Plan. Choose. Give. Quick Thoughts on Charitable Donations
I talk a lot about how personal finance is personal. As we come upon this season of giving, I want to say that charitable giving is also personal. How much you give, when you give, and to whom you give is up to you. Whether it’s through a campaign at work, #GivingTuesday, at church, or on your own, whenever you decide to donate is up to you.
I plan my giving annually through my employer’s combined giving campaign. I choose my charity for the year and my donation comes out of my paycheck. Throughout the year, things come up and I might choose to make some additional donations to other charities.
However, it seems like at ever corner I turn, someone is asking for a donation. Every time I go to the grocery store the cashier asks if I want to donate to that month’s cause. I know they’re just doing their job and they have to ask, but I still always feel so guilty when I say no, thank you.
Would you like to support America’s Veterans/Puppies/Homeless/Starving Children today? No, no thank you, I’m a horrible person and I don’t want to give money to America’s Veterans/Puppies/Homeless/Starving Children today.
Even though I feel horrible when I turn down someone asking for money, I need to remember that I can’t give to everyone, every time. I need to choose the charities that I’m most passionate about.
Just like anything in life, it’s easier to “afford” charitable giving when you plan and budget for it. Build giving into your monthly budget, just like you might your retirement savings, mortgage payment or grocery bills.
Many employers, especially federal and state employers make it easy to budget and give to charities with combined campaigns. For federal employees, the Combined Federal Campaign makes it easy to donate straight from your paycheck to a large list of accountable charities.
If your employer doesn’t offer a giving campaign, make up your own. Choose your charity and figure out the amount you’d like to give annually. Next, divide the total donation amount by 12 and set up a reaccuring donation with them or a monthly pledge. Breaking the donation down into little chunks, just like anything else, makes it easier to bite off and swallow.
Choose Your Charity
What’s Your Passion?
With so many charities out there, how do you choose the one that you’ll donate to? What are you passionate about? What do you believe in and what lights a fire under your butt? Find that “what” and that’s what you’ll want to give to.
What’s my current what? I’ve always wanted to volunteer with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) who aids abused and neglected children or those involved in high conflict custody disputes. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not in a position right now where I have the time or location stability to become a CASA volunteer. However, for 2018, I’ve identified a regional arm of CASA that I want to support.
Invest in Your Passion
Try thinking about your charitable giving as an investment in what you are passionate about. When making personal investments, you wouldn’t invest your money blindly. Don’t treat a charitable donation any differently. Exercise due diligence on the charity you choose before giving them your money.
Personally, I like using a site like CharityNavigator.org to help me find charities that I can trust and support. Charity Navigator rates charities on their financial health, transparency, and accountability. For the finance nerd in you, they give a very detailed list of their financial efficiency performance metrics. Note that Charity Navigator doesn’t rate all the 1.57 million charities out there, so just because the charity you’re interested in isn’t on the list, doesn’t mean it’s not a good charity, it just doesn’t meet their current rating criteria.
New and Small Charities are Doing Great Things too
If the charity you are interested in is new or small in size, therefore not rated yet by a site like Charity Navigator, you can still perform your own financial due diligence. Pull their IRS Form 990. Next check out how much they spend each year on program expenses, executive pay, or professional fundraising. Or call them up and ask a few questions. Ask for some examples of recent work. Obviously, charities have overhead costs, paid staff, and other expenses, but you can always check out their Form 990 to see if anything looks excessive.
Volunteer Your Time
Are you not in a position to give a lot, but you have a lot of passion for a charity? Try donating your time. Or, maybe you can donate time and dollars. Then you can really see where your dollars will go to work for the charity of your choice. Charities always want more donations, but sometimes what they really need is some extra manpower.
Stretch Your Dollar
People get pretty excited about the thought of the tax benefits associated with charitable giving. However, for the majority of Americans, donating to a charity isn’t going to change your tax returns by much.
To start with, you need to itemize instead of taking a standard deductions on your returns. You also need to make sure that the charity to which you are donating is qualified charitable organization. This won’t apply to many of us, but if you contribute to individual people, foreign governments and charities, or certain private foundations, your donation won’t be eligible for a tax deduction, even if you itemize. Bottom line, donate to charities for good, not as a tax deduction.
Make your donations dollars go further by checking to see if your employer participates in a matching gift program. Many employers will match charitable contributions or volunteer hours made by their employees, past or present. If you’re unsure if your company participates in charitable matching, ask or check here.
If you’re always buying through Amazon, check out Amazon Smile. When you shop through smile.amazon.com, the Amazon Foundation will donate .5% of your purchase to the charity that you select. It’s not a ton, but it’s easy to do, doesn’t cost you a thing, and will eventually add up for your charity.
Don’t be Duped
Fake and fraudulent “charities” are constantly trying to take advantage of you, the generous donor. Protect yourself by not giving credit card information over the phone or cash donations to door-to-door solicitors. Dubious organizations will often pressure you to donate with sales like tactics. Or they will not respect your time or privacy with constant telemarketing calls. In addition, look out for charities that call you or pop up in times of need that have similar sounding names to well-known and established charities.
Four Great but Unrated Military Charities
Our mission is simple. We want to provide airfare to enlisted military personnel so that they can be home with their families for holidays, and special occasions when they otherwise can’t afford a ticket. We believe finances should never keep a military hero from being with family!
Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.
We strengthen military families every day. Through career development, caregiving, and our leading research on military family life, we’re striving to better understand and provide solutions to the challenges facing today’s military families.
Our mission is to answer the call of the Green Berets and their families so that they can succeed in their next mission.
Five Rated Military Charities You Might Not Know
Puppies Behind Bars – perfect score of 100!
Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement. The puppies enter prison at the age of eight weeks and live with their inmate puppy-raisers for approximately 24 months. As the puppies mature into well-loved, well-behaved dogs, their raisers learn what it means to contribute to society rather than take from it. PBB programs bring the love and healing of dogs to hundreds of individuals every year. The dogs bring hope and pride to their raisers, and independence and security to those they serve.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) offers compassionate care to all those grieving the loss of a military loved one. Since 1994, TAPS has provided comfort and hope 24/7 through a national peer support network and connection to grief resources, all at no cost to surviving families and loved ones.
Our mission is to Honor America’s fallen military service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice since 9/11 by humbly serving the families they left behind. Champion their children’s future success by creating opportunities for joy, friendship, and communal healing, by connecting these families to one another.
Hire Heroes USA empowers U.S. military members, veterans and military spouses to succeed in the civilian workforce.
Our Mission: To transport America’s Veterans to Washington, DC to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends.
Who do you support? Know an amazing charity doing big things? Tell us all about it in the comments below! In addition, check out Charity Navigator’s link to three and four star rated charities that support veterans and servicemembers. Happy Donating!