7 Tips for Organizing Your Charitable Giving
I would like to think of myself as a good person. I genuinely care about people. I buy Girl Scout cookies, give to the local food pantry and write checks throughout the year to multiple organizations. But there are so many causes out there. I often overthink the where, the how much and the why of my donations so that by March, I am emotionally spent. But this year I decided to get organized with my charitable giving and I decided to bring you along for the ride.
I researched this topic and culled what I thought were the 7 best tips for organizing charitable giving. So let’s get started.
Tip #1: Pick a number
If we are truly going to get organized, we need to estimate how much we plan to spend annually on our charitable donations.
According to Luke Freeman, Manager of Giving What We Can, there is no one size fits all answer to picking a number but there are 3 general approaches:
The “Give What You Won’t miss” approach (aka Greasing the wheels):
Do you just need a starting point? Then you might begin by giving about 1% of your yearly earnings to charity. This approach allows you to incorporate the process of giving into your lifestyle without impacting your wallet too much. You can always increase the amount next year.
The “Give the Average” approach (the average tactic):
Most people give between 2-6% of their earnings to charity. If you want to make sure that you are doing your part, then choose the path that most Americans take. T
The “Give Generously” approach: (above average for those who are able)
Jews & Christians refer to this approach, giving 10%, as a tithe but even if you are not religious there are some benefits to using the 10% approach. It is low enough that it's accessible to those who have means but it is high enough that it really feels meaningful to most people. It also has the benefit of being a round number that is easy to calculate!
Whatever approach we choose, we need to remember it’s just a starting point so let’s not agonize over it. We will pick one and move on!
Tip #2: Time to Divvy it up
This is the tricky part. This is where I personally get lost in the weeds. So I called my esteemed colleague, Samara Goodman, ASID, Owner of Samara Interiors, LLC to help me out. Samara is always volunteering for one cause or another so I knew she probably had her act together when it came to charities and she did not disappoint.
Samara told me that she first learned to organize her charitable giving about twenty years ago when she worked for the Federal government. The government has a program called the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) that allows you to use pretax dollars deducted from your paycheck toward your chosen charity. In order to take advantage of this perk, Samara learned to think ahead. Thank you US Government!
Samara’s approach is to choose 1 or 2 primary charities that she cares about and go deeper by giving more to and getting involved in those 2 charities. Her advice: “Don’t pick too many places, start with one or two … Two doesn’t mean you are doing less, it just simplifies the giving process.” Over the years those 2 core charities have changed. Right now Samara’s focus is going local and donating to charities in her Arlington, VA area that serve those in need, as well as those one-time donations when a friend makes a request on behalf of their charity.
“Don’t pick too many places, start with one or two … Two doesn’t mean you are doing less, it just simplifies the giving process.”
After speaking with Samara, I felt much calmer. I love her simple approach of choosing just1 or 2 charities versus my overthinking process which leaves me with too many charities in which to keep track. Two charities or even three charities - I can do that! The only problem: I still have a bunch of pamphlets from charities and my heart is hurting. Should I just throw those away? This is too hard. Which brings me to the next tip….
Tip #3: Leave Room for Smaller Donations
So now we have our total amount of 1 to 3 main charities. But what about your friend’s request to donate to her top cause on Facebook for her birthday? And what about sending money to those in place X who are recovering from an Earthquake? And what about those pamphlets I receive throughout the year about 10 other amazing causes? Do I just ignore all of those donations?
No! The trick is to allocate the majority of your total contributions to your main causes and then set aside funds for smaller donations and spontaneous giving. So, for example, if you are giving $100 total to charity for the year (just picking a nice round number), then $90 would go to your main charities, leaving 10% for your spontaneous giving. The same holds true for any expected seasonal requests. If you always give to your local church or synagogue during Holiday time, remember to subtract that amount from your total giving.
Tip #4: Consider a recurring giving schedule (ex. Monthly)
Giving monthly rather than giving in one lump sum provides more impact on the organization. A charity with recurring payments can plan for the year based on your monthly donation. Monthly donations also allow you to become more invested in the cause because you are reminded of your donation every month. Staying connected to the cause is a core aim of charitable giving. So next time you give, check off the recurring donations form and divide your total into 12 monthly payments.
Tip # 5: Consider Giving Publicly
I was surprised by this research. I always thought that anonymous giving was the preferred method because it seemed more authentic - you are giving to help others and not for recognition. But then I came across a proven phenomenon called social proof coined by
Robert Cialdini in his 1984 book "Influence." According to Cialdini, when we see others doing something, we are influenced to follow their lead. So if people see you donating to a charity, they might be persuaded to donate as well. Other examples of social proof are celebrity endorsements and website reviews. So we shouldn’t shy away from allowing ourselves to be listed in the “Golden Circle.”
Tip # 6: The Apps & Websites
These days, there are apps and websites for anything. My personal strategy is to visit these technologies after I set up my initial systems of organization. I love information so giving me these new tools to play with is a recipe for disaster. The research would never end! Here are some interesting technologies I found - just don’t fall into the information trap!
Charity Navigator: Shows you which charities are doing the best work
https://coinupapp.com/: Rounds up your purchase to the nearest dollar and donates the “coinage” to charity.
https://charitymiles.org/: Find a charity and associated sponsors that will donate based on the miles you run
https://sharethemeal.org/: Allows you to donate a meal to those in need around the world. Provides a monthly option.
Tip # 7: Giving ourselves some Grace
We organizers have a saying: “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” Our goal right now is to lay the foundation for charitable giving. We can always revisit our system and tweak it over time. In fact, we are likely to adopt new causes as our experiences change and as we enter new life stages. The takeaway - we care enough to think proactively about charitable giving and we get a gold star for that!
These 7 tips have helped me to set up a system and I hope they guide you with your charitable giving.
I would love to hear if these tips have helped you or if you have any other tips. Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of the page to share.