A reader reached out with the following question:
“It seems all people are interested in is what I can do for them financially. I can’t remember the last time I logged onto social media and didn’t get hit with at least one of these pleas:
- Support my kid’s school or sports fundraiser.
- Buy my home party merchandise.
- Sponsor me or donate to my charity.
- Pledge my Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign.
It’s overwhelming. And if I don’t contribute, I get guilt-tripped. I want to be a good friend, but I can’t afford to give to everyone and everything. How do you find balance with all the asks?”
Ironically, the day this question landed in my inbox, I received an invitation to a jewellery home party and a request for a donation. I totally get where the reader is coming from. You want to be kind and generous, but you can’t give to everyone. What can you say and do in these circumstances?
You stick to your values-based plan and you say so, politely. Here’s how it works.
As with many successful outcomes, it all starts with a plan; in this case, a deliberate spending plan. Stay with me here. I’ll get to some suggestions on what to say in a second, but we need to put the foundation in place first.
The key is to run your financial life deliberately and consciously. Instead of barrelling through life with your nose to the grindstone, dealing with a plethora of urgent matters, spending on an ad hoc basis depending on which squeaky wheel is acting up, I suggest you make a plan and decide ahead of time which items are worthy of your valuable monthly cash.
I know, planning (or budgeting, as some insist on calling it) is about as much fun as dental surgery. I should know because I’ve just had dental surgery – definitely not a fan.
But unlike surgery, planning your finances doesn’t have to be painful if you stick to values-based planning:
First, you list your top 3-5 values. Are health and wellness most important? Time with family? Philanthropy? Financial security? Doing work you love? Spending time with friends? Travel? Making a difference?
Take a moment to think about what really matters to you and create a list of your values. Then, rank them in order of most important to least important. Focus on your top five for the purpose of financial planning. If you make it through all five and you have cash left over after the process described below, brilliant! Keep going down your list.
Second, create goals that are consistent with those values. That’s where the spending starts.
Third, you consciously apportion your hard-earned dollars to your values-based priorities in order of importance. When you have accounted for all the cash, you’re done spending for the month. (No credit card debt – that’s worse than dental surgery, which is saying something given the nasty tools dentists use. Seriously.)
If, as I suspect, your family’s health ranks fairly high in the list of values, then providing a good roof over your head, healthy food, and medical necessities would get first dibs on your dollars. Perhaps, like us, you also prioritize activities that keep you physically fit, so you set aside some money for soccer, dance lessons, and maybe a gym membership or workout equipment for your home. You get the idea. It’s what matters to you most that gets the dollars.
Somewhere in your list of top priorities, I strongly recommend that you include money for savings and investing. First of all, you need a financial buffer – an emergency fund – for the inevitable unpleasant surprises that life throws your way, sometimes all-too frequently. This is where your savings come in. Once you’ve got a fund to cover you through six months of no income, you start investing the savings for your future. (Don’t know how to invest? I’ll show you. It is not rocket science and yes, you are smart enough. And no, I don’t care what mark you got in Grade 12 math – that’s irrelevant.)
OK, now that you’ve got your list of priorities, figure out how much you want to set aside for donations. Is it based on a percentage of your income? Is it a fixed dollar amount?
Once you figure out how much you’re going to give in total, the next step is to ask a few basic questions linked to your values:
- What matters to you?
- Which agencies, causes, movements, or individuals do you want to support?
- Do you want to give more money to fewer causes or would you prefer doling out smaller amounts to more people?
- Do you want to assign all of the cash at the outset or keep a cash reserve to support school kids or unforeseen requests?
What to say
Now that you have established your values-based goals, you know your spending priorities, you’ve determined how much you want to donate in total, and you know where those donation dollars should go, you’re set to address the people who ask you for money.
Here are some possible responses to the scenarios presented above:
- Someone knocks on your door looking for a donation: This is a tough one because it puts you on the spot. My husband and I decided that we would not make any donations at our door. Once a year, we sit down to figure out which causes we’re going to support and we send them the funds right away. That accounts for the majority of our donations. When agencies or organizations come to our door, we say, “We’re sorry, we don’t give at the door; we sit down once a year to select organizations to support. We have completed our donations for this year, but we’re happy to take your information and consider you for next year.” That takes the pressure off the person answering the door, eliminates the risk of fraud, and allows for deliberate decision-making.
- When a friend’s kid asks for donations for their sports teams, we personally decline, saying that we reserve our donation money for charitable causes. That said, when a neighbour asked about our empties for her son’s hockey fundraiser, we happily opened our garage door and told her to take them all! For us, that was a win-win. If neighbourhood kids are collecting money for a charitable cause, we make a donation from the funds we’ve set aside for that purpose. Again, go back to your list of values and choices about what, and whom, to support.
- When kids sell goods for their fundraisers, we agree to the purchase only when the items on offer are of value to our family. Our local Girl Guides know they can count on cookie sales at our door every single year. Love those things! The gross chocolates that so many schools insist on hawking to raise money? We politely decline, saying that we don’t eat them.
- “Buy my home party merchandise“: Anyone who knows me well, knows that I don’t enjoy home parties. Even when the host graciously tells you that you should not feel compelled to buy, of course you do. I avoid the pressure altogether by being honest about the fact that I’m not a home party kind of gal. If it’s a product that may be of interest, I ask to get a link to the online catalogue and then tell the host that I’ll reach out if there’s something I want. If they follow up and I’m not inclined to buy, I simply tell them there’s nothing I need at this time, thanks.
- “Sponsor me or donate to my charity“: Back to your conscious spending plan. If their charity or activity is in line with your values, selections, and budget, then go ahead and donate. If not, then you can say that you have used up all your donation money for the year and best of luck with the organization/run/event.
- Pledge my Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign: It’s worth remembering that if the ask isn’t a fit for you, you don’t need to respond to the email blast. People who are engaging in campaigns rarely send out individual emails; they’re usually sent to everyone with a pulse in the hope of generating interest. I get that, and as an entrepreneur, I applaud their initiative. If the item or campaign doesn’t appeal, just let it go without comment. If someone asks you about it, you can tell them that it’s not in your spending plan for this year.
- Sudden loss and Go Fund Me campaigns: My husband and I assign a portion of our funds to the stories we read about in the paper in which individuals, or families, have experienced a catastrophe: major illness; house burns to the ground and they lose everything; or the death of a parent leaving the family in financial distress. It’s important to me to support those who are experiencing trauma, just as others supported me when I lost my first husband and found myself $400,000 in debt two decades ago. It’s part of my values. If this is important for you, too, then set funds aside for this purpose. When the funds run out for your annual allotment, you can genuinely say that you have no more room in your donation budget at the moment.
Decide what matters to you, deliberately apportion your cash, and use your plan as your go-to for your response to solicitations.
“If I don’t contribute, I get guilt-tripped”
That is not cool. Enough with the guilt already! Anyone who asks for money should have the good grace to politely thank you and move on if you decline to contribute. It’s not their concern why you said no. There could be any number of reasons, most of which are probably private. Regardless, you don’t owe anyone an apology. Let go of their guilt; that’s their issue.
Remember: It’s your cash; you choose. Use your values and your plan to guide you.
If you have another approach that works, please share below.