Twitter co-founder Biz Stone recommends starting your philanthropy now to achieve what he calls "the compound interest of altruism." As with compound interest on a bank account, if you start giving charitably now at the level your capacity allows, the impact you create will be significantly greater than if you start later, when you might have a larger resource pool.
Some years ago, Stone wrote on his personal website:
My wife and I have found ways [to] give even when we were in debt through volunteering. We found this work to be rewarding on many levels -- helping others really does work both ways. When we started earning more substantive amounts of money, we were able to put more funding toward charitable causes each year.
Recently, at a talk for students at Oxford University's Said Business School, Stone said:
The way to do it is to get involved as early on as possible because, even if it's just volunteer work or $5, the impact you'll have over your lifetime is far greater than anything you could possibly do if you wait until you think you're comfortable. You'll never really feel you're comfortable enough to give away your money, but if you start now and start doing some volunteer work, donating a little bit here and there, over the next 40 years you'll have a huge amount of impact and you'll feel great about yourself.
So what can you do to start out with regular charitable giving, even if your financial resources are limited?
- Give your time as a volunteer or donate non-cash items. Says Stone: "Whether you're helping a teacher and classroom in need, donating clothes or canned foods to a local shelter, volunteering for disaster relief, or giving up your birthday to help others get clean water, you're doing something that makes a difference in the world."
- Be a micro-philanthropist. When contributing even small amounts through crowdfunding and social media, the pooled contributions can make a big difference. Sites such as MyPlanG.org, StartSomeGood.com, Crowdrise.com, and Razoo.com can help you do that.
- Join or start a Giving Circle. Usually made up of people in the same community, friends, or even relatives, a Giving Circle consists of members who pool their money, share the task of researching nonprofits, and then give larger charitable gifts. That way the impact of your giving is multiplied. For more information on how to start or join a Giving Circle, go to givingforum.org or givingcircles.org.
Your charitable donations can be scaled to your resources at each phase of your economic life. But starting now will mean that you'll be able to have a greater impact in the long run, especially if you're able to create a focus and maintain it over time. That means some charitable planning now and revisiting your plan each time your financial status changes. The good news is that, as Stone indicates, your own satisfaction through charitable giving will compound over time as well.