I work in philanthropy, so my entire professional life revolves around giving. It's not as easy as one might think to give away piles of money, especially if you're trying to improve the world.
But giving as an average individual (most of us are not Mackenzie Scott or Bill Gates) is a little bit more straightforward. Some of us give to our alma maters or to the local food pantry or soup kitchen. Many of us give when we're asked by family members or close friends who could be running or walking in a charity event or selling tickets to a gala dinner. Some of us give to that person sitting on the sidewalk with a paper cup in their hand or the busker playing an old Beatles' song on the subway platform with their guitar case open for donations.
Then there's the bags of clothing we donate to Goodwill or other similar places. We might donate an item for a silent auction (a weekend at our villa in Tuscany, perhaps?).
In the US, there's an incentive for giving in the form of a tax write-off. There are charitable giving funds at places like Fidelity where you can park a whole lot of money, get the tax deduction, and take your sweet time doling out the cash to organizations.
Most of us give to charities without some grand strategy or plan the way I have to approach giving at my job. But even so, there are some rules of thumb that get circulated this time of year when people are being approached by large numbers of charities with their end-of-the-year asks.
- Obviously, you want to make sure the charity is reputable so that your donation isn't going to enrich the bank account of some individual. One good source for this is the site Charity Navigator
- Give to places that mean something to you. Everyone has a limited budget for giving, so devote those precious dollars to an organization that warms your heart. Once you know the charity is on the up and up, there's no reason not to look to your emotions. You might care about a certain location (your neighborhood? your summer retreat?), or a population, or an issue, or a specific organization. It's so nice to feel a sense of satisfaction that comes from giving to a place that feels special to you.
- Make your gift count. There are so many worthy charities out there even when you only consider those that are both reputable and meaningful to you. While it's fine to give your $100 to a large organization with a multi-million dollar budget, your gift will really count for more if you give that same $100 to a smaller group. Find one small organization with a budget under $250,000, give them your hundred bucks and you'll know you've made a difference.