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It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is only a week away and the holiday season will be fast to follow.

Before the madness starts, I want to take a moment to discuss charitable giving.  It’s a subject that comes up often with clients, one we’ve written on in the past and there’s no shortage of opinion out there about how much to give, how to optimize tax benefits and other best practices.  That’s not my focus today.  Instead, I want to look at another question most all of us struggle with in some way.  How do we define and manage our sphere of care?

What is a sphere of care?

Glad you asked.  Some call it a circle of influence, others a giving circle.  Regardless, our sphere of care is whatever spectrum of society that tugs at us enough emotionally to act.  Many of us face numerous requests from a variety of resources asking of our time, talent and treasure.  The decision of whether or not to include each request in our sphere of care can be daunting.  This stress of sorts can lead to us saying no and not giving at all, saying yes too often and stretching ourselves too thin, or even giving of our time or money at a pace that puts our own physical or financial condition in jeopardy.

What can seem like a harmless question is really one of the toughest personal, political and societal questions we face.  Do we feel responsibility to solely care for ourselves?  Our partner?  Extended family, members of a church, people on our streets, or those in need all over the world?  The list can go on and on.

The goal can not be to strike a perfect balance or find a right answer.  None truly exists.  It just has to be what’s right for us.

So, as usual, our recommendation comes down to good planning.  Whether you plan giving around year end or like to start fresh after the ball drops, take some time this year to really think about how you give, how much you give, to whom and why.  It can be a great exercise to go through with your partner or the whole family around the Thanksgiving table.  Talk about how you view charity, how it factors into your long term goals or even schedule an activity for the whole family around service to an organization you support.

As you come to define the issues, feel free to discuss it in your progress meetings with your advisor.  How you best implement your giving can be an important component of your overall plan and maximize your benefit from meaningfully helping all of those in your sphere of care.