Years ago in Boston I had the privilege of learning from and being in relationship with a group of New Monastics. (A community of families committed to living in and serving in one of the poorest and most violent areas of the city.) They taught me a lot, primarily through my participation with a small group study focused on the global poor.
The idea was pretty straightforward: we gathered weekly for meals, to engage in spiritual reflection, and to examine where we might make simple changes in our life to free up more resources to share with others.
Some students stopped buying one of their three Starbucks coffees each day and saved that money instead for our group donation.
Others prepared their lunches at home and again saved the difference.
Others has shoes repaired rather than buying a new pair.
I honestly can’t remember what shifts I made at the time… but I do remember how empowered I felt as I brought more intentionality to my spending. This was especially true at the time as my then new husband and I integrated our Peace Corps experiences (we met + married in Nicaragua) into our lives in Boston.
Now spiritual people can go too far here: denying the body and its needs or the pleasures of the material world. So we were careful as a group to invite each other to notice where our spending was bringing a lot of joy. And don’t cut there. For example one of the members of our group would travel across town to a hair salon where she really enjoyed both the styling and the vibe. Though it was a luxury item in her budget, it enabled her to feel relaxed and confident in her own skin. This is totally worth the investment.
It was those places of mindlessness we targeted. Habits which actually didn’t didn’t make us feel that good (like racing out of the house in the morning hungry and in need of caffeine or eating the same takeout everyday for lunch. )
You can tell that I was in grad school at the time and childless so many of our concerns + spending habits related to the pressure cooker of academic life and the social environment of being in your 20s.
Yet I can look at my life today and notice similar moments when I veer off the conscious consumer path (buying plastic bath toys in Target comes to mind.)
Not that there is anything really terrible about that choice, but it doesn’t light me up or make me feel like I am living my best life. Instead it more makes me feel like I’m trying to match some external standard for what my life should look like. (Good moms provide their children with happy floating turtles and the like).
One of the real takeaways for me from this experience is the idea of a giving portfolio. Creating your own giving portfolio is super fun! Here is how to do it:
1) Identify one (or more) mindless spending habit you would like to change. Begin to collect what you save through dropping this habit in a special fund. It can be a cookie jar, note in a notebook, or even a separate savings account.
2) Research Giving Options. Have fun with this! Start a paper file folder and/or one on your computer and tuck info about inspiring organizations into it. Keep any direct mail donation requests which speak to you there as well. Google terms which relate to your passions. Keep your eyes and ears open in the world and on social media. Let your heart and inspiration guide you. Even a small donation given with love can be a powerful practice. Hint: Charity Navigator is a great tool for evaluating nonprofits in terms of financial management + transparency before you give.
3) Create Your Giving Portfolio. Think in terms of balance. Maybe you want to give something local + something global. Or to one organization which provides immediate humanitarian relief and another which works for structural change. Always leave space for random inspiration or giving just because it feels right. (e.g. My two most recent donations were discovered via a promo flyer at a gas station and a radio interview with an author on NPR.) In general I find three charities is a great “portfolio” size– and you can revisit your portfolio at any time.
4) Donate + Celebrate. Make it an event. Send the checks with pretty stamps. Donate online and do a loving kindness meditation afterwards, including those who work with the organization and the people they serve in your field of loving care. Share pictures of the communities, people, wildlife you are supporting with others. Print them out and pin on an inspiration board. Or just take a moment to breathe + tune into the sensations in your body as you give– do you feel open, expansive, hopeful? Track where and how these emotions make themselves known in your body. This is the good stuff!
For extra fun donate with a friend, book club or other regular gathering.
So back to the Boston group, as we all made these tweaks in our spending (and began to save the difference) we also shared with each other the organizations that inspired us through their work in the world. We each presented multiple options to the group, some large nonprofits and other social entrepreneur startups with which we had a personal connection. Learning about all these groups and options for giving was itself exciting.
And at the end of our time together we settled on a strategy– giving to three organizations which inspired us (including one I recommended which supported maternal/child health in Northern Africa) and cut fat checks out of our collective fund.
Giving as part of this group was one of the most fun things I’ve done– and I’ve incorporated a related practice into the eCourses I teach. Today I made a donation for the participants in the Parenting with the Enneagram eCourse. (A percentage of their registration fee is going to support families all around the world through two nonprofits: Postpartum Support International + Partners in Health. )
Now this practice doesn’t stand alone. Your giving portfolio needs to be combined with other forms of mindful engagement with finances. (for a book with a fresh take on this + an inspiring tale of getting out of debt check out Money: A Love Story by Kate Northrup). But keeping some sort of channel open for sharing with others– whether it is via donations, or “paying with your feet” by volunteering or getting signatures for a cause — is a vital practice for living a full and meaningful life.
My most recent personal example is giving to the International Elephant Foundation after hearing a moving account on poaching. My kids and I had so much fun looking at the pictures of the mounted patrol (including pictures of the horses) who secure areas of a National Reserve in Kenya and have drastically reduced poaching and snaring of wildlife in these areas. I feel so happy with the thought that we are in relationship with these courageous humans and horses not to mention the wise elephants they protect on the other side of the world.
So over to you…
I’d love to hear about the special organizations you support who are doing good in our world. Please do post a comment with your favorite places to donate.
Who knows, you might inspire someone else to add them to their giving portfolio! Seriously, I’d love to hear.
PS Need some help sorting out your giving portfolio or identifying concrete steps to bring more mindfulness to your sharing, saving, and spending? Schedule a DIY coaching session at your convenience (using the easy online scheduler) + enjoy some one on one support. xo
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Courtney Pinkerton, M.Div & M.PP, is a holistic life and leadership coach and the founder of Bird in Hand Coaching. She holds dual masters degrees from Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Kennedy School, is the host of the Summer of Meditation Challenge and publishes a weekly e-newsletter on real-world mindfulness practices. Courtney teaches regularly on the Enneagram, meditation, and conscious approaches to leadership and parenting. She lives in Oak Cliff, Texas with her husband Richard Amory where they try to keep up with their three young children and remember to water their garden boxes. Courtney can be reached at email@example.com.