Charitable giving tips for the holidays

Author National Philanthropic Trust

December 15, 2014

Americans are generous year-round, but we really open our hearts–and wallets–during the holiday giving season. Charities increase their solicitations this time of year as a result. Before you answer each request that comes your way, consider these five tips for charitable giving:

1. Soul search.  Think about what types of causes are important to you.  Listen to your heart–there is no wrong answer to what resonates with you.

2. Do some research.  Once you’ve decided what causes are important to you, do some research on the most effective organizations that pursue that mission. The internet and social media have created Philanthropy 3.0 – the next generation of giving.  Leverage the wealth of information online at sites like GuideStar, Giving USA, and the Better Business Bureau to vet your charities. Look at annual reports, wish lists and other relevant information to find a charity with a solid background and mission statement. Also, take a look at a charity’s social media feeds for up-to-date results-focused work, positive volunteer experiences, and the charity’s long-term goals.

3. Be strategic.  Larger gifts to fewer charities will have more impact.  Three charities each year is usually a good number. Too many will dilute the effect of your hard-earned donations. I always suggest that donors give one charity $100 rather than five charities $20.

4. Decide how to give.  More than ever, there are many options for supporting a charitable cause.  You can write a check or donate through an online giving portal; text a one-time donation or start a family legacy by establishing a private foundation or a donor-advised fund (the fastest growing giving vehicle in the US).  Determine which is the best vehicle for giving for your personal situation, your taxes and your giving goals

5. Check back.  Stay in touch with the charities you supported. See how they are doing six and twelve months after your gift. “If they’re doing a great job, you may want to increase your gift next year or fund a specific project,” said Heisman.