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By the time we get through Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday, it is easy to become burned out on giving this time of year. Resist that urge – December is the perfect time to consider giving back to your community. But this year, don’t just give to any nonprofit that calls for a donation. Consider the needs of your community carefully and create a personal giving plan that will guide you throughout the upcoming year.

The first things to understand before creating your giving plan are your spheres of influence. We all have them and they are all different. That is why each person must decide what their giving will be instead of simply giving to the same people and places their neighbors give to. By giving in your sphere of influence, you can be certain that you are giving to a legitimate cause.

Imagine a set of concentric circles, with the power to influence as the strongest, closest to the center. The circle closest to the center is your inner circle. Your inner circle includes yourself, your family, and your closest friends. This is where you have the most influence, and where you can see the good your giving does. The next circle is your personal community. Your personal community consists of your neighbors, peers, colleagues, and those who are members of the same clubs, groups, or place of worship as you. There is a tremendous amount of giving that can be done in this sphere, as you exert a good amount of influence here as well. The next sphere is your wider community and this includes strangers in your geographical area and your social media connections. The spheres continue to widen out until they encompass the globe, but for your personal giving plan, stick with your inner circle, your personal community, and your wider community. These are the spheres in which you can be more thoughtful in your giving and more aware of the good your giving has accomplished.

Grab a notebook that you will use for this project. You can add to it all year, as you become more attuned to the needs around you. You can also use it as a type of journal, jotting down notes on the changes you see related to your giving, as well as things you personally are grateful for.

Your Inner Circle

The person at the center of your inner circle is you. It may seem contradictory to consider your needs as you are creating your personal giving plan, but a dry well cannot offer water to anyone. Write your name at the top of the first page and make a list of the things you are good at. These are your personal strengths and you will be using them in order to create your giving plan. Next, fill the page with answers to the following questions. What is one thing you wanted to do last year that you did not make time for? What new project or hobby would you like to undertake this year? Are there any books you would like to read or any classes you would like to take? Are there any networking groups in your area that you would benefit from joining? What one bad habit do you want to give up this year and what good habit do you want to replace it with? Is there one thing you can do to improve your health? Can you save a larger percentage (even 1% more) of your income this year?

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Once you have completed your page, create a page for your spouse or partner, your children, and your close friends. Of course, you cannot choose the bad habits they should give up or what they should do to improve their physical or financial health, but you are in a position to know some of the things they would like to work on in the upcoming year. Special projects, hobbies, books, classes, and community groups – these are the things you can help them start and support them in their efforts. If you are unsure of their hidden goals, ask them. Once you get a list, sit down together and decide which ones are truly doable. You don’t have to accomplish all of them, but everyone should have the opportunity to grow by trying new things.

Your Personal Community

The next set of people in your sphere of influence are those in your personal community. Dedicate a page in your giving notebook to each of your neighbors, peers, colleagues, customers, and people in the community groups with which you are involved. You don’t need a page for every single person. Write down the names of the people you know the best and focus on them. What are some of their unmet needs? Is there a neighbor who is unable to keep up the yard, shovel the sidewalk, or maintain the house? Are there children in your community who need help with homework? Maybe there is a child who could benefit (both financially, physically, and mentally) from working with you on your farm. And, perhaps the simplest thing for a homesteader to give is fresh food. Is there a family that may be struggling to make ends meet? A bag or two of groceries from your farm could really make a difference.

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Don’t forget those who are sick or shut-in, as well as their caregivers. Make time for a visit, bring a meal, do a load of laundry or a sink of dishes, read to them or take them to an appointment. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do it consistently.

When it comes to your community groups, including your place of worship, what can you do for the organization? Showing up and giving your annual fee or tithe is a great start. But there is more you can do. Refer back to your list of personal strengths. The key to successful giving is to match your strength to their need. You can teach a class, organize a trip, offer bookkeeping services, throw a party, or run a fundraiser.

While it is not always easy to see what you can do for colleagues and customers, you can always expand on what you are doing now. Continue selling your farm products, but consider offering discounts in exchange for some work in the garden. Fresh produce is expensive and it is more feasible for some people to work for an hour than come up with that money. Farmers are able to accept SNAP (food stamps) and that is a huge benefit to the community. If you operate a CSA, offer your CSA participants a chance to give with a “Feed Your Neighbors” option. For just $5 more per box you commit to giving a food box to a struggling family (anonymous) in your area. If you don’t know a family who could use a box of groceries you can ask the principal at a local school.

Your Wider Community

As you get to your wider community, the opportunities to give become a little more impersonal. Even though your sphere of influence continues to widen to encompass the globe, the wider community is a good place to stop if you are worried about the legitimacy of faceless agencies. Of course, if there is a national or international agency that supports a cause you are passionate about, please give to them as well.

Your wider community includes strangers that live in your area. You can participate, even organize, a book, backpack, school supply, or coat drive. You can host a holiday meal. If you already operate a u-pick farm, host discount or free days for those who may not have the money to participate. You can coordinate with your local elementary school and do the same with a pumpkin patch. Contact your local homeschooling group and ask if there is a child who is interested in starting a farm project. Allow a child in 4-H to use your property and benefit from your expertise for a farm animal project. Teach a yoga, breadmaking, quilting, or canning class for free at a local community center or church. Be sure to advertise in the paper in order to reach the people who are not already on your Facebook feed. Look again at your list of personal strengths and understand there are people who want to know what you know.

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Gratitude is one of the top characteristics of successful people and successful businesses. Giving back to your community is the best way to remain grateful. There are so many ways to give and so many people and places in need. The best thing about focusing your giving in your sphere of influence is that you end up benefiting as much or more than the people you are giving to. Carry your giving notebook with you at all times because once you start giving, you will start noticing more and more opportunities to give.

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