Reflections

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Planning to Give

In my last column I wrote about ‘mindful’ giving.  Today’s column is an extension on that theme exploring ways you can plan your giving throughout the year.

Most charities plan an annual fundraising schedule that includes various types of appeals to the public.  This happens for several reasons such as the need to raise funds to keep pace with increasing costs, and to meet the escalating client demand for human services due to the declines in funding for many government programs.  Instead of feeling like the proverbial candle in the wind swaying to the myriad of charitable requests for your dollars, you can stay in the driver’s seat by planning your giving.  Here’s a quick way to do just that:

Look at your annual budget and determine how much you wish to allocate to charitable giving in total, and how to allocate this money over the year. 

House of Worship Offerings:  Plan for your weekly/monthly offering as well as any special appeals, and holiday donations (e.g., flowers, food baskets, religious support).  Today, your charitable gift can be sent via mail, credit card, or even deducted on a regular basis from your checking account.   Not sure how best to support your place of worship?  Call them and ask which mode they prefer.  It is not everyday that a donor asks how best to help…they will love you for it!

Favorite Charity:  Many popular charities that support cancer research,  feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, or advocate for veterans are at the top of donors’ lists.  However, there are thousands of lesser-known charities out there hoping to bring in dollars, too.  For a look at potential charities go to www.guidestar.org  and review those organizations of interest.  This information will help you make an educated decision on the strength and merit of the charity you’re considering supporting.  Gifts can usually be made on terms that suit your giving preferences such as monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Alumni/High School or College:  These groups, often through the efforts of professional fundraisers, call in the autumn or spring during their outreach efforts to increase their annual fund or other giving programs.   If you wish to give, you can often earmark your gift for specific projects or academic departments.

As with any fund raising phone call to your home or cell phone, you may wish to ask what percentage of your gift will be allocated to the professional fundraiser,  and the amount to be given to the college or charity.  Some telemarketing fundraisers keep a portion of every donation; others are paid a flat fee per call.  It is always prudent to ask what portion of your gift will go to the intended cause.

If you don’t wish to be bothered by the phone calls, politely request to have your name removed from the caller’s list.  The ‘Do Not Call’ Registry that many have linked to their phone numbers is meant only for telemarketing calls from companies.  From the Federal Trade Commission website , “…calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors would still be permitted, as would calls from companies with which you have an existing business relationship, or those to whom you’ve provided express agreement in writing to receive their calls. However, if you ask a company with which you have an existing business relationship to place your number on its own do-not-call list, it must honor your request.  You should keep a record of the date you make the request.”

Schools:  If you have children, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren there will be various requests to donate to their schools.  Find out early if there are academic, extracurricular, or athletic programs that will be asking you to buy wrapping paper, cookies, popcorn or coupon books.   PTAs, scouts, clubs, sports teams, and teachers all have potential projects that you may be interested in supporting.  For some private schools it is also customary to plan for a small thank you gift to favorite teachers at the holidays or end of school year.  Some private schools also request classroom financial support, or field trip assistance in order to expand learning opportunities beyond the school budget.

Spontaneous Giving:  Perhaps you travel by train or bus to work, and are regularly asked to ‘spare a dollar’ to someone in need.  If you want to do so, then plan for it, and make it part of your giving budget.  If giving money feels like enabling, then perhaps fast food coupons or gift cards valued under five dollars might allow you to help without the worry.

Remember, to be tax deductible, your donation must be made to a qualified charitable organization (i.e., such as a 501 c 3); and you must itemize your deductions on Schedule A of Form 1040.

After reviewing the various opportunities to give throughout the year, it is easy to see how several thousand dollars can be quickly dispersed through charitable giving!   Our giving will definitely be ‘from the heart’ and unencumbered by negative feelings if we plan our gifts throughout the year, knowing that we anticipated the request and have a financial gift to share, rather than begrudgingly forking over money unplanned.  After all, if our pocketbooks are going to be lighter, shouldn’t our hearts be lighter, too?

Debra S. Abrams, MBA  CEBS
Nonprofit Consultant

 

A Penny for MY Thoughts

Ever have one of those busy days running errands and then at the cash register you are asked to round up your receipt, donate a buck, drop your pennies in a jar, or purchase a paper sneaker for the store giving wall?   This happened to me recently, and I was solicited by no less than five cashiers in the space of two hours!  It got me thinking:  Does rounding up a few cents or dropping coins in a jar really impact a charity’s bottom line?  Can I take a tax deduction on this type of giving?  Let’s talk about these concerns.

Next time you are asked to donate at the register, realize that this is a nationwide trend.  It is simple, cheap for the charity, and very effective.  The charities involved know that this is a low risk request; your wallet or credit card is at the ready – you probably will say yes to avoid seeming stingy or holding up the grocery line.  The store gets the glory while you are the one forking over the cash.  In 2012 over $358 million was raised in over 60 national checkout campaigns that each averaged a million dollars or more.  More than a dollar for every child, woman, and man in the United States!

In philanthropy today the term ‘mindful giving’ is trending.  A good example of mindful giving is Jesus’ parable of the widow’s mite.  Jesus’ story highlights the difference between the gifts of the rich who gave from their wealth, and the widow who gave her ‘two mites’, all she had. [Mites in Jesus’ time were a form of currency worth fractions of a penny.]  The wealthy were giving, but the widow gave a gift with full meaning.  Only she understood the impact the giving would have on her life.  Giving without a safety net, to be sure.  Reflecting on this duality I’m not suggesting that we give our last dollar at the register, but rather that we take more time in responding to giving situations instead of just reacting.  Mindful giving impacts more than the cause we support – at the heart of it is a chance for personal conversion, helping us to prioritize what we value most.

In point of purchase giving, we don’t have an immediate opportunity to become familiar with the charity asking for our coins.  Nor do we receive the satisfaction of feeling the impact of our giving on the organization, or even to ourselves.  Cash register donations can seem endlessly unfulfilling, more like obligations to prevent a bottleneck at the cash register than true giving.

As mindful donors, I recommend that we avoid feeling pressured to give.  Let’s do our homework and learn about the organizations we want to impact with our financial gifts, and do it on our terms.

Step #1: We can go to www.GuideStar.org and sign up for a free password.  At GuideStar we can research over 1.8 million IRS recognized nonprofits.  By viewing a nonprofit’s tax form 990 a clear picture will emerge as to their financial status and how they account for their funding.

IVC’s 990s for the past three years can be analyzed on GuideStar, along with proof that IVC has attained the Silver GuideStar Exchange level.  This Exchange program helps potential donors learn more details about the charities listed on GuideStar and testifies to their level of transparency beyond the 990s.

Step #2: We can read about the work of our favorite nonprofits online.  For Ignatian Volunteer Corps, Inc., we can go to www.ivcusa.org.  Each of IVC’s regions has its own web page where we will find interesting facts and stories about the good work happening there!  Interested in supporting urban education, healthcare for the poor, or perhaps hospice or prison ministry?  IVC works in all these areas and more.

Step #3: Confident with this knowledge, we can go to www.ivcusa.org, click on the red ‘Donate’ button in the upper right corner of the webpage and make a donation on our terms, without leaving the comforts of our home.   No cash register, no lines, no pressure, – just an educated ‘feel good feeling’ that our donation will have impact on the lives of people served by IVC.

It seems to me that the charities and stores involved in solicitation at the checkout line are capitalizing on the low risk/low expectations mentality we often experience in modern society:   Throw a few bucks at the charity and walk away.  I’m convinced we can do better than that.  Next time I’m asked to give at the register, I’m simply going to say “no”.  I invite you to consider doing the same by saying “no”, “not today”, or “I give in other ways”, etc.  It may feel odd at first, but knowing that we are practicing mindful philanthropy will help us stay committed to giving our financial gifts, big or small, where they matter most to us and to those we care about.

If you don’t have a receipt for your cash donation (which includes those pennies tossed into the jar), the IRS says you can’t take the tax deduction (IRS Tax Topic 506  – Charitable Contribution – see details at www.irs.gov).

Debra Abrams, MBA CEBS