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Mares: A Giving Tutorial

(Host) This holiday season, writer, former state legislator and commentator Bill Mares offers some modest guidelines for charitable giving.

(Mares) This time of year, many good causes ask for our support. They come from next door and from 12 times zones away. They reflect long-festering problems, new disasters, old illnesses, and new wounds. But there are so many, it's hard to know where to begin; and you just can't answer all those pleas. If you gave a dollar to everyone who asks, you'd quickly run out of money. So, you might as well give everything to the first person who asks , but neither of these choices seems likely to secure more than temporary relief. So I've come up with a solution that also helps ease my annual guilt about my own good fortune.

Miraculously, I've found exactly $100 in my donation piggy bank, which allows me to allocate by percentage - like this...

10% for my church goes into the first bucket. I would do the same if I were a member of a synagogue or mosque. And for those who don't believe in God, this allotment could be given to some group or organization that provides moral guidance.

Next, on the principle that charity begins at home, I reserve 10 percent for someone among my nearest and dearest, extending the definition of family as far as necessary to find someone in need.

Then, I like to give 10% to some cultural, educational or artistic cause that has improved my intelligence and lifted my spirits - like the Vermont Symphony, the Vermont Humanities Council, or my college alma mater.

Another ten percent goes to a group committed to improve the environment - like The Green Mountain Club, or Vermont Natural Resources Council.

The next 10% goes in to what I like to call the There but for the grace of God go I bucket. Recipients could include the local United Way or the food shelf, and so on.

I think the next ten percent should go to some organization beyond our shores, like CARE or Heifer International to strengthen our connection to the rest of the world.

Another ten percent goes in the emergency bucket for the victims of natural disasters like Hurricane Irene or Tropical Storm Sandy.

That's 70% - or a bit more than two thirds of my giving budget. Here's where I scan the philanthropic landscape and ask myself where I can get the biggest bang for my buck - how I can do the most good for the rest of the world.

The answer for me lies with over-population and global climate change. Together, they promise a hot and toxic future for all of us. So I'll put the rest of my hundred dollars into population control and efforts to reduce carbon emissions world-wide. Groups like the Population Media Center in Shelburne come to mind, or the group founded by Vermonter Bill McKibben,

Above all, I try to follow the admonition of the English priest and poet, John Donne, who said, This only is charity, to do all, all that we can.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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