Three Ways to Give More Mindfully

Last week, we had a thrilling conversation in our house that went something like this:

T: “Hey, where are our recurring donations going to?”

Me: “Uhh… fuhhh… bluh…”

T: “You don’t know, do you?”

Me: “Planned Parenthood?”

T: “Huh.”

The fourth precept of engaged Buddhism is “Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world.” And the fifth states “Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry.”

So we made a plan to continue donating to people and organizations we care about with the goal of giving more mindfully. It’s pretty simple, and you can try it too if you’re interested.


Ron Pompei setting and forgetting a chicken
Not a great mindfulness mantra

Here are three ways of giving that put you more in touch with suffering instead of removing yourself from it:

  1. Give cash to people asking for it on the street. It’s so easy to keep your window rolled up at a stop light or headphones in on the sidewalk. Taking fifteen seconds to connect can be meaningful.
  2. Click on that GoFundMe or similar link when it comes across your screen (and then give). Check it out. What do the actual repercussions of last week’s protest or tsunami or police violence look like? National news stories can pull you further away from the real on-the-ground reality, and reading the story of someone whose kid is currently in the hospital brings you right into it. After you give, you can also stay connected with updates which are much more personal than you might get on social media or elsewhere.
  3. Give one-time donations to people and organizations that you care about. Instead of “setting and forgetting” your donations, make time each month to choose what you care about. Maybe it’s changed since last month. This can help you stay rooted to the present, set some intention behind your dollars, and can avoid feeling resentful when you get a thank you email from some donation you’d set up to recur and then totally forgotten about. Not that that’s ever happened to me!

OK! So those are three strategies. Here’s how we’re making it happen logistically in my house this month. It’s an experiment, but here’s the starting plan.

  • Make a goal for how much you want to give each month
  • Divide it into categories based on above: “Physical,” “Feed Asks,” and “End-of-Month”
  • Give every time you can! Yes, this means you’ll always have to keep some cash on you.
  • Keep track of what you’re giving simply. A Google doc works fine. Gave a dollar to someone outside of McDonald’s? Put it on the sheet.
  • At the end of the month, if you haven’t hit your goal, deliberately choose a cause to give the remainder to. Feel grateful for how much you’re able to share with the world.

At first, it can be difficult to give this way if you’re not used to it. It was uncomfortable for me to break my habit of staring straight ahead and ignoring the homeless man right outside my window when driving home from work. But that’s the point – to recognize suffering and not pull ourselves away from it. Recurring donations serve to outsource the pain of the world to your credit card statement. “Oh, it’s taken care of! Tra-la-la!”

I’m sure recurring donations encourage more giving overall, and if you want to keep some of yours still active, please do. But try adding these three simple ways to remind yourself to keep your eyes open and compassionate to suffering and feel more engaged in your giving.