Finding ways to give

Donating time and funds soothes this senior’s soul (and eases the tax bill)

Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

It’s tax time.

And that means this month I’m thinking of ways to give away money, donating to charities and non-profits prior to filing our income tax returns for last year.

It’s a two-for-one good deal — aiding worthwhile causes and gaining tax deductions.

I’m not a saint, or John the Baptist, but I do think giving of your time and money is good for the soul at this stage of our lives.

My father’s path

I start with the United Way (for me it’s Washington County East). This is a nudge I got from my father, who spent 10 years after he retired soliciting money for the United Way in Fond du Lac, Wis.

He and his old friend, Paul Schultz, used to drive along the roads in the rolling countryside, stopping at farmhouses to make their pitch. My dad couldn’t see very well and Paul couldn’t speak very clearly (due to early-stage Parkinson’s).

One day, they were about to cross a railroad track and Dad couldn’t see the oncoming train and Paul couldn’t spit out the warning: Nim! Train coming! 

It was a narrow miss, and they almost stopped breathing, but they didn’t stop soliciting, not until they were too old to walk.


Fighting off cancer 

Family plays a role in another charity of mine — the American Cancer Society. My mother died of ovarian cancer at age 49. My grandmother died of liver cancer. My grandfather died of prostate cancer. I’m a prostate-cancer survivor — robotic surgery and 39 radiation treatments.

So I feel lucky — and grateful.

Statistics say 1 in 2 men, and 1 in 3 women will be affected by cancer in their lifetimes. But now the length of the average lifetime has been extended in the past 20 years because deaths from cancer are now 20 percent lower.

That’s good enough for me to open my wallet.

America the beautiful

I’m also persuaded to donate to the National Park Foundation because the need is so great and the parks are so essential to my well being. Congress has been stingy to the parks, which now have a backlog of repairs that will cost more than $11 billion.

I didn’t get to my first national park (Glacier) until I was almost 40.

I took a hike to Iceberg Lake there and it blew me away — a mountain trail, a cirque lake and glacier lilies. I’ve been to Glacier in Montana half a dozen times and I’ve hiked in Acadia in Maine, Joshua Tree in California and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

They’re treasures, gifts to my “senior” soul. I don’t want the parks to rely on corporate sponsors who might ask for naming rights: Voyageurs National Park: Sponsored by Amazon.

Donations can provide second chances

While protecting public lands is noble, helping the poor is essential, and no organizations do a better job than the Union Gospel Mission and The Salvation Army.

They offer food, shelter, clothing and second chances. The sing-along on Wednesday nights at the UGM’s Christ Recovery Center is always an inspiration, a celebration of sobriety among folks who don’t have insurance to cover a 30-day stay in a treatment center.

When it comes to dealing with those who have little or nothing, no one does it better than the sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis.

They’ve been on the North Side for 28 years, saying prayers, giving comfort, empowering neighbors, offering smiles and providing peace — if only for a moment. These seven women get my time and some of my money. They’re living the Gospels, one sweet day at a time.

Historically, Minnesotans are some of the most generous givers in the U.S., donating more than $4 billion a year to charities in 2012. So I’m not some kind of virtuous leader, simply one of the flock. At this stage in the journey, that means I’m in good company —
and probably in need of a shepherd.

Dave Nimmer has had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Send comments or questions to [email protected].