Revisiting our “Charitable” Giving – A Broader Perspective

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The end of year for many of us is a time to complete our annual charitable giving. While the IRS incentives have changed, the community needs certainly haven’t.

I probably wouldn’t have thought to write about this except for a conversation (or non-conversation) I had with some friends. We are all part of a support group of retired nonprofit consultants and executives who meet periodically to share tales of the challenges and pleasures encountered in retirement.

On a recent group call, I innocently asked about what kinds of organizations my friends support with their charitable donations. There was this deafening silence. No one responded. I concluded I had crossed a boundary or that it wasn’t a good question.  I didn’t think more about it. Over the next few days, each member sent me and the group a note with organizations they support and why. Apparently, we just needed some space to ponder the question.

In looking at the connection between faith and justice, the use of my time and financial resources is an important question.  

My wife Geraldine and I do some giving together and have causes we support individually. As a family, we give priority to supporting family members and friends who are facing a financial challenges. We believe it “does take a village” to help in times of need. We also discuss and agree on our contributions to our faith community.

In terms of other personal giving that is priority for me, some have deep roots with years of giving and others are more recent as I focus more on racial justice and equity. Like many, my awareness of the depth and harm caused by our nation’s history of racism has grown in the past few years. That has influenced how I think about giving.

My first job out of college was as a social worker for Baltimore’s Department of Social Services. That was over 40 years ago. Yet there are organizations I continue to support as a result of my experience there. In one position, I worked with a coalition of organizations to host a community holiday party that provided gifts for the local kids in a low-income neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore.  Seeing the joy on the moms’ and dads’ faces when they got a decent gift for their children made me a believer in the work of Toys for Tots. I have continued to support them and have involved my grandchildren in selecting the gifts to be donated.

During the same period working in Baltimore, I saw firsthand what it meant to a mom or family to have no refrigerator, to have the utilities turned off for non-payment or to be evicted. In trying to find emergency funds to assist these families in crisis, local charities were the most consistent, reliable and generous source of support. I contribute to give to these direct service organizations.

In my view, hunger is another human need that demands resolution. No one should go to bed hungry. In my work as a consultant with nonprofits, I engaged with food banks around the country and with their national organization, Feeding America. They are an important part of working to end hunger and to feed those in need, so I give to them regularly.

As I reflected more over the past few years on how to support the work for racial justice and equity, I realized quickly I need to move beyond these traditional mainstream causes. I also choose to give to local grassroots groups who meet local needs in a way that advances social change and to national organizations with a racial justice/social change mission.  Turns out that my friends do, too.

Some examples of local nonprofits to which my group members donate include:

  • Bread for the City is a Washington-Dc based organization that effectively combines advocacy and services that empower people and neighborhoods.
  • Immigration Outreach Service Center is a faith-based grass roots organization in Baltimore serving refugees and immigrants initially from Africa and now from around the world.
  • Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice and Alabama Arise both work to organize and advocate for racial justice and equity in one of the poorest states in the nation.
  • Mujeres Unidas y Activas is a San Francisco grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women with a dual mission of promoting personal transformation and building community power for social and economic justice.  
  • Connecticut Advocates for Children is a statewide organization focused on overcoming racial disparity with young people of color being incarcerated, being treated more harshly by police and school officials, and getting less than quality education

Examples of national organizations we support include ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, Doctors without Borders, United We Dream (advocates for Dreamers), Equal Justice Institute and Southern Poverty Law Center. Giving is part of what makes love a verb. Change and more equity and justice come from actions by committed people. Can we make a bigger difference by using our money and time to advance justice and love in 2022?


  • Tom Adams

    Tom Adams writes and speaks on topics vital to the intersection of our personal lives with our community and global lives. He has for decades been engaged in and written about nonprofit leadership and transitions, spirituality and spiritual growth, how we each contribute to a more just and equitable world and recovery from addictions and the Twelve Step recovery movement.


  1. Shirin McArthur

    Thank you for this reflection, Tom, and especially the stories behind the charities you choose. We also have individual and joint charitable giving, and my focus has also changed in recent years in light of what I’ve learned about racial inequity in this country. I recognized some organizations on your list and am glad to learn about others. Thanks for reminding all of us that tax write-offs are the least important reason for sharing our wealth with others!

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Shirin, as Patience noted in her comment, we all benefit from being more transparent about whom and what we care about. It makes the world more compassionate and hopefully just. Peace, Tom

  2. Patience L Robbins

    Thanks for this post, Tom. I really appreciate it when people share what they care about and then support with resources. I support organizations that empower women. Two of my favorite are Women for Women International and MADRE. I also support organizations that nurture contemplative life and prayer such as Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Patience, yes by sharing what we care about, we broaden awareness for all of us of our choices and possibilities. Thanks for sharing your focus for giving. And the connection to compassion and justice for all. Like you I beleive contemplation is a key path to more compassion, love and justice. Tom

  3. sally mac

    Thx, Tom. You broached a topic that touches at our core values-how we judge ourselves when we scan the entries in our checkbooks and and how we share, or don’t.
    I was raised in an era where we shouldn’t brag on good deeds, yet challenging ourselves and others to expand comfort zones can be a good thing .
    Your earlier “non-conversation” reminded me of a question I posed to fellow travelers about 4-5 years ago. “What about reparations?” what is our responsibility to consider this elementary justice”?
    The response was stony silence and staring at shoes……
    We have miles to go before we sleep…

    • Tom Adams

      Yes Sally we do have a long way to go. A friend is working on a draft post for MLK week and reminded me of Joshua Herschel proposing reparatiosn to President kennedy in the 60’s. Change is slow; persistence and hope important. Peace, Tom