This year's holiday season may change they way you think about giving

Even though I have finally just recovered from Halloween candy binge, cleaned up the makeup extravaganza, and removed the spider webs from my bushes,  the stores and shops have wasted no time stetting up their holiday displays around town. Though many (OK most) of us are bemoaning the fact that these displays have gone up before Thanksgiving, there is another undercurrent of furious activity this time of year. While we remain blissfully unaware of the stream of requests and appeals we are about receive, fundraisers and philanthropists alike are gearing up for the 2015 giving season.

  meme credit to Evan Gaensbauer

meme credit to Evan Gaensbauer

Almost anyone tangentially related to the nonprofit sector is familiar with end of the year giving. Donation based organizations are putting together wish lists and development departments are reviewing their donor lists and optimizing the timing of their Facebook posts. There is a tremendous hustle that goes into this time of the year for nonprofits. With nonprofits raising 33% of their income in the month of December alone, and programs like #GivingTuesday, the nonprofit answer to black Friday and cyber Monday, their is big money to be had in reminding consumers that the holidays are traditionally a time of giving.

And most of this hustle pays off. Donors make big decisions this time of year around how they want to make their last, and usually largest, donations before the end of the tax year. But for as much hustle goes into soliciting donations, those of us writing the checks do woefully little research.

According to the Money for Good survey results only 6% of donors spend any time comparing the impact of nonprofits they donate to. Comparing that to the $358.38 billion Americans gave in 2014: last year over 377 billion dollars were handed out with less thought than most of us is give to our coffee order.

But this year there has been a growing amount of press around the effective altruism movement. Based around the idea that we should carefully weigh each decision to give, and that each human life is equally valuable, regardless of distance or status. The movement has gained growing support from people like international poker players, and even celebrities.

While most of us can't live off of just 6% of our income, some additional probing, and critical thinking into where we send our money may be in order. Unfortunately most giving decisions revolve around who has a better marketing campaign, who has a more recognizable name, and who has a lower overhead. Unfortunately none of these things actually measures the effectiveness of carrying out an organization's mission. So where do we begin?

While it can be relatively simple to give to a cause that you just read about, and to get excited about the newest coolest charity innovation, the desire to make our donation decisions easy is a problematic one. What really excites me about fundraising around my birthday each year isn't just watching the money roll in, or translating how many lives are saved based on that number. The really exciting part is getting to talk to everyone about giving.

While I don't do a lot of year end giving, my birthday rather conveniently falls right before the holiday season really begins. So each year I ask friends and relatives to donate money to a highly effective cause, rather than buy me a pint at the bar, or send me a gift card come December. This gives family members an easy out when it comes to figuring out what to send, and it gives me an opportunity to share a really effective cause.

Often we are discouraged from talking about our giving habits, donation dollars aren't brought up, and asking someone where they choose to donate is taboo. However this air of secrecy means that we lack a strong discourse in our communities around what charity really means, we don't celebrate each other work we do, and we don't talk about how giving influences our lives and makes us richer. It also means that we don't always talk about how we choose the charities and causes we donate to. Because we regard our philanthropy as so private we loose out on the opportunity to share notes and compare stories around giving. We loose out on the opportunity to learn about new programs, and think critically about our giving decisions.

The last few decades of human existence has seen the elimination of smallpox, the near extinction of polio, an increase in global wealth, and a decrease in extreme poverty. However there is still so much left to do.

So this year when you start getting pamphlets and greeting cards in your mailbox from different organizations, take a moment to consider how you can have the most impact on the world. Or when Aunt Delores calls you asking what you want for the holidays this year, tell her to skip the gift card, and send that $10 to save a life.