Should I take a vacation, or give to charity?

When your financial planning is done, it's easy to know what goals are your highest priority. But until then, young doctors often wrestle with questions like this one.

Question:

I have been invited to join the board of directors of a local arts charity. This entails a moderate to minor time commitment (about an hour a month) and a financial commitment (a donation) of $2500-$5000 per year, and maybe more. There are some small perks that go with it. My hesitation is the money more than the time. Here are the pros and cons as I see them. Pros:

  • I do like the charity and I take my family to every event. I do think it's good that the charity exists, and the donation is tax-deductible.
  • There is a networking aspect. Development of connections. Maybe that's good for my long term future in the community. And maybe learning something about how an organization like this works.

Cons:

  • It's a lot of money. Or at least it seems like a lot of money. Maybe I'm just not used to donating money to things and I have no idea how much I ought to be giving.
  • I have not gone on big family vacations that I want to go on in order to save for retirement and college. It seems sad to give that money away when I was supposed to be spending it on a family trip. Although maybe I don't need to worry so much.

What are your thoughts?

Answer:

You seem to have some internal conflict about charitable giving, and giving to this charity in particular. Consider this:

  • One of the best things about giving to charity is that it makes you feel good (or at least "less bad"). And this feeling should come from inside YOU. In this particular case, being "on the board" may mean that you are more or less giving them your permission to ask for a donation, which may bring external pressure to give.
  • The referrals you receive in your community have far more to do with the quality of your work and the quality of your character than how much money you give.
  • Physicians bust their butts for a living, so taking a vacation is not optional: it's mandatory. It gives you time to build lasting memories with your family while staving off the compassion fatigue that goes with the practice of medicine. If you give to charity, then feel remorse about not taking a vacation, you may be reluctant to donate again in the future.
  • Giving to charity is not an all or none proposition! You should undoubtedly be involved with at least one charity at some level. Start small. If $2500 is too much, how about $250? Or $25? If everyone gave something, even a little bit, we would all have a better life. The point is to start giving, and start getting involved.
  • Follow your passion, or your pain. Ask yourself (and your children), "What do we love most?" to figure out what you're passionate about. Or ask, "What's wrong with the world today?" to find the pain that your involvement might relieve.

Try this:

I'll be curious to hear your thoughts. Please share.