As a bodyworker, one could say that you give back to your community every working day by delivering comfort to your clients. But can you be doing more?

One massage therapist asked, “As a massage therapist I make enough money to support myself, although I don’t live extravagantly. I’m interested in philanthropy, in giving something back, but I don’t know where to start. Do you have any advice for someone like me?”

Congratulations on recognizing your desire to give back. As a bodyworker, one could say that you give back to your community every working day by delivering comfort, touch and a compassionate ear to your clients. Yet, as your question suggests, perhaps there is an opportunity to donate beyond your everyday efforts.

Several years ago, I too wanted to give something back. When I shared with a friend my desire to donate, she stopped me. “Forget about the money, Drew. First clarify your beliefs and how you desire to serve.”

Her advice challenged me to articulate what I felt strongly about and envision the change that I wanted to see in the world. I decided upon two objectives.

The first objective was to give back to Earth. As a publisher of printed material, this was an easy decision. I was concerned about the amount of natural resources used in the printing process, so I contacted the reforestation group Trees, Water & People, and it calculated the cost of replanting the number of trees that were harvested to produce my products and run my office.

I was stunned and thrilled at the same time: stunned by the amount I would need to donate, thrilled at the chance to give back.

The second objective gave me an opportunity to give back to the massage community. This decision was also a no-brainer, since the profession had done so much to support my company.

After some research I discovered the Massage Therapy Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the mission of advancing the “knowledge and practice of massage therapy by supporting scientific research, education and community service.” The following year I agreed to be a trustee for the foundation’s board of directors.

Because I had researched these organizations ahead of time, I was confident that my donations were going to create positive change in the world. What I wasn’t prepared for was how they were going to affect me.

I found that my fear about earning enough to support my family gave way to a sense of ease and satisfaction by sharing what I could. My anxieties about the environment and the future direction of our profession were replaced by a strong voice committed to the future of the planet and to the world of massage.

Tithing Guidelines

If you are committed to giving back, here are some guidelines that might help:

1. Find an organization with a mission that aligns with your desires. That means that you first must clarify the intentions of your gift. If you wish to help bring massage to the elderly, then find a group that does this.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to donate money to an organization without first researching its goals. This only leads to confusion and, ultimately, a disgruntled donor who never took the time to ask a few questions. So do your homework: Research the organization, read its Web site, contact its offices and ask specific questions, such as, “What will my money be used for?”

2. Consider what you would like to donate. Of course, giving back can look like many things to many people. One popular choice is to write a check. In a busy world where many of us have little time to donate, cash is a perfectly fine option.

3. Cash poor but wealthy in other ways? No problem. Consider giving your time, skill or materials. No nonprofit organization would pass up a volunteer willing to help stuff envelopes or receive assistance from someone who knows how to navigate an ornery software program.

But remember: Be clear with the organization about when you are available and for how many hours per week or month.

This way both parties will understand the arrangement, and you won’t feel underutilized or taken advantage of.

4. Be creative. My publishing company donates products for fundraisers, as well as to groups teaching massage to families. Don’t be shy to ask the organization you’d like to support for its office wish list. Then ask your friends if they have any of the items.

Voila! An unused phone system gets a new home, for example. If there are shipping costs involved, ask the organization if it would be willing to cover them.

5. If you donate money, invest a bit of yourself along with it. When the organization’s quarterly newsletter arrives in the mail, read it. If the group needs volunteers for a short project, volunteer. This way you can stay in touch with the organization’s efforts, understand its mission more clearly and develop a better picture of how your money is being used.

6. Remember that it’s all relative. Warren Buffett might have $1 billion, but that doesn’t diminish the value of your $100. Before you donate, evaluate what is appropriate for your budget. This way you won’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying if you gave too much or too little.

How much should you give? One approach is to give a percentage of your earnings, such as 1 percent. Let’s say that after you paid your business expenses and taxes, you took home $24,000 last year. One percent of that amount would be $240. To avoid a cash-flow crisis, you could split your donation into four quarterly payments of $60. (A little hint: Mark the dates ahead of time on your calendar.)

7. Philanthropy requires a different outlook on money. A donation is not a new shirt, for example. When you buy a shirt, you see exactly where your money went. A donation, which is best seen as an investment in the future, is not that clear cut; however, your gift, pooled with other donations, will ensure the health of the organization as well as help it to accomplish its goals

There are endless opportunities to be philanthropic, realize the benefits of tithing, and contribute your time or money to making the world a better place.

As Albert Schweitzer so aptly wrote, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

About the Author

Andrew Biel founded Books of Discovery and authored Trail Guide to the Body: How to locate muscles, bones and more. Since 2001 his company has donated thousands of dollars to reforestation projects to the Massage Therapy Foundation.