Now that you've decided to give, how do you decide how much? Again, this is an area where a lot of people come unglued. They often start feeling guilty about how small their gifts seem, not realizing that every cent counts to a nonprofit organization. They turn what should be a joyous, positive, self-affirming experience into something that causes them guilt or sadness. And no one should be feeling either of these emotions when they have decided to serve by giving.

Again, the first thing to remember is that a donation of any amount, no matter how small, means a great deal. When I was putting together Journey for Change: Empowering Youth Through Global Service, for example, I went for the big grants and corporate sponsorships because I needed to raise a large amount of money in a short amount of time. But I was also heavily dependent on the private donations I received, both large and small.

Truth be told, the individual contributions are what made it possible for thirty at- risk youths from Brooklyn, NY, and thirty college age mentors to go to Johannesburg, South Africa. I'll never forget the time I received a $10 Wal-Mart money order from someone who heard me on the radio. She was so moved by the idea of my taking children who had never traveled to South Africa that she just up and sent me a donation—she found the address on my website. And when we came back and she read about how the children were preparing to become Global Ambassadors, continuing to raise money and advocate for change in South Africa and at home, she sent me an additional $20. Those two gifts mean the world to me, and they stand as a tribute to the power of giving, no matter what the amount.

Having said that, I suggest that you sit down and figure out what's a comfortable amount to give based on your budget. Remember, everyone has a limit, so be generous, but be realistic, too. You should also figure out how you're going to give: Monthly? Yearly? At certain times of the year?

When Chris and I were first married, we'd set aside some money every month and sit down together to think about how to spend it. I'd bring him four or five organizations to choose from and we'd talk about which one we wanted to support. These days, what I do is target about three- fourths of our charity budget for groups that I'm already committed to, which leaves one- fourth for people who come to me for funds. If their project fits my platform— at-risk children worldwide, breast cancer research, HIV/AIDS, women's issues, and education—and if I think the group is legitimate, I send a donation. I may not make my involvement with this group a long- term thing, but I'm thrilled to support them once, twice, or yes, maybe long- term if it works out that way.

 Excerpted from If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too by Malaak Compton-Rock, foreword by Marian Wright Edelman. Copyright © 2010 by Broadway Books. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


Next Story