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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Continuing a Shared Love of Generosity

My wife grew up poor. Her father was killed in a tragic accident when she was a toddler. She always said, “If my mother hadn’t run welfare in our small Montana town, we would have been on it.” We met in the air over the Pacific in 1985. She was returning from back-to-back Air Force tours as a mental health therapist in Korea and the Philippines. Lynnette was headed for a small clinic in Texas and I was going to take a Tropical Medicine course. We chatted, never expecting to see each other again, but in 1986 re-met at our thousand-bed medical center in San Antonio and married two years later. At dinner that week she said, “Peter, I’m a Lt Colonel; you’re a full bird. We can easily live on one salary and give the rest away to help our community.”

I recently figured that we’ve given close to one million dollars away, carefully picking charities and nonprofits that have the most impact. The majority of our giving has been local and regional, but whenever a national organization asked us for a contribution, we turned to Charity Navigator to evaluate their rating.

Charity Navigator is by far the best website we’ve ever found to assist us in giving choices, so we told three sets of adult “kids” about that online aid to our giving. All those “kids” are now in their 40s and 50s and make their own investment choices, but two of the three already had used Charity Navigator and agreed with us that it’s been exceedingly helpful.

From our perspective what we want is a charity that doesn’t pay its president and board members excessive amounts and one that spends a reasonably small part of funds donated in promoting the cause it supports. That information can be hard to obtain on your own; Charity Navigator will do it for you.

We’ve supported a number of veterans organizations, fund drives after major disasters, the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C., the Holocaust Museum also in Washington, a Boys and Girls Club with multiple branches across the country and a project to give a local author’s books on what kids did in World War II to schools and some of those Boys and Girls Clubs.

We’ve also helped three local charities that offer counseling and sometimes housing to women and children who have been in abusive family relationships. We started eight educational funds, 529s, and there are still five that are active. I have “kids” in junior college in Houston, at Northwestern university and in graduate school at Rutgers, as well as adding repeatedly to the 529s of the twin children of our former graduate students from India.

Recently I again turned to Charity Navigator when USAA, a military-related financial and insurance organization we’ve belonged to for over forty years, started a huge project to help military families affected by the pandemic. The actual nonprofit administering the funds collected was totally unknown to me, so once more I looked for it on Charity Navigator before sending a donation. I was reassured when it was rated as excellent.

We set up a charitable fund at the Fort Collins Community Foundation, having moved here in 1999 after retiring from the Air Force. When Lynn had a “brain bleed” in late 2015 and died a week later, I gave widely in our region in her memory. One such fund, still operative, gives $250 a month to the two YMCA camps in the mountains and, over the course of a year, brings a dozen military families for “A weekend at the Y.”

This past year I’ve given nearly $70,000 away, aided by the inheritance Lynn received in 1997 from her mother, who had married an old friend about the time Lynn went off to college. When the pandemic struck, I gave the money that was planned for a trip to the Amazon to our local food bank and also gave smaller amounts to over thirty youngsters who were out of work.

If you are giving locally, it’s often easy to find the reputation and financial integrity of the nonprofit you’re considering, but whenever you donate outside your area, Charity Navigator will make that giving much more secure and comfortable.

When somebody asks me, “Why do you give so much money away?” I simply reply, “It was my wife’s idea and she was always right.”

This blog was submitted by Peter Springberg, M.D. Peter is a retired nephrologist who was born in 1941 in Beloit, Wisconsin, was a National Merit Scholar, graduated from the University of Wisconsin medical school in 1966, took his Internal Medicine and Clinical Nephrology training at Duke and then did a two-year research fellowship at a UCLA-affiliated hospital. He spent much of his career in the Air Force, was the national consultant in his field, later commanding a 150-bed hospital and subsequently a 325-bed medical center. He now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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