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Making a List and Checking it Twice

Making a List and Checking it Twice

In the course of raising three kids I have seen my share of holiday wish lists. Crayon scrawled letters to Santa Claus have now been replaced with text messages and links to the coveted items on websites but the lists have all left a narrative of what captured my family’s attention over the decades.

Lists have a way of capturing our thoughts and intentions, and in the case of holiday gift lists our wishes and desires.

Most kids update their lists annually. What they couldn’t live without the prior year is a distant memory as they craft the fantastical world of new possibilities.

In a desire to cultivate the spirit of generosity in my kids as they were growing up I would ask them to make one wish list for themselves and another list for what they wanted to give to others. At this point in the column I wish I had a heartwarming story of how my young charges spent hours crafting their giving list and selflessly put their own wishes to the side. But this list activity never seemed to get the results I had hoped.

In retrospect I think I may have found the answer. (Why we figure these things out after our children have left the house is a mystery to me!) I didn’t spend enough time including them in my own giving list. Sending off end of the year donations was just one more thing on my to-do list. My intentions were good but my execution was rushed.

40% of all charitable giving in the United States happens in December- when most Americans are busy checking off lots of lists. With over a million charities in the US and over 3,000 right here in Southwest Florida there are a lot of opportunities to give.

I always told my kids that they wouldn’t get everything on their lists-and the same thing rings true for my end of the year giving. There are so many great causes and organizations and I can never give to them all.

Intellectually I realize that when I decide to give to one organization I am in the same moment deciding not to give to another, but in the end of the year rush, I have to be careful not to make these decisions in haste.

I wish my children had seen me take as much time with the giving lists as I did with all the other holiday preparations.

One strategy I have learned since I joined the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is establishing a Donor Advised Fund. Last year I contributed a portion of my charitable dollars into a Fund at the end of the year and that gave me plenty of time to devote to my giving decisions.

I have also learned that I am not alone in trying to develop a list or find the information I need to make decisions I feel good about long after the holidays are over. Team members at the Foundation, armed with data on community need, information on nonprofits and opportunities to get involved in our region, are getting calls from caring donors seeking the most effective ways to fulfill their personal philanthropic wishes.

The team also arranges tours at local organizations, and roundtables on issues to help shape a charitable list.

All of my kids will be home for the holidays this year and I plan to revisit their youth by asking them to craft two lists. But this time I will be checking the giving lists twice.

If you would like any help crafting your end of the year giving lists please email me at [email protected]


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Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More