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SAPP Guide to Year-End Giving: Venu Gupta

December 23, 2010

To give or not to give . . . if only that were the only question.

About a year ago, my husband and I discussed our philanthropic priorities in detail for the first time. We found that being part of a committed relationship forces you to voice and discuss priorities out loud, often leading to more careful consideration of the why and how of one’s giving. But just as combining two households requires some choices to coordinate two sets of furniture, kitchen implements, and books, coordinating two partners’ giving priorities — especially when both partners have been doing their own thing for some time — may pose some challenging choices as well.

Last night, we had our latest conversation about philanthropy, prompted by “annual giving” season. The conversation was different — both deeper and more detailed — thanks to our initial discussions last year and several since. Asking each other several key questions helped provide a framework that made our conversations both less daunting and more productive. But as we thought about them more, we realized that these were important questions to ask ourselves as well. As you’ll read below, our chat was more of a stop along the road than an arrival at our destination.

How much should we be giving in all?

This decision brings up a lot of questions about the role of philanthropy in one’s life. When it’s a decision that you need to make with your partner, it’s even trickier. We both noticed an article by Ron Lieber in his New York Times “Your Money” column that provides some perspectives on this question. It’s a nice summary that doesn’t avoid the complexity of figuring this out in the context of one’s long-term situation. We ultimately came up with a provisional answer for this year and decided that — especially with our new baby — we need to think about this more in 2011. While we felt a bit like we postponed this question, in another way, we gave ourselves a big head-start on the next stage of resolving it — and it’s a question that we felt needs to be revisited regularly.

What types of issues and organizations do we want to support

As Archana mentioned in her post last week, we each have multiple “causes and needs that we care about.” And when there are two people involved, these needs are further multiplied. This demands some decisions about the issues and organizations to support — and provokes some other questions. When we to one organization rather than another, are we deciding that one issue is more important than another? And how do we decide among organizations that may be taking very different approaches — advocating for policy change, direct service, raising public consciousness?

We did conclude that ultimately we’d like to make larger gifts to a few organizations and smaller gifts to a broader variety. (We agreed that smaller gifts may be important to an organization beyond the value of the gift itself. I’ll be writing more about this soon.)  As we talked through the organizations we’d like to fund with larger gifts, we realized that part of the challenge (especially when trying to make a plan that works for both of us) is making hard choices about not giving.  If one finds one’s giving important, or has developed a relationship with an organization, it can be mentally (or even emotionally) trying to reduce support or to redirect it altogether.

How do we make it happen?

Translating these decisions into action will require us to keep better track of our giving and come together periodically.  We decided to stick with our portfolio approach for 2011 and see if we can make more forward-looking decisions about larger and smaller gifts during the year. (We didn’t feel like we settled this question either, but did feel that we’d made progress.)

The  arrival of our son also brought more complexity to this conversation. Having a child hasn’t yet changed our priorities for giving, but it has made us think about getting our affairs in order for the longer term, and about how we will have these conversations with him in the future. And having a little person in the next generation has given us another opportunity to open the door to talking with our own parents about their philanthropy.

I know I’ve posed more questions than answers. In the coming weeks and months I’ll be posting more thinking on some of these questions — and we’d definitely like to hear your thoughts as well.

Happy holidays and happy giving!

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