Warren Buffett gave 30 billion dollars to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and publicly maintains that his heirs are not getting a dime of his fortune, though he supports their philanthropic endeavors. His money is all going to charity.  You don’t have to be Warren Buffett to be a philanthropist. In fact, our nation’s poorest give the most  – upwards of 4 percent of their income – according to a McClatchy analysis of US Bureau of Labor Statistics data.  The average American gives 3 percent.  How much each of us give is a totally personal decision.

But so many of us are confused about how much to give, where to give it, and why.

The church has the tithe.  In Hebrew, it’s tzedakah.  Spiritual practices suggest designating 10 percent of your income for charity. And in this context it’s not really optional.  It’s part of our responsibility and is even required of the most downtrodden in the community.  In Judaism, tzedakah is one of the only things that can annul your bad deeds from the previous year.

Giving doesn’t have to be a religious experience.  Though you might find it turns into one.

When we give, we feel good.  It also makes us grateful for what we have.  When we build giving into our budgets, we may be less focused on the next material thing we can buy for ourselves.  And there are plenty of different ways to give, your money, your time, your old clothes, a piece of your art or something you’ve created.

I had been in the intermittent habit of giving in of my time.  In April, I decided I would give a certain percentage of my income away each month.  In some cases, I made smallish contributions to friends’ endeavors, a charity race here, a theater company there, until they added up to my number. In other cases, I gave the full amount to an organization I believed in.  I used Charity Navigator to make sure they were reputable charities – rated well for using funds effectively.  I even searched for a pertinent fund to donate to in honor of my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah – he’s the son of two doctors with strong ties to New York City so I donated to the Children’s Health Fund.  We also gave him a Flip video camera.  But in the thank you note, he said he was especially appreciative of the donation because “children are the future.”  What a kid!

In June of 2009, my uncle passed away.  We lost him to esophageal cancer.  This year I wanted to make my contribution for June in his memory.  I got so caught up in making the right choice that I let the month slide by only allocating half of my monthly donation to a charity my mother set up in his memory – the Richard L Kaplan Early Childhood Music Fund at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey.  I wanted to donate the second half to a cancer research organization, but I never did.  None of it felt right.  And now it’s August and half my June contribution is still outstanding. I’ll have to get back in line with my declaration.  I’m going to donate the second half to the fund set up in his memory.

What you give is up to you.  But how will you contribute?  How creative can you get in the way you give back?  Karma, Law of Attraction, whatever you want to call it: what you put out there comes back, and giving of your time, supporting a cause, or otherwise helping out, is no exception.