With fall football and other autumn events in full swing, the holiday season is right around the corner. That makes October a perfect time to plan for another important event: those six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, informally known as the “Season of Giving.”
Despite complaints of materialism, shopping mall crowds and excessive consumption, the holidays do seem to bring out the best in most people. Americans’ charitable giving now approaches almost $400 billion, and charitable agencies say they receive abundant donations of toys, clothes and money during the holidays.
Giving is a two-way street, benefitting recipients and givers. To make the most of your gifts, and create a legacy that reaches beyond dollar donations, consider these tips:
- Do your homework. Before supporting any organization, research how it will use your money. Get first-hand knowledge by volunteering or interviewing the group’s directors and recipients. You can also check websites such as Charity Navigator or GiveWell for information about a charity’s performance and effectiveness.
- Don’t leave money on the table. Sixty-five percent of Fortune 500 companies offer matching gift programs, but each year an estimated $10B in employer matches are not used. Always check to see if your employer makes matching donations.
- Be a charitable role model. Even if your children don’t participate, let them see you volunteering. If you’re writing a check, share reasons why you donate to a particular cause and the research you did in choosing it. Be sure to tell them how good it makes you feel and the impact you hope to make.
- Make a gift of giving. Consider matching your children’s donations or offer to donate to a charity of their choice for their birthday. Old or young, this helps them make a bigger impact, and it can also spur meaningful conversations about causes important to them.
- Create a family giving fund. This can be as simple as a kitchen coin jar, or as formal as a legally established family foundation. Commit to donating a specific percentage of your income and decide, together, which causes are important to your family.
- Consult your financial advisor about any tax implications your donation may have, and to get information about alternatives to cash donations such as donations of stock or Required Minimum Distributions from a 401(k). If charitable giving is included in your will, your advisor can also ensure the bequest is appropriately titled, which will make it easier for your family to carry out your wishes.
- Create traditions around charity. Holidays are an ideal time to create memories and work together. A few ideas:
- Host your own food drive and personally deliver donations to a local food bank.
- After a holiday or birthday, donate some of the gifts to a shelter or hospital.
- Create your own “season” of giving. Poor, homeless, disabled and sick people need help year-round, so don’t be tied to a single holiday or a specific type of donation. For example, consider donating to a blood bank on Independence Day, or volunteering at a nursing home on Veterans Day.
While the holidays alone are a wonderful time to help others, they could be just a starting point. What if we all committed to an entire YEAR of giving? Ultimately, the best way to maximize any charitable donation is to get to know your charity’s people, face-to-face, and find ways
to give not just your money, but also your talent, time and heart.
Written by Delta Community's Jeana Salman.