One of our goals in 2011 is to increase our charitable contributions throughout the year. We’ve been getting a better handle of our finances and our monthly budget has enough room to accomodate increased charitable giving.
Have you thought about which charities you’d like to support during the coming year? Or maybe you’ve wondered how you can find a charity that’s aligned with your personal values? And how can you be sure they’re making the most of your money?
Finding the right charity for you
We love hearing about new charities from friends and family, but we rarely make donations on the spot. We’re a bit cautious with where our money goes, as we want to be sure to support organizations that address one of our social concerns and put our money to good use. One tool that has been helpful in this regard has been Charity Navigator.
Charity Navigator evaluates charities based on how efficient they are when it comes to putting their funds to good use. This site focuses on expenses related to administration and fundraising which can make up a surprisingly large chunk of their finances. When you dig into the data, you’ll find that some charities have a lot of overhead, whereas others are very efficient.
Our personal picks
In case you’re curious, here are some of my favorite charities:
- DonorsChoose – This is an incredible educational charity that allows you to pick the classroom where you think your money should go. You can search by financial need, subject, or geographic location. You’re directly helping children better their education one classroom at a time.
- Charity: Water – I love Charity: Water’s mission of providing clean drinking water to developing countries. Each $20 contribution can provide a person with clean water for 20 years. They also have larger projects you can sponsor that can help villages and schools around the world.
- Camp Sunshine – Camp Sunshine provides children (and their families) with life threatening illnesses with a support network, counseling services, medical services, and meals in a relaxing camping environment. It’s focused on helping the whole family cope and it’s a year round program.
We feel these organizations fill an important need, and also have low overhead costs. In fact, Charity: Water spends 100% of your money on program services related to providing people with clean water. That was a big factor for us when choosing them. As you can see, it’s impossible to identify a single best charity – the key is to find one that works for you and to donate your money and/or time in support of the cause.
Making your contributions
Some people may be afraid to start regularly giving because they think it’ll be a financial hardship to set up and maintain, but that’s not been our experience. My suggestion is to take advantage of automatic billpay to make regular contributions. Not only will you increase your chances of actually reaching your contribution goals, but it’s very easy to set up and saves a ton of time in the long run.
An alternative would be to allow the charity to make an auto-deduction. Which is best? My recommendation is to go without whatever makes you most comfortable. In our case, we prefer to send the contributions ourselves for two main reasons:
First, this is fairly unlikely, but it’s possible for an organization to inadvertently draft the wrong amount from your account, potentially leaving you in a bind. Second, if you have your a financial hardship of your own, you can easily reduce or pause your contributions if you’re sending them in yourself vs. allowing an auto-deduction.
You can also put your contribution on your credit card if you feel more comfortable that way, though it’s important to keep in mind that the charity is likely to face credit card processing fees. PayPal is another option, though once again your contribution is likely to have a slightly reduced impact due to the associated fees.
Tax deductions for charitable contributions
Most people know that you can take an income tax deduction if you make a cash donation, or if you donate something of value. Just be sure that you have proper documentation.
But did you know that you can also take a tax deduction for certain costs related to donating your time? For example, if your volunteering assignment includes driving, keep a record of the mileage you put on your vehicle as you can deduct it at the end of the year.
If you’re unsure of what qualified, check with the organization you’re working with as well as a tax advisor to be sure you’re on the right track.
Your thoughts on giving back
I’d love to hear your thoughts on charitable giving. Which charities are your favorites, and why? How did you find them? And how do you structure your contributions?
4 Responses to “Finding a Charity to Support in 2011”
If you have found a particular orphan charity that piques your interest
or falls good ideals that you just deem important, you can visit the organization’s website and often make a monetary contribution directly. While promoting a charity will be the ultimate priority, ensure all administrative procedures are up to scratch and meet both charity and tax policies allow an organisation to work effectively. Third, a final goal and inner essence of charity would be to build a social atmosphere in which people are accustomed to mutual help and equal status.
First, I despise letting charities have my contact information. All the mail they send out begging me seems such a waste of their funds. I can donate anonymously through my employer, but I can do it even more cheaply through justgive.org.
One thing about giving money–you can give it to the issues you feel are most important, not issues related to what you’re best at doing.
It’s hard to decide what’s most important because that means deciding that other things are less important. I now tell myself that this is okay because we don’t all make the same decisions. All important causes are supported by somebody.
I decided my top causes were the environment (which affects all life forms on the planet) and poverty–under the general notion of helping those in worse shape than I’m in. This means I am not focusing on disaster relief or disease research; I decided the former was a bandaid and the latter mostly for older people who may have already lived a pretty good life. Well, those are my rationalizations, anyway–I can’t afford everything.
For the environment, I started with the Nature Conservancy. As a typist for a zoology professor, I learned that when this organization finds a property owner with a rare species, rather than trying to take over control of the property, they try to encourage the owner to keep doing whatever it is that they’re doing and they try to learn from the property owner. In general, there is not an antagonistic relationship between this group and property owners, which I like. I also like their idea of just outright buying property rather than spending money begging politicians to do stuff. And they use scientific methods to pick the most ecologically important lands, making sure to buy large tracts when small tracts wouldn’t do any good, etc.
Then I found out about Conservation International, which seems to do the same things but uses more of their funds. I can’t tell if I like them as much otherwise, so I split my funds 50/50 for a while.
Then I read that it’s better to support small specific efforts, but I couldn’t find any that grabbed me. Then I read a book that says that organizations like the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International can cause more harm than good and that instead of buying land and keeping it from being used, we should support people who are doing sustainable work in the environment such as Rainforest Foundation, Inc., so I switched to them.
To fight poverty, I wanted to provide solutions rather than bandaids. I liked the idea of microlending because the money you donate gets used over and over. I couldn’t decide between FINCA International and Accion International, so I split funds between them.
But then I learned that the interest rates are really high and read that some of the businesses funded are actually not helping things long-term. So I gave some money to Engineers without Borders–a friend of mine volunteered with them to build some things in a third-world country such as a solar-powered water pump. And a friend of a friend told me she was impressed by the work of God’s Littlest Angels, a Haitian orphanage expanding to help others in their locality after the earthquake. I heard from another blogger about Charity: Water (aka Charity Global). I’ve also heard a few good things about Oxfam from an author at a local book festival.
In addition, I contribute to Planned Parenthood which focuses on education and supplies, not forced birth control, because I think that if people have only the children they actually want, not only does this reduce poverty and habitat destruction, it also has other benefits.
Then I decided that people in pain or being tortured or abused were in much worse shape than me or people in poverty, so I looked for appropriate charities. For pain, I found the Arthritis and Cancer Pain Research Institute, but I don’t know much about it. For torture, I found only Amnesty International. For abuse, I’ve been told that a lot of women’s shelters also work on prevention by training parents, but I haven’t quite found one.
I really would like my money to be doing good things, but I feel so ignorant that I don’t really know what to think.
Besides the 10% of my income I contribute to these “most important” causes I also contribute about 1% to causes that have helped me personally: public radio and TV, the local wildflower center, my neighborhood association, and I’m thinking about my public library and my alma maters.
And I’m now thinking of contributing another 1% to groups working on causes that I am personally biased towards wanting in the future such as energy credits, a local bicycling coalition, an organization that wants to open a planetarium in my town, and open-source applications I use.
I contribute only to causes on justgive.org unless I want the newsletter or membership card or whatever. For the 10%, I make one contribution to one of the places each month. For some of the others, I renew a membership annually.
I think something that shouldn’t be overlooked is giving your time as well as money to charity. If you are a lawyer you can do some legal work for free or take on a pro-bono case to give back.
I am very involved with my VFW, that’s Veterans of Foreign Wars. I like in a small community but we do a lot of charity within our community and our county. I prefer to give to only local causes as I believe in seeing the results of my charity. Nothing against the kids in Africa, but I don’t see them and I refuse to give money because some group shows a picture of a kid who is hungry.
I also feel that I have given quite a bit in my life, and whether or not people here believe it I feel that the people in Iraq are better off today than they were ten years ago.
This is a great goal! I’ve been steadily increasing our charitable donations as our incomes rise – but I’d like to increase the percentage as well. Unfortunately my partner is one of those “after our retirements and savings are fully funded we can do charity” people.
I like to do a mix of very-local – the food bank in our neighborhood, the homeless shelter in our town, the library foundation – and global, so we’re not just funding local arts & infrastructure. Charity Navigator is indispensable for finding those organizations. I tend to focus on sustainable agriculture and education groups like Trees For Life and Heifer.
We’ve also been doing microlending through Kiva the last two years, which became self-funding after about six months – that is, I put $50/mo of my charity budget into kiva for 6 months, then the repayments funded $50 monthly loans without further input.(I have added some extra money this year, to fund some donations to the Kiva organization itself and give some gift certificates as gifts).