How To Be Smart About Giving Money To Charities and Causes You Care About

How To Be Smart About Giving Money To Charities and Causes You Care About

If you’re religious, maybe you’ve heard of “tithing.” It’s a longstanding practice in some religions where you set aside 10 percent of your income for the church and God. The goal is to not just support religious institutions, but to instill a habit of giving. But, what if you’re agnostic, atheist, or simply not wanting to support a religious institution? You can still make tithing a part of your life. I like to think of it as a stand-in term for giving to charities, or causes, I care about on a regular basis.

“Tithing can still be a part of your money story when you donate to charities you believe in,” Amberjae Freeman, the impact team co-lead at Swell Investing, told Girlboss via email. “Do your research and choose a non-religious version.”

We won’t go into why giving to a cause or charity is a worthwhile practice. (Lest you forgot about Dickens’ Uncle Scrooge!). But if you’re at a loss as to where to start, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s how to give to charity on the reg:
First, ask yourself what it is you want to accomplish

Ask yourself what you’re passionate about. Is it animals, the environment, social justice, education? Something else? Freeman suggests researching charities on a site like Charity Navigator to get a sense of how much the organization is able to accomplish with each donation. What are you hoping your funds will help with? And, is donating funds the best way for you to help? How much do you want to give? “If you know that 10 children can receive medical treatments because of your $100 donation, deciding how much to give will be that much easier,” Freeman said.

Determine how much you can give and when

While it may be in your heart to give as much as you can to your favorite charity, your ~current~ financial situation might not allow that. “You may have great philanthropic intentions, but remember to take care of yourself first,” Kathleen Kenealy, managing director and senior wealth advisor at Boston Private, told Girlboss via email. Kenealy suggests creating a budget that allows you to pay down debt (especially high interest debt), while also putting money away for your emergency fund and retirement. Once you’ve allocated room in your budget for all your needs, you can create a line item for charitable giving. If what’s left over is smaller than you initially hoped for, keep in mind that your financial situation is likely to change. “You may have more financial flexibility in the future to increase your donations to organizations in which whose causes you truly believe,” she said.

Ideally, find an organization that is a 501(c)(3)

“There are so many great, worthy organizations you can choose to give your hard-earned money to, but it’s smart to do a little homework before you do,” Kenealy said. Check to make sure the charity you wish to donate to is a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. That will help make your giving a deductible donation. (And while that shouldn’t be the motivating factor for giving, it can’t hurt.) This is where sites like Charity Navigator come in handy—plus, the IRS also has its own database.

Set up an automatic recurring payment to your favorite cause/charity

The easiest way to make giving to charity a habit is to treat the process like one of your monthly bills. Once you’ve chosen your organization, you can set up auto-recurring payments from your bank account. It will save you from having to write a check each month and ensure the charity can count on your monthly donation. If, however, you’re more apt to donate every time your friend(s) participate in a walk or run for a cause, keep track of your periodic donations. You can then review how much you’re donating on a quarterly basis and keep accurate records for tax purposes. And, if you can ensure you pay off your credit cards each month, you can use them to fund your donations (while also collecting miles/points).

Consider donating your stock option

Kenealy also suggests two other ways to integrate donating into your lifestyle. If you own stock options for longer than a year that grows in value, she explained, it becomes a great resource for charitable gifting. “If you donate your stock directly to charity, your donation is equal to the market value of the stock when you made the gift,” she said. As a bonus, you’ll also skip out on paying capital gains taxes that you would have otherwise paid if you sold the stock.

Donor Advised Funds (DAF), Kenealy said, can also be for regular, recurring gifting. “It’s almost like a ‘charitable IRA’” she said. Open an account and contribute cash, stock, or other assets. You can then take the tax deduction and make grants out of the DAF when you want to.

Finally, don’t focus solely on cash contributions

At the end of the day, how much each person gives is up to what’s in their hearts, Julia Carlson, CEO and wealth adviser at Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group told Girlboss via email. “We put too much emphasis on the amount or right amount. It’s not about this at all.”

Ask if an organization is looking for volunteers, supplies or something else. Maybe there’s a social media campaign you can help with. Lend your resources, time, and skills where needed and applicable. There’s no shortage of ways you can achieve this. Freeman suggests scheduling in time on your calendar for volunteering and pairing with like-minded peers. Kenealy advises inquiring about a Young Professional Volunteer Board where you can network with other volunteers, executives and board members while practicing your leadership skills.

The point is, give what you can, when you can—and remember that volunteering your time counts.