How do you decide where your charitable dollars should go? For Padma L. Atluri, the solution is easy: She calls a very exclusive meeting.
The endangered lemur in Madagascar? A children's art foundation in South Central L.A.? A colleague racing for the cure in Chicago? Or the unemployed, uninsured friend with a broken ankle in Brooklyn?

The fact is, they all could use my help. And by help, I mean part of my paycheck. So how do I decide? I call a monthly board meeting.

True, the only person in attendance is the chairman of the board—me—but rest assured, a lot happens at these summits. Junk mail seeking clemency finally gets to plead its case. Minutes aren't taken, but checks are written. And I come a step closer to saving the world, or at least feeling like I am.

The protocol is simple: Move me—preferably to tears—and you win. Because unlike all those times when I'm deciding between the pumpkin cheesecake and the mixed berries and the question is whether or not I deserve a gift, here I get to be impulsive and generous instead of impulsive and guilt-ridden.

I admit my system is not without flaws. I don't want to penalize a worthy cause just because the person doing the charitable run wasn't sympathetic to my last heartbreak. But the truth is, I'm chairman. Casualties will happen. And there are months when unexpected expenses mean there isn't money for anyone—like when my eucalyptus tree crashed into my neighbor's fence days after my water heater exploded. (Solution: I made up my intended $200 political contribution by volunteering at a phone bank.)

Still, I treat the meetings as official business. I even open and close them by sounding the gavel I received as student body president in high school. The monthly ritual lets me stay on top of my mail, my friendships, and my worldly concerns. I no longer rely on the holidays to remind me to give, or be grateful. And in the weeks that follow each meeting, when I watch the global news unfold, I don't feel helpless. That's the beauty of being chairman of my own board. The buck doesn't just stop here. It starts here, too.

Padma L. Atluri is a television writer in Los Angeles.

Next: The benefits of giving to charity


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