Plan your giving for the new year

One New Year’s resolution that will make you feel great is to plan your charitable giving for the year.  Whether it’s being asked to donate a dollar at the grocery store checkout line or the national disaster telethon, no one likes feeling guilty when they’re pressured for a donation and if you have a giving plan, you will feel good, not guilt.

Make a budget

The first thing to do is think about your annual giving budget. Maybe there are external goals you can strive for, such as being a “Leadership Giver” ($1000/yr at Microsoft) or meeting your company’s matching limit ($12k/yr at Microsoft). Tithing in many religions requires a donation of 10% of your income to charity. That might seem like a lot to some people and a little to others – people are different and it’s all relative.  Think about how blessed you to have health, a job, and a safe place to live.  If you don’t have those things, that’s something to consider, too.  There is so much need in the world.  Think about how much money you could give up on a monthly basis and feel ok about it.  There’s a number in there somewhere – just find it.  If you have more time than money to give, find ways to volunteer your time to organizations.  Some companies actually match volunteer time with cash ($17/hr in Microsoft’s case).  Think of your time, just like cash, as one of your resources to give.

List your causes

Now make a list of the causes that are most important to you.  Start with ideas, and problems, not specific organizations.  Hunger?  Education?  Human rights?  What causes mean the most to you?  What fires you up?  What makes you sad?  What gives you hope?  Be specific. Like most people I care about world hunger and eradicating disease, but I am also passionate about things not many people have heard of, such as Adoptee rights, which are the rights of adoptees to their own birth records. What can you support that not many other people will? Think about how your unique life experience can positively impact the world.

Find the right mix

Now make groups, or mind maps, of these ideas.  Are there patterns?  Maybe there are several causes that can all fall under “Political reform” or “Disease prevention”.  Maybe there are four similar things but you mostly care about a fifth.  Think about finding a combination of causes that represents you.  Make it proportional.  Make a pie chart.  Bust out Excel. Here’s a xls that can get your started.  Limit yourself to five causes or less so you don’t spread yourself too thin.

I think this is the most important part of the process because you can uncover areas where your passions and your giving are misaligned.  I have found that what often happens is that when giving is opportunistic, you disproportionately give to causes that are close to home.  For example, since I’m gay, I have many friends and organizations that are constantly pelting me with appeals to support LGBT causes, yet I am also passionate about causes that are not in my face all the time so I have to be more deliberate about my support of them.

Choose organizations

Now that you know what’s important to you, who is making a difference in these spaces already?  Who are the big guns that just need more ammunition?  Are there gaps in the services they are providing?  Perhaps newer organizations you can support as they get off the ground?  Do some digging on the web, “Like” organizations on Facebook, ask friends who are involved with organizations what they are like.  Fill in a few potential organizations under your causes and take the time to winnow them down. Your overall budget will come into play here: You don’t want to give much less than $100 to each organization so that your money goes to more than just the overhead of keeping you as a donor.  Keep the numbers simple.

Don’t spread yourself too thin. Making a large donation to one group is better than splitting it between two similar groups because your money will have more of an impact.  Not only will there be less overhead (mailings, e-newsletters, events to attend) but you will be able to focus your own attention better on fewer groups.  Think of this as building a relationship, not dump-the-money-and-run.

Plan the timing

Maybe you want to make all your donations at once so you are done with it (and are less likely to change your mind later!) or maybe you want to make half your donations now and half in six months – whatever works within the rest of your financial plan.  Some organizations offer monthly auto-payments, but one-time donations are simpler to manage as a whole.

One option to consider is choosing one organization per month to really focus on and dive into.  Maybe an organization has an annual auction or fundraiser and you can give them that whole month.  Think about them that month, read all their mail, drag your friends to their events, and feel connected.  Then you can move on to another organization next month.  It’s a way of feeling like you don’t have to be 100% involved in every organization 100% of the time.  Give 100% 10% of the time.  If you feel good about what you are giving, it doesn’t matter how quickly you give it.

Adjust as necessary

So Katrina happens – now what?  One thing to remember is that the vast majority of people are reactionary givers.  Most natural disasters elicit massive donations from the general public, often at the expense of donations to other organizations.  You can stand steadfast and stick to your plan, make disaster relief one of your causes you already give to, or plan for some discretionary giving every year.  Just don’t get swayed by emotional appeals and throw the rest of the plan out the window.  Life happens – you can adjust the plan if necessary.  The goal is to feel good about your plan and the impact it’s making on the world.

Have a great, giving New Year!


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