Overcome Your Inner Scrooge

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Foolanthropy 2006 Donations
Charity Amt. Raised
Co-op America $169,425
NFTE $91,341
Rare Conservation $30,047
Room to Read $25,266
Half the Sky $21,350
TOTAL $337,429
As of January 9, 2007
Foolanthropy 2006
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By Dan Caplinger (TMF Galagan)
December 28, 2006

For many people, charitable giving is just a part of their life, especially if they've grown up seeing others in their family being generous donors. However, when you have to make an effort to pay your bills every month and face the challenges of dealing with your own personal financial plan, giving away some of your meager resources may be the furthest thing from your mind. And even those who are wealthy enough that they don't have to worry about their immediate financial needs sometimes choose not to make gifts to charity. Yet by focusing solely on the monetary aspects of donating to charity, one can easily miss the entire point of making gifts.

It's not about the money
Clearly, most charitable organizations need money to manage their operations and achieve their missions. But in a modern world in which some charities buy or trade mailing lists of potential donors and hire outside consultants to assist with raising funds, donors can easily get jaded about the fundraising process. Moreover, as charities become increasingly aware of practices in the for-profit business world and incorporate some of those into their own nonprofit activities, you may feel that some of these organizations are becoming too much like regular businesses and losing something unique yet intangible about what it means to be a charity. It's unfortunate that some charities, especially larger ones, have to struggle so hard to retain a sense of connection with their donors and the communities they serve.

As a donor, however, you don't have to pay attention solely to how much you give. You don't have to be concerned about whether you and your family show up on the annual list of platinum-level donors, or whether your gift is big enough to get a coffee mug or T-shirt back from your charity. While you should take advantage of any tax benefit you can get from making a gift, tax deductions don't need to be the sole motivation for your gift. How you choose to define the purpose of your gift is entirely up to you.

A whole new attitude
Instead, think of giving to charity as an opportunity to gain a brand-new perspective on the world. Just as making an investment in a company such as Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN) might make you a lot more involved in knowing how cutting-edge technology finds its way into practical applications such as flat-panel displays and cellular phones, and buying an international ETF such as Templeton Emerging Markets (NYSE: EMF) can teach you a lot about how foreign markets differ from those in the U.S., learning more about the charity you choose for your gift can show you what life is like for groups of people you may not interact with on a regular basis.

In addition, getting to know the people who dedicate their lives toward charitable missions can open one's eyes to the most positive aspects of human nature. Many charity workers clearly aren't in the business for the money; some could easily make double their salaries working in the business sector. Yet for them, the opportunity to do good for others who need their help takes precedence over their own selfish interests. The hard work and determination of charity employees can refresh your own spirit.

As you dig more deeply into understanding the work your chosen charity does, you may also gain some humility. It's all too easy to see people who are poor and suffering as somehow completely different from the people you see and talk with every day. In reality, people in need are as diverse a group as the general population. When you hear the stories of people who receive help from charities, you may realize there's not much difference between them and you. It might take only a single personal crisis, natural disaster, or unexpected calamity to put you in their shoes.

Charities for every need
The nice thing about charity in the U.S. is that there are so many charitable organizations you can choose to support. If you look closely, you can probably find an organization that matches well with your own values and passions. Then you'll have a chance to support a cause in which you truly believe and can invest yourself in fully.

The Motley Fool's five chosen charities for its 2006 Foolanthropy campaign give a good indication of how many options you have as a donor. From helping build sustainable economic practices to helping kids to read and learn business skills, from improving conditions for orphans in China to saving critical ecosystems, there's a Foolanthropy-supported charity that addresses a problem and provides a solution that improves the lives of people throughout the world.

In the letdown that often follows the holiday season, you may be tempted to become a Scrooge in your attitude toward charity. Resisting that impulse, however, will help you keep a positive attitude toward others and toward your life in general. Making a gift to charity can help you overcome your inner Scrooge and keep a healthy outlook on the world, and it doesn't have to cost you a fortune to do it. You may find that making a gift to charity ends up giving you much more in return.

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Time is running out for the 2006 Foolanthropy charity drive. Take a look at the five great charities chosen for this year's event, and click the links from there to make a donation today. Thanks for your support.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger sometimes feels like Scrooge right after the holidays, but he gets over it quickly. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy is always the perfect gift.