The Art of Giving

One of the things I find interesting about my business model is that I get to see how other web development companies operate behind the scenes. When it comes to charitable giving, I’ve noticed a clear pattern – most freelancers or small web shops make a donation to charity when tax time comes around (at the end of the year) or when they get a big check in and are feeling generous. Invariably they feel proud and positive about their donations, and express a desire to give more and more as the business grows.

Such generosity is a wonderful thing! Even better, however, is to make charitable donations an integral part of your business, rather than an occasional event. Here some simple ways to increase your overall benefit to charity by incorporating a few simple concepts:

1) Give on a schedule, preferably monthly. Choose a small donation (by dividing last year’s total donations then dividing by 12, perhaps) and schedule a monthly donation as an automated credit card charge. This way, you give the same amount of money, but you are reminded 12 times a year that your business can benefit others and is an asset to the world. Having a monthly reminder that my little business is helping others gives me a feel-good every time I do the books, and the automated monthly payments are convenient and easy.

2) Start small. If you are feeling very generous and want to make a big donation, great. But, you’ll probably give more money (and have less stress) if you stick to a comfortable ‘giving’ budget each month. You can start with a small donation of $10/month, and evaluate it each year to see if you can afford an increase. You’ll probably be able to afford more each year, and it’s a terrific reminder of your business’s success when you increase your monthly donation to the charity of your choice.

3) Don’t wait until you have ‘made it’ to start giving. Philanthropist Warren Buffet says that unless you are an expert at growing wealth (like he is) it’s usually not a good idea to wait until you are flush with cash to begin giving. Unless you intend to become a billionaire, don’t wait. Instead, begin a lifestyle of giving to charity now by donating what you can comfortably afford today rather than waiting until some unknown time in the future.

4) Find a charity that interests you. You will most likely be receiving e-mail updates and other materials from the organization, so try to find one that you legitimately care about. A great resource is www.charitynavigator.com, which provides information on the quality, management, and efficiency of popular charities.

So, it’s much better to make small but regular donations than it is to write the occasional big check. In addition to being more convenient, routine giving is a feel-good for you and your company and will act as an ongoing reminder that your business is more than just a way to earn your income. Over time you’ll develop a lifestyle (and business-style) of giving, and as your business grows it will become more and more satisfying.

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  • Milos

    The company I used to work in offered a free website on a three month basis to non-profit or similar organizations… I felt good building them. ;)

  • http://diigital.com cranial-bore

    #2 is a good point.

  • Anonymous

    It’s a good point you make Dave. At SitePoint we give a % of every book sale made through this site to charity. We started doing this back in 2001 when we launched our first book – Build Your Own Database Driven Website Using PHP & MySQL. Even a small amount per sale over time adds up to a significant contribution.

  • wwb_99

    Milos points out a very great gift to give–in kind donations. Anyone can write a check. But most charities cannot afford to get their hands on a top-quality design firm to do their website, or quality developers to tweak their line of business applications. This is where we, the techie community, can step in effectively by donating time to building and helping charities operate.

  • http://www.revmedia.com dhecker

    That’s really true. I have a friend who is very wealthy, and also a great programmer. Every now and then I get involved in a new pro bono project and I ask him if he’d like to contribute. He reminds me that pro bono projects are always a nightmare, and that he prefers to just write a check. I agree that those freebie projects are always tough, but I expect that and I try and get a contract in place to contain things. In the end, money is nice by professional skills are also at a great premium!! In-kind donations can frequently be much more valuable than people realize…

  • http://www.turtlereality.co.uk jont17

    I think it’s difficult to work on a project for nothing. There is no budget and the client can’t complain if the work isn’t up to scratch. I think you get much better results from projects where both sides know exactly what the score is and have the same interest in getting a good result. It’s the same problem that you get working for friends at ‘mates rates’.

    Also, is all this giving just to make us feel better inside or is there a business benefit? I hate to seem cynical.. but I am so that’s how Icome across!

  • wwb_99

    Valid point about the potential nightmares of Pro Bono projects. I do content that, like any project, you must set expectations and such up front and in writing or you can easily get into bad scope creep situations.

    The benefits are both psychological/moral and practical, especially for pro bono work. You can add that site to your portfolio. You can also take the chance and work with technologies and techniques you could not use in a production environment. Thereby using the work as a learning/experimenting experience.

  • http://www.revmedia.com dhecker

    In the end I would say this:

    1. Pro Bono work IS problematic, annoying and frustrating, for sure.

    2. Pro Bono work IS very satisfying, generous, and worthwhile.

  • shadowbox

    Tried pro bono and have the grey hairs and heart disease to prove it – I’d never do it again and happily fall back on the ‘writing a cheque’ option, at least with regard to my business and charities. Outside of business, I donate some time to fund raising for a couple of charities, but restrict it to organising or helping out at events, and definitely not offering free web design services.

  • soft_train

    Charities benefit in a huge way when professionals offer their services for free… Set realistic expectations, then deliver on your promises.

    You get to feel good about helping someone else and it helps you build connections in the community. You’d be surprised at the calibre of people you end up working with – and the opportunities that open up!

  • anonymous

    I work for a charity and we are having our website redesigned pro-bono at the moment. It is a huge help and in the long run will aid our ability to raise more funds because we will look more professional. Donations of time and expertise are extremely valuable to our work becuase it allows us to set up systems that improve our efficiency and our ability to stand out from the crowd in the huge charity sector.

  • http://www.eric-shmookler.com Eric Shmookler

    Nice article. I just established an automatic monthly donation to my favorite charity. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    There is a great grassroots org called Save’NDonate that has just launched a website which allows users to register their charity or org and then shop online, with 100% of what is advertised going directly to the cause. They have several hundred merchants and actually address the ‘giving often’ mantra. They are FREE to use. great concept!!!