Originally published on JewishBoston.com.
If your inbox is anything like mine, the last two weeks have been a deluge of messages from well-meaning organizations helpfully reminding us that 2011 is about to end, and with it our last opportunity to take advantage of tax-deductable donations for this fiscal year. Each organization has kindly offered to be the recipient of any money we might need to donate in order to meet the needs of our tax accounting. How sweet of them!
I don’t begrudge any organization their chance to make however many sincere asks for donations they feel are necessary. In fact, for the years that I was chair of the board of Keshet, I was often the one writing these messages. And yet, this year I haven’t made a single year-end donation.
Before you accuse me of being the Grinch who Stole the New Year’s Tax Benefit, let me clarify. My charitable giving is an ongoing practice. Each year, I designate a certain amount to the organizations that are dearest to me — ideally, a little more than I gave the year before. I also know that every year new giving opportunities will arise: I’ll attend a benefit, or a friend will get a new job with a nonprofit organization, or someone will participate in a walk/bike/bowl/sing/eat-a-thon and I’ll make a donation there as well. So I try my best to set aside some funds for those occasions, and I keep a tzedakah box in my living room to collect pocket change that can be put to such use as well.
Giving all year rather than at the end has a number of benefits. First and foremost, tzedakah, the mtizvah of ensuring justice through charitable giving, is not connected to any particular holiday or season. It’s supposed to be one of those things Jews do as a matter of course. Financially, it’s much easier for me to give in smaller chunks throughout the year than in large chunks at the end — I don’t have to worry about accidentally spending that money elsewhere. It’s also better financially for the organizations I support: they have cashflow needs all year round as well, so receiving donations in traditionally quieter months (such as the summer) can be particularly helpful to them. Finally, it means that I can relax at this time of year and not have to think about my taxes until April.
So by all means, make your year-end donations. (If you need suggestions, my biggest contributions went to Keshet and CJP, and my “I wish I had more to give to you” nominees are Jewish Women’s Archive, Mayyim Hayyim Community Mikveh, InterfaithFamily.com, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, and Hebrew College. I also give to non-Jewish causes that are meaningful to me and people close to me such as the LGBT Center of Raleigh, the MS Society, and others.) But when the calendar flips to 2012, don’t wait another twelve months to make your next gift. You know which causes are important to you — why wait an entire year to do something about it?
Happy New Year!