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8 Secrets of Savvy Donors

8 Secrets of Savvy Donors

You’re generous and kind. You care about other people and want to help them have great lives. You want to make a positive impact on the world and give from your heart to worthy causes. You’re a great person!

Yet there’s a niggling feeling of doubt at the back of your head when you donate. How do you know that you’re giving to the right causes? How do you know that you’re giving the right amount and at the right time? How do you know that your generous gifts of time and money actually have the kind of impact you want on the world? Truly savvy donors don’t have that doubt. They are confident that they give to the right causes, the right amount, and that they are getting what they paid for with their generosity and kindness. They are super-donors!

What are their secrets? They still listen to their heart – that’s why they want to give in the first place – but they combine the heart and the head to give effectively. You can be a savvy super-donor too, and be truly confident that you’re making the best decisions with your giving by learning their secrets.

1. Be Intentional

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    Knowledge is power! Super-donors are intentional about figuring out their aims and strategies for giving. They take the time to sit down and decide what goals they want to achieve through their generosity. They think about the kind of impact they want to have in the world. They decide what causes are most important to them – poverty, disease, animal welfare – and rank them by order of importance. Now, this ranking can  be quite difficult to achieve, and there’s no right answer. Listen to your heart and see what feels right to you. For some help, you can turn to Giving What We Can, which helps provide guidance on one’s giving. Follow this strategy, and you’ll know that you are giving to the causes that are right for you!

    2. Listen To Yourself

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      Another secret tactic that super-donors use to give to the right causes is to make sure to listen to themselves above everyone else. They know that they themselves should determine their giving decisions. While they don’t let anyone dictate to them what to do, they listen to and consider the opinions of others, and shift their mental maps of reality based on new information they did not know before. Indeed, super-donors are masters at changing their minds with appropriate evidence. However, the key is that they do so for their own reasons, not to please others.

      3. Budget Well

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        There are so many great causes out there that you can’t reasonably contribute to all of them. Super-donors prevent that problem by preparing a giving budget! They decide in advance how much resources they want to spend, of both time and money. They distribute their resources to the causes they outlined above by order of importance to themselves. If you do so yourself, you’ll be confident that you are giving the right amount!

        4. Plan Ahead

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          Super-donors plan their giving in advance. They know that most people tend to give during the winter holidays, but charities need money throughout the year. So they time their giving to counter the “holiday effect.” They also know that charities most benefit from monthly donors who automate monthly donations from their bank accounts or credit cards. Monthly donors enable charities to plan ahead themselves and make the most effective use of each dollar. Another benefit of monthly donations is that the super-donors get to feel positive emotions every month when they get a warm thank-you note from the non-profit. Since both giving and experiencing gratitude are science-based strategies for improving happiness, super-donors are happier! By using this strategy, you can ensure that you are giving at the right time, for your own happiness and satisfaction, and for the charities to which you give.

          5. Be Flexible

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            Super-donors are flexible about their giving. They know that their resources change over time in unexpected ways. For example, they might get an unexpected bonus, and decide they have more to give each month. However, they might be laid off and then have less money to give, but more time. They revise their giving budget and plan to make sure it aligns with their resources and priorities. You can commit to giving something every month but allow yourself to change this plan as your circumstances change. Doing so will enable you to make sure you keep giving the right amount and at the right time, no matter what happens.

            6. Be Smart

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              You’re a smart shopper. You don’t buy the first thing you see on television or in the store window. You take the time to gain confidence that you’ll get what you want, for example by reading reviews from well-known websites. Similarly, super-donors don’t give to the first charity that puts a commercial on television, or has volunteers going door-to-door or standing in the street and asking for money. In fact, super-donors know that the charity that spends its money on commercials and volunteer time on gathering donations is not using those resources to make an impact in the world. Super-donors read reviews of charities by reputable charity evaluators. For example, GiveWell provides extensive research and makes recommendations for the kind of charities that make the most powerful and positive impact on the world in various cause areas. The Life You Can Save provides not only recommendations, but also an Impact Calculator that can help you see right away what kind of impact your giving can make! Using such tactics will help you make sure that you make the impact you want on the world with your generosity and kindness.

              7. Be Effective

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                You can also gain confidence about your shopping decisions by talking to other smart shoppers. Those shoppers are generally glad to give you advice – they feel good helping you make wise shopping decisions and get to share their knowledge! Similarly, you can talk to super-donors to ensure that your generous donations are going to the best place. More broadly, they can share lots of strategies for being a super-donor. To talk to super-donors, in-person or online, simply out the phrase “Effective Altruism” into a search engine. Effective Altruists practice the strategies described above, and have many in-person and virtual forums where they discuss effective giving. They form community groups centered around being a super-donor and would be happy to share about their strategies for being super-donors with you!

                8. Be Proud

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                  Super-donors are not only committed to giving intentionally, but also proud of doing so! They spread this message of the benefits of being a super-donor to others they know. They know that doing so helps other people have better lives by getting rid of that niggling doubt at the back of their heads, and also channels their giving in the most effective fashion. Following this strategy, for example by wearing t-shirts such as the one above, starting conversations with friends and family, as well as sharing this article with others, can help you multiply the kind of positive impact you have on the world!

                  Featured photo credit: Businesswoman via flickr.com

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                  Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

                  President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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                  Last Updated on August 20, 2019

                  Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

                  Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

                  Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

                  This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

                  The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

                  Curiosity

                  Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

                  People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

                  Patience

                  Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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                  When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

                  Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

                  A Feeling for Connectedness

                  This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

                  A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

                  The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

                  With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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                  1. Research

                  Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

                  Learning the Basics

                  Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

                  Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

                  What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

                  Hitting the Books

                  Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

                  Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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                  Long-Term Reference

                  While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

                  My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

                  2. Practice

                  Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

                  A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

                  Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

                  3. Network

                  One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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                  These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

                  Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

                  4. Schedule

                  For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

                  Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

                  Final Thoughts

                  In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

                  If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

                  At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

                  More About Self-Learning

                  Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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