By Ellie Poley (member Chicago chapter; former member Seattle chapter)
When my wife and I decided to create a bold, radical giving plan, we had to chart our own course because our money comes from monthly paychecks and annual bonuses, not from an existing fund or wealthy family members. I am sharing my approach to giving and financial planning to inspire people who want and are able to give from their income. While there are many ways to take action as a member of Resource Generation, I am focusing here on giving and redistributing one’s own money since I find it easiest for busy people to get started. Young people who work in tech are perfect candidates: we are busy with the work that pays our large salaries, but we tend not to have as many major financial commitments as older techies.
My Money Story
Identifying as a Young Person With Wealth
As with my queer identity, my class identity is fluid and changing. Right now I call myself wealthy because of my work, although it seems like few of my colleagues would use that label–even those who are older, hold more senior roles, or have more
That being said, people like me with wealth from income have very different access than many people in RG, which is why we need a unique approach to building a giving plan.
Except as indicated, when I refer to “giving” or “moving money” I mean this in a broad sense, including:
A Step-by-Step Plan for Slowly Building a Bold Giving Plan
Before You Start
Remember that the process of evaluating your
Step 1: Move your company’s money with matching grants
If you ever donate to 501(c)3 non-profits, this is your easy, warm-up exercise. If applicable, start taking advantage of your company’s matching grants (whether they match money, volunteer time or both). File a request for every eligible gift to a non-profit, even if you’re just giving $25 here, $100 there. (Side note/bonus points: if your company’s foundation or office has any sort of employee-directed grantmaking process beyond matching employee gifts, consider joining the committee and trying to bring a social justice lens to their
Step 2: Earmark some of your non-wage income for giving
The easiest place to start is giving more of the money you don’t depend on day-to-day: create guidelines for how you will allocate some of your extra non-wage income to
Step 3: Create an initial giving budget
Many of us start by giving sporadically, as situations and
Set an annual giving budget, drawing from both your wages and non-wage income. Don’t let perfectionism stop you: pick an initial target, even if it is lower than you want, or arbitrary. Start by looking back at what you gave last year. Try to anticipate what’s coming up for the year: an annual fundraiser for your
Step 4: Create a foolproof process for moving money
Remember, a target is nice, but the best way to make it happen is to set it on autopilot. Create
Step 5: Dream big
Step 4 is a fine place to stop, but I’m assuming you are interested in ideas for moving money boldly and radically—while balancing your personal needs and wants. So on to the intermediate level of money moving!
Now that you have a rough plan and budget, start dreaming up a goal. How much would you like to be giving? Here are some suggested goals:
Max out your company’s matching gift limit! That’s free money (like your 401(k) match). If your income comes from engineering work, put your optimization tendency to work. Many companies will match up to a few thousand dollars per employee per year; in tech, $5-6k is fairly common. My company matches $10,000 annually. Deciding to take full advantage of it started me on bold, intentional giving planning.
Does a nice round number call to you, like redistributing 10% of your income or 50% of your stock bonuses? What about aiming to give more each year than the previous year, perhaps by setting aside your annual cost of living salary adjustment? Can you set a goal with a partner? Is there a specific fundraising amount you want to aim for, like covering your parent’s car payment or funding one conference scholarship?
It doesn’t matter what your goal is—it just needs to be (pardon the icky corporate-
Step 6: Build the plan and structure
Once you have a medium-term goal, lay out a financial plan and a timeframe for how you will reach it. I actually recommend doing the financial planning iteratively along with the goal setting: pick a goal, look at your life and finances, and adjust both the financial plan and the goal if needed.
Need some help shifting your household budget towards giving? Here are some ideas:
To start, consider other large financial goals besides giving. For example, our three big financial goals were giving, paying off our student loans, and saving for homeownership. We split bonuses/stock between
Adjust your lifestyle to enable your giving and other financial goals. Look at your household’s monthly income from wages, and your lifestyle and expenses. Can you adjust anything to make room for redistributing money? It’s important to listen to yourself and figure out answers to the question “what is enough for me/us?” Be sure to consider future plans. (Do you need to save for a house? Will you have kids? Will you be doing this high-income work forever?)
Also be self-aware: are you prone to selflessness at the expense of yourself, or the opposite? Did your class experience growing up make you worry about scarcity? Are you the first generation in your family to make wealth? Do you need to pay off student loans? Do you need to catch up on healthcare, therapy, or self-care that you didn’t have access to before? Are you a woman, person of
As one example, here’s what my wife and I have decided: we don’t subscribe to the “skip the latte” style of frugality–occasional small pleasures are important to us. We also like investing in high-quality, practical, and durable goods–something we couldn’t afford to do growing up. We instead focus on living below our means when it comes to both housing and transportation.
Although we could afford a luxury condo or a large house, we are happy with a small and modestly appointed apartment. It is also important
Giving boldly out of your earned income is tough, but rewarding. It requires you to assess your values, set goals, build in structure to make it happen, and constantly adjust as life changes. It is also important to consider how your lifestyle fits into the picture, especially if you work in the tech industry, where luxurious consumerist choices are the norm, and self-care is often put on the back burner. Your giving plan, lifestyle, and financial plan will always be a work in progress, but I hope you can find a way to balance taking care of yourself, supporting others, and funding the movement for social change.