We all wish to give but knowing how much is another story. Here’s how to give year-round, intentionally, and sustainably.

In over a decade of helping families and business owners plan for their financial futures, I’ve found that, deep down, people love people. It may look and sound different from person to person, but it’s there. Compassion for hungry families, care for children in need, sympathy for victims of uncured disease and a shared sense that maybe a little more time or money could fix the problem. But, along with these noble desires, we hear a few fears and challenges.

• I’m worried that I’m not saving enough for my own future.
• I’m not sure how to choose a single cause with so many important needs out there.
• I want to know that what I give will actually make a difference.

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Fortunately, each of these challenges can be answered, freeing you to give more and feel better about it. Let’s start with the fear of being underprepared for the future. 

Overcome the worry with a plan. This concern is almost universal and usually stems from two sources:

  1. I don’t know how much I should be saving to take care of my future.
  2. I’ve personally experienced or witnessed the devastation of financial hardship. 

This is one of the most frequent concerns we help address. A financial plan can map out reasonable goals and an action plan to reach them. In the same way you budget for your mortgage payment, a financial plan can show you how much to budget for college for the kids and your retirement.

When you know what you need to budget for your future, you can also see clearly what you have to give. This brings us to the second concern: how to identify the right cause. 

Choose a cause you’re close to. The most rewarding charitable work often connects to a cause you’re close to. It can help you see the impact of your efforts by seeing those who benefit directly. However, closeness to a cause doesn’t have to mean proximity…it can come in a few ways.

  • Organizations in your immediate community. The owners of my gym recently held a food drive for a food bank down the street. Members donated over 6,000 pounds of rice culminating in an evening workout where, one by one, we relayed the 50-pound bags from the gym to the food bank. We got to serve those we pass by every day, partner with a local organization and meet many in our own community who rely on these donations every day. These groups are quietly operating all over…almost certainly somewhere in your community!
  • Causes you have a personal affection for. A friend recently started a ministry that pays the expenses for families who have the heart to adopt children but can’t afford the overwhelming cost. He can relate. He and his wife adopted two kids and experienced the heavy financial toll it can take. He has countless stories of kids adopted by loving families because the cost is no longer a barrier. A personal experience is among the most powerful motivators and might help find your cause.
  • Groups that your closest family, friends or colleagues serve. I work with over 100 dentists in my financial planning practice. For a few years, I served on the board of a Seattle non-profit providing free medical and dental care to those who couldn’t afford it. The common cause connected me to some of my clients and professional colleagues in a very unique way.

Find a cause you’re close to and dive in. Now to the final challenge: giving that will make a difference. 

See the difference by being the difference. Generosity isn’t just your check writing ability. For some, their time is their most plentiful resource. For others, it’s purely financial. Many find a balance of both. But however you give, the more regularly you’re involved, the more difference you’ll see. Taken straight from my mom, here are three categories to consider.

  • Time – Willing and regularly available volunteers are often a major need. Moving boxes, stuffing envelopes…it’s not always exciting, but these simple acts make the impact possible. If you’re able, a regular commitment of time goes a long way.
  • Talent – Whatever your craft, you can use it to serve. Graphic design, accounting, sales/fundraising, event coordination…if you have a particular expertise, you’ll be a superhero to a good cause in need.
  • Treasure – Sometimes it’s as simple as writing a check. You may not be Bill & Melinda Gates, but regular financial gifts allow charitable organizations to budget for outreach and operational costs. It’s also entirely appropriate to ask how finances are allocated. You want to be both generous and effective.

So, give it a shot! Build a game plan for your personal financial future, find a cause you’re close to and offer up your best mix of time, talent and treasure. You’ll see lives changed and be reminded that, at the core, people love people.

Josh Whelan

Financial Advisor

Josh is a Certified Financial Planner and founding partner of Alterra Advisors. He sees his profession as a calling, not just a career. His motive for pursuing financial planning was very personal. While working on a degree in marriage and family counseling, Josh’s father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Josh decided then and there to change career paths to help his family prepare for an uncertain financial future. Financial planning became his path to serving others.

Josh applies his passion for personal relationships and helping people thrive as a financial steward. His “listen first” approach seeks to understand his clients’ true financial goals and then offer the open communication and guidance needed to reach those goals.

A native of the Pacific Northwest and a graduate of Seattle Pacific University, Josh serves many kinds of clients, but has established a niche helping dentists integrate their personal and practice finances. He’s also a regular lecturer at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, helping the school integrate financial education into the curriculum.

When he’s not serving his clients, Josh loves date nights with his wife, Jenny, and going on adventures with his three kids, Audrey, Norah, and Declan. He’s a CrossFit enthusiast, a lifelong musician and an active member of his church.

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