If you're like our family, deciding how much money to give to charity is something of a guess. Each December, Joan and I would sit down and jot organizations' names on the left-hand side of the back of an envelope; on the right-hand side, we would write an amount. We'd focus on what we called the "big four" -- our college (Northwestern University), Joan's church, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity and the kids' schools.
The whole process was a bit haphazard. We never gave an awful lot of thought to the actual dollars we donated; typically, because our income was increasing, we took the prior year's numbers and boosted them a little bit. (One small exception was that we'd write a $50 check to any cause that a friend specifically solicited for.)
It wasn't until we started working on The Power of Half that we started thinking more carefully about our giving. Hannah and I get into it a bunch in the book, but a few things we learned:
-- The average American gives a little more than 2 percent to charity, twice as much as in any other industrialized country. By comparison, United Way's concept of "fair share" is about 0.5 percent (one hour's pay per month).
-- Some groups have begun to pop up encourage "extreme giving," including the 50-Percent League.
-- Before this project, Joan and I calculated, we gave between 2-3 percent.
-- The upper and lower classes give higher percentages of income. For the upper class, remember we're talking about income, not assets, which are typically much higher.
None of this, of course, factors in time -- you may do your best giving with hours and energy, not money. But I'm wondering: Is there an appropriate percentage? If so, how much?