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Lynda Fox finds joy in lending a helping hand. And with her donor-advised fund, it's easier to do.
Arrive early. That was one of the first lessons Lynda Fox learned in her three years of volunteering as a court-appointed special advocate for a 9-year-old girl. The program provides children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect with an adult to advocate on their behalf. “The kids don't trust anybody,” says Lynda. “When I would be five minutes late arriving, she'd say, 'I thought you weren’t going to come.'”
The story ended well for the girl Lynda worked with. When Lynda saw her again at age 16, four years after their time together ended, the girl had grown up into a self-confident young woman in a good situation. “It's hard, but it makes you feel good when it works out,” Lynda says.
For Lynda, helping things to work out for others has been a life-long pursuit. She began volunteering in her early twenties while she was also working full time as a dental hygienist to support herself and her husband, who was in dental school. “We were just scraping by,” she says. “But I grew up with the understanding that it was my obligation to help the world where I could. If I couldn’t give money, I gave time.”
Today, Lynda supports over 40 charitable organizations a year with her donor-advised fund, a Fidelity Charitable Giving Account. She has a special focus on charities that provide services for women, children and families, and veterans. She also continues to be an active volunteer in her community.
When Lynda became the treasurer of a breast cancer network, seeing checks come in from various foundations made her wonder if there was a better way for her and her husband to organize their giving. When they asked their financial advisor, he suggested a Fidelity Charitable donor-advised fund.
The simplicity of being able to recommend grants online was appealing. “I didn't want to be writing checks,” says Lynda. “I wanted to be able to just go online and do it.” She also enjoyed the simplified bookkeeping. “Making sure my accountant was notified of every donation I made over the year was a lot of work.”
Now all she has to account for is the single donation she makes to Fidelity Charitable every January. How she uses that donation to support charities throughout the year doesn't need to be tracked for tax purposes. And, even more importantly, there is a record of all the organizations she has given to that makes it easy to give again next year.
Lynda’s list of charities has been carefully cultivated over time, ranging from advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate crimes, to Fisher House, a network of support homes on-site at military medical centers in the United States, and the Navy Seals Foundation, a support organization for the U.S. Navy Seals.
And then there are the organizations that focus on helping children in a host of different ways, such as Smile Train, a charity that sends dentists around the world to fix cleft palates. Lynda feels a particular affinity for their work because of her background as a dental hygienist. “These kids can't eat, can't swallow, can't talk. Many of them don't go to school.” The dental services provided by Smile Train create “such an incredible improvement that they're now living lives.”
“I try to be careful about who I give to,” says Lynda, who researches all the charities she gives to. “All of our money is hard earned. I want to donate smart.” But at the same time, giving with her Fidelity Charitable donor-advised fund has helped Lynda feel like she can give spontaneously when needs arise, such as after the earthquake in Nepal in April of 2015.
“I'm much freer about giving money now that I have a [donor-advised] fund,” says Lynda. When she gave with a credit card or by check, she would stop and think how the amount would affect her budget. “I don’t think of it as money coming out of my pocket any more,” she says. “The money’s there, so why not spend it?”
There is a reward for Lynda in all the time she spends giving back: seeing the impact. For the Assistance League of San Jose, for example, a local chapter of a national community support organization, Lynda visits classrooms to read to children, and goes shopping for their winter jackets and school uniforms.
“They tell you how much it means to them,” she says, “how good they feel in the uniforms and how it helps them feel better about being in school because they look like everybody else.” To her, the uniforms are an example of the way even a seemingly small contribution can make a meaningful difference in a child's life.
“It's more than putting clothes on them. The clothes are just the beginning. It changes their lives. The teachers say they learn better, that they're much more likely to come to school and more likely to achieve in school. It gives them the opportunity to learn with freedom.” That principle, she says, holds true for giving in general.
“People don't understand they don't have to give huge amounts. If everybody gave a little bit, it would be a whole lot.”
Through her volunteer work, Lynda not only gets to experience the joy of helping others first-hand, she also gets an inside view of how the charity operates and what it needs most. That information helps her decide how to direct her support in the most impactful way.
Could your support do more for the organizations you care about? Find out what questions you should be asking nonprofits to make the greatest impact with your giving.
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I didn't want to be writing checks. I wanted to be able to just go online and do it.
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