to think about what we want our charitable giving to achieve, we can react more thoughtfully and confidently to the inevitable charity asks. Instead of blindly responding to requests for our money, we can purposefully choose charities that are working on issues we really care about, and plan to give to them all year long. Then the satisfaction we feel by giving will increase.

Also, stop thinking you can't afford to give. The fact is, almost everyone can afford to give to charity. Studies have even shown that low-income people give more than higher income earners.

You don't have to wait until you're rich to give to charity. Aim to put aside a dollar a day. Heck, if you put aside $2, you'll be more generous than the average Canadian. How much is a dollar or two a day to you? A beer. The change from your morning coffee. A song on iTunes. Many of us probably won't even notice the small difference in our cash flow. Put aside some money every day until the end of the month, and you'll already be giving more per month than most people.

Small actions like this add up, and they allow you to start exercising your giving muscles without really feeling any pain. Once you get used to putting aside small amounts of money each day, you'll be well on your way to creating a benevolent habit. And then you can start marrying this money to the problems you want to tackle with your charitable dollars.

Spend some time thinking about the causes that are meaningful to you -- whether it's the arts, health, climate change or poverty. Pick causes that appeal to your heart and mind. That way, you'll be a lot more invested in choosing your recipients carefully, and you'll naturally be interested in learning more about what they do.

Approach giving the way you approach everything else you care about: start it, make it a priority, and practice it regularly. Don't worry about making mistakes. Cherish the mistakes you make as a donor, as they will make you better at changing the world over time.

When you start giving on your terms, rather than simply reacting to charity asks, eventually the current fundraising-driven charity paradigm will shift. Charities won't need to spend as much time and money reaching you; instead, they will be able to spend more money on solving the problems you pay them to solve, and reporting back about their successes and failures. When you give regularly, charities spend less money on you and more on the causes you want to help.

And you'll have more control over how you give, when you give, how much you give and to whom, no matter what the season.

The best gift you can give the charitable sector this holiday season is to be intentional about the charitable impact you want to create. Create a plan to make that impact real all year long, and you will experience the power of thoughtful benevolence.


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