Depending on when you are reading this article, it may be too late to make a gift that will count toward your 2017 itemized deductions, but it is not too late to consider how your gifts impact the lives of others. You are probably not alone if you are attempting to make last minute donations to the Shine Your Light Campaign or other worthy causes that can take your gift electronically up to the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Once you have hit the “submit” button for the last time, take a moment to reflect on 2017 and consider what your philanthropy has accomplished this year.

If you are in a financial position to itemize your charitable deductions, you will no doubt be pulling together your gift acknowledgements and tax receipts to complete your tax return in the coming weeks. If you have a donor-advised fund at East Texas Communities Foundation or another similar organization, you will get an annual statement that lists the contributions you have made to charities throughout the year. As you flip through your statements and the gracious responses you probably received from each charity, slow down and consider the lives that your gifts have changed.

It is impossible to know the exact impact of every single dollar that is donated to charity, but it is worthwhile to invest some time to read the stories that attempt to explain how your contributions are used to improve lives. Like Loren Eiseley’s story of the man throwing starfish back into the sea, you can know that the work of investing in the lives of others can give them an opportunity to survive, succeed or experience wonder and beauty they would have missed without your generosity.

The individuals who are served by our local charities have often experienced difficulty or tragedy that many of us have been fortunate to avoid, yet our lives are connected and our communities are improved by the work of organizations who turn generosity into action. As you seek out the stories of individuals experiencing freedom from addiction, finding shelter in crisis, embarking on new career pathways as a result of training and pursuing comfort and peace of mind through counseling, know that your generosity, however great or small, has contributed to their success. Their success is our success as we live and work and worship together in our community.

In addition to those organizations who invest in the lives of individuals in need, there are other amazing organizations that seek to improve the less tangible aspects of our community. As you reflect on 2017, perhaps you were able to attend a play or concert produced by one of our local cultural institutions such as the Tyler Civic Theater or the East Texas Symphony Orchestra Association. You may have had the opportunity to discover the mystery of science at the Discovery Science Place, explore the wonders of the universe at The Center for Earth and Space Science Education at Tyler Junior College, or encounter an exotic animal at The Caldwell Zoo. Because of your generosity, each of these institutions have programs to stimulate the minds of young people who may not otherwise be able to afford the price of admission.

As you reflect on 2017, if you can recount the organizations that you have supported and a smile comes to your face, know that your neighbors appreciate your investment and service to our community. On the other hand, if you reflect on 2017 and realize you have missed many opportunities that you could have taken to improve the lives of others, then the year ahead is your opportunity to set a new direction and make those important investments. As we all move into 2018, we are presented with new opportunities to extend a helping hand to others. It is my New Year’s wish for you that you follow your heart and your faith to extend grace and encouragement to others through the work of our amazing nonprofits. Making 2018 a more generous year will be your best opportunity to give well.