This is the season to give. To light up another life. To express gratitude for our good fortune. To share what we have and to revel in the joy that spreads. But many of us don’t give. Despite our best intentions. Why? To give is to recognise that what we have earned for ourselves is also a product of so much support from the communities, the society, the country and the people we live with. To give is to appreciate that what we have beyond our needs has a zillion alternate uses that are far more deserving of being financed. To give what the others need is far superior to giving away what we no longer need. We perhaps know all this, but we don’t act in time, or adequately. What stops us?
Some of us worry about where the funds would go. We cannot stop at just giving. We want to still be sure that the cause we think we are supporting is being funded. Fair enough. An organisational structure is needed to enable large scale acts of charity and support. There are many good ones and as is always the case, bad ones too.
Good news is not news, they say. Something that went wrong attracts publicity. Every now and then we hear stories about how money meant for a good cause was diverted for other uses. The good work done by many noble organisations does not receive as much attention. Even if there is publicity for good work we tend to remain suspicious.
The net result is that we don’t trust enough to give. That need not be the case. Many organisations publicly disclose their balance sheets and profit and loss accounts. They are transparent about how much of the donation they are spending on running the enterprise.
Find out the organisations that work for the causes you care the most about. Look up their websites. Call and speak to them. Ask the questions you like to ask. After being satisfied with their work, make the rule that you will donate at a given frequency and a given amount. Setting this up will make it easy for you to donate and help the organisation anticipate its donations.
If donating to such entities seems far fetched, seek out causes you know and care about, and have some historical association with. Your school may need renovation; your village may need water; the hospital near your home might need modernisation; and so on. Look for opportunities closer to your home and for organisations that you have been associated with. Or causes that are spearheaded by people you know.
Some do not want to make a commitment. They would rather keep it all ad hoc. If there is a natural calamity; if there is a cause that has come up from some crisis; or if there is a situation that calls for help, they would be willing to make some donation. That is fine too. It is better to give for some cause than not give at all.
At another level, there are everyday acts of kindness that you can contribute to. Be generous with the Diwali contributions you make for the security staff, liftmen, your household help, drivers and other support staff. They have seen your food and shopping orders and what you threw away as garbage. Open your hearts to let them enjoy the festivities better. Give away food and sweets to poorer people who live around your area.
Collect the clothes you wish to donate, take your children with you to hand over to poorly clad children in your city. Pay the college fees for the children of lower income families you know. Ask your vegetable vendor, your raddi wala, your milkman, your newspaper vendor and many simple hard working folks you meet in your everyday life, about how their child is studying; find out how you can help. Ask about people who are hospitalised. One illness can ruin the finances of a poor household. Gather your friends and fund the treatment. Make it a point to give and you will find many ways to do it.
We don’t give because we suffer from several attitudes so typical of the entitled class. Poverty is also a lack of opportunity. It is cruel when it afflicts the young, taking away their future in its cold claws of hunger, poor health, limited choices and hopelessness. We can argue as if the poor have not worked as hard as we did, as if they brought it upon themselves. But our heart knows the truth. We may not be able to wipe off the sadness from the face of the earth, but we have it in us to spread cheer. That is what festivity is about.
Some of us like to benefit from the giving. We seek tax concessions. We create convenient structures to roundtrip our money. Stay clear of these abominable acts. Give what does not pinch. Some of us cannot give unless we tell the world about it. Worse, we expect the other to look up to us, be grateful, to tell others and praise us. Give without a trace. Give with grace. Give without the desire for fanfare. Give with immense respect for the other, so they continue to live in dignity, and self respect. Give knowing that you begin a chain of generosity and that those you help will help others. Don’t selfishly expect them to return your favour or grovel in gratitude.
There is a story about Karan from Mahabharat and his immense generosity. Legend goes that he gave with both hands. When asked why he did so, he is said to have replied, if I picked things up with the left hand and gave it with the right hand, I could change my mind even as I did that. I have to give before my mind stops me! So true for many of us. Give when the thought comes to to your mind. Don’t postpone the giving.
If all that you are giving is money, remember you are making the easy and lazy choice. Involvement, work, real contribution of time and effort, and applying oneself to a problem are all higher order acts of giving. They demand your skills, time and effort and demand that you reprioritise your life. Not many have the heart to get involved thus. We are choosing the easy route of only donating some money. Let’s do it with joy, with respect, and with love. What is personal finance without an allocation of money for others. Open your heart and purse this season.
(The author is is Chairperson, Centre for Investment Education and Learning)