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Conscious Giving QuoteIn our boundary-setting workshops for teens and adults, participants often ask about ways to say “No” to requests for money or gifts without feeling guilty. We coach them to practice staying calm while kindly but firmly refusing requests. To protect their emotional safety, they can give themselves inner messages as “notes to self.” For example:

A pleading child: “Please. Don’t you care about me? Getting a _________ is the only thing that will make me happy!”
Response as you give a hug: “I love you and want you to be happy, but this gift won’t work.”
Note to self: Giving kids everything they ask for does not lead to lasting happiness. We also have to limit gifts to what will work well for our budget and our lives.

A panhandler: “You look so kind. I just need a little change for a bite to eat.”
Response as you keep moving away with awareness: “Sorry, No.”
Note to self: Spare change could be spent on alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs. I can give food, or I can give to a program that addresses poverty.

A fundraiser for a cause: “Don’t you want to save the ______? Please donate!”
Response as you keep moving or hang up the phone, “Thank you for what you do and for the opportunity, but No Thanks.”
Note to self: My money will be best used by organizations I know are trustworthy, working for causes that are most important to me.

Of course, we want to be able to give children gifts, help hungry people, and support charities that are providing solutions to societal issues.  However, most of us have limited resources, so we need to set priorities and make choices. Because gifts to people we know and for political causes are somewhat different, the rest of this article is about charitable giving, although many of the same principles apply.

In order to be compassionate, we need to be at peace with others asking on behalf of charity, as long as they do this respectfully. This is why I always thank fundraisers, rather than being terse with them, even if  the requests seem intense and never-ending.

In the United States, at this time of the year, we will get asked A LOT, because this is when most individuals are most likely to give to nonprofits. As the director of a nonprofit, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t ask people to include Kidpower in their year-end giving many times over the next few weeks. It is truly fine if you choose not to – but it would not be fine if my failure to remind people led to our organization being overlooked.

At the same time, as someone who is dedicated to teaching people to take care of their emotional well-being, I want people to feel joyful rather than pressured when they give or ask others to give.  In order to give consciously, we need to be okay with disappointing people sometimes. In order to ask respectfully, we need to be able to accept disappointment gracefully.

These five Conscious Giving questions can help you assess how you want to respond to an appeal for money:

1.  Is the issue this group addresses truly important to me? Thinking through what your priorities are, and why, can help you decide quickly and confidently.

2.  What do I really know about the organization? Have I had a personal benefit from its services? Or do I know someone who has? Does its website provide detailed information about what the group actually does? What kind of track record does it have? Do I only hear from this organization when it wants something from me, or does it keep me informed?

3. How do I feel about the way I am being asked? Am I being invited respectfully – or being pressured with scare tactics or upsetting stories? Does this nonprofit use low-cost, environmentally-friendly resources, such as email and volunteer support, in their fundraising?

4. How will my donation be used? Will my contribution support just more fundraising, or will it translate into mission-based action? Are there things I want to know before donating? What kind of response do I get if I ask questions?

5. Do I feel appreciated for my contribution? Does this group thank me in a way that is meaningful to me? Do I feel that, no matter how much or little I am able to give, it matters? Or do I feel as if whatever I give is not enough?

There is no one right answer about how much to give to charity. According to fundraising master Kim Klein, “You should feel it – and it should feel GOOD!”

Giving time is very important – but money is also essential in keeping a charitable organization going strong. As Kidpower North Carolina Co-Director Dr. Amy Tiemann says,  “I think about giving time and treasure to the organizations that mean the most to me. By bringing Kidpower to our community, I already invest a lot of time into the organization.  At the same time, I also benefit greatly from Kidpower in so many ways.  When I review my family’s annual giving plan, I make sure to include Kidpower as a top funding priority, because I am so involved with it.  Kidpower is both an incredibly valuable service provider and a worthy nonprofit organization to support.”

My hope is that the boundaries, emotional safety strategies, and assessment questions of Conscious Giving will help make it comfortable to say “No” – and joyful to say “YES!” – as you consider your charitable giving.

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Published: November 24, 2014   |   Last Updated: May 26, 2016

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.