Why do they give? Donors speak about what moves them and how they plan end-of-year donations

Nov 26, 2023, 10:57 PM

Monica Fulton poses at her home Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Houston. Fulton prioritizes giving to org...

Monica Fulton poses at her home Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Houston. Fulton prioritizes giving to organizations that serve the city's residents, like the food bank, a homeless shelter and an arts education organization. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, GivingTuesday started in 2012 as a hashtag and it has become a central part of nonprofit fundraising. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

What motivates people to donate to charities or causes they care about is often deeply personal. Donors name relatives or friends who have survived or died from illnesses. They recount tearful conversations with their children. They point to their aspirations for how their communities and the larger world could be improved.

In advance of GivingTuesday, The Associated Press interviewed people from across the country with a variety of life experiences about why they give, which organizations they choose to support and how they plan their giving throughout the year.

While not all will participate in GivingTuesday, which started in 2012 as a hashtag, the date has become a central part of nonprofit fundraising and a kind of last chance to meet their budget goals for the following year.

These interviews have been edited for length:

HOUSTON — A longtime resident of Houston, Monica Fulton, 51, prioritizes giving to organizations serving the city’s residents. She’s volunteered with the Houston Food Bank for decades, doing “everything except the cold room. Because I don’t like the cold,” she joked.

Fulton, who is originally from Panama, sees her giving and volunteering as a way to make a difference, something she has tried to pass on to her children, who are now 18 and 20 years old.

“You look at what’s happening in the world and you tend to feel helpless. And what I try to teach my kids instead of feeling helpless is find one little patch of grass that you can make better,” she said.

Usually, at the beginning of the year, Fulton sets aside the funds that she intends to give to nonprofits, with the majority going to the food bank, a homeless shelter, a women’s fund and an arts education organization. But she keeps aside a portion to respond more flexibly, including on GivingTuesday when she seeks out nonprofits that are running matching campaigns.

“My advice for people for Giving Tuesday is, do a little bit of research and see who needs help, who has matching challenges,” she said. “And that makes it kind of fun and exciting to think that even though you give something small, it gets doubled or tripled.”


CHICAGO — Alicia Bailey said her philanthropic giving was not always intentional.

A former producer who now works in real estate, Bailey would give $5 when checking out a store or attending a charity gala when invited by a relative. That changed in 2018 when she helped organize a group of donors who pool their funds to support small organizations serving women and girls on Chicago’s South Side.

Bailey’s involvement with philanthropy has since grown to the point where she joined the board of the Chicago Foundation for Women, which hosts her giving circle and also makes its own grants.

“To go through the process of understanding and getting educated about the grantmaking process, all the way through to deciding and doing site visits, and seeing and hearing the work that’s actually happening in the Chicagoland area and being able to put faces and names and sounds to these women who are making things possible with very little,” Bailey said was incredibly beneficial to her.

The giving circle makes relatively small grants to organizations that have budgets of less than $500,000, where those grants can make a big difference.

“People may have an idea of like, ‘My dollars are too small, they wouldn’t matter,’ right?” Bailey said. “But in these cases, we know that it is because of people giving what they can that it literally has changed the way that organizations are able to do their work. And then that changes lives in the community.”

She doesn’t plan to mark GivingTuesday specifically for donations because she’s already found, through the foundation and the giving circle, ways to pursue her mission of improving the lives of women, girls and gender-nonconforming people in her area.

“I will be doing much of the same work that I’ve been doing every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” Bailey said, though she is glad the date will prompt many people to consider how they can make a difference in a cause they care about.


ATLANTA — The amount that Ruben Brooks, 56, will give each year varies, but what doesn’t change are the causes he supports: financial literacy, scholarships and mentoring for young people in the African American community.

“If you want a healthier society, if you want a more productive society, a safer society, then it probably behooves all of us to give in an effort to effectuate the desired result,” said Brooks, who is the chief operating officer of Atlanta Beltline.

Years ago, he volunteered as a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, an organization that he continues to support financially, along with Junior Achievement of Georgia, where he is now a board member. While he has less time to volunteer nowadays, he has extended his network to students who receive scholarships through another nonprofit, the Ezekiel Taylor Foundation, sometimes hosting them at his home.

“Hearing the stories, hearing the challenges, providing solutions, letting them know I’m available, my friends are available, and there are solutions to the problems that they will encounter,” Brooks said of his time with those students.

He usually makes his donations in November and December when he has a sense of his income for the year, in part because he will claim tax advantages. While he may donate on GivingTuesday, it’s not a priority, Brooks said.

“I want to give on my own terms and what I think is appropriate and not sort of with a commercial day that’s sort of put out there,” he said.


LAFAYETTE, Colorado — Lynne Garfinkel, 55, and Pam Lowy, 58, met through a mutual friend when they both moved to Lafayette, near Boulder, Colorado, several years ago. During the height of the pandemic, they took an online training through the organization Philanthropy Together about how to run a giving circle. They eventually decided to co-lead a new group, Moving Mountains, in part to deepen their connection to the area.

The members of the group vote on a cause to support and then they research local organizations, including sometimes visiting the nonprofits and asking them questions about how they would use a donation, which has ranged from $4,000 to $16,000 depending on the cycle.

“We want a project or something that we know where our money is going to make a bigger impact,” Lowy said.

The only requirement for joining the group, which uses an online platform called Grapevine to manage donations and voting, is to donate to the pooled funds. Garfinkel said they have never met some of the members in person.

“They trust that the group is doing the vetting and that their money’s going to a good cause. They like being part of something bigger,” she said. “But they don’t have the time to do the research themselves, to participate, to volunteer, and that’s okay.”

For Garfinkel, her contributions to the giving circle represent one of her main charitable donations each year, but she said of GivingTuesday, “I still use that time to pull together all my receipts and what have I given this year? And what did I plan to give? And where do I still have some room in this last month of the year to give?”


Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and non-profits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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Why do they give? Donors speak about what moves them and how they plan end-of-year donations