Maybe you closed out 2020 with a little extra cash in your wallet. If you’ve been fully employed during the pandemic and collecting stimulus checks, then maybe one of your 2021 New Year’s resolutions was to give back more than you have in the past. We love that so much, and we salute you. But no matter how much you can afford to give— whether it’s $10, $100, or $1000 — you’ll want to be sure it does the most possible good. We spoke with experts on how to ensure your money makes the most significant impact possible.
Don’t discount your gut reaction
There have been whisperings about what charities need help more than others, from food banks and women’s shelters to even blood donation centers. While it’s true that all have been impacted, and some more than others, when you want to get involved, it’s best to follow your gut, says CR Celona, the CEO and founder of the app Cluster, which aims to help drive social change. How come? You are more likely to stay dedicated to a cause that is important to your heart since you are motivated to impact change. Maybe you have a family member who passed away from cancer, and you are passionate about finding a cure. Perhaps, you were raised by a single mom who left an abusive household, and you want to give women a new start.
Mix money and time
If you can, giving whatever you can afford in the form of monetary donations is ideal. Note: For 2020, the CARES Act provides for a $300 charitable deduction even for the 90% of people who don’t itemize. on the table “If you can afford it, donating is extremely impactful to organizations. But we know right now people are struggling financially, but also want to give back and that volunteering of your time and energy can make a huge difference [as well],” Celona notes. “It might seem small, but if everyone is giving in some capacity, then it will have a massive impact [overall].”
Yes, national (and global) charities are also seeing a dip in donations. But, experts say it’s often the local organizations that are struggling the most. Why? One reason is that large international charities have bigger advertising and marketing budgets. They also have the ability to show better impact numbers when rated by charitable watchdog groups. Local groups, however, are often more efficient with spending, which means the majority of the cash you give goes straight to the people who need it the most. Plus, you can see the impact of it in your own community.
Inquire about employer matching programs
If a large company or brand employs you, they may offer to match your charitable contributions. As Julie Castle, the CEO of the Best Friends Animal Society explains, this is a significant way to give more to causes that you care about. While all organizations will approach this benefit differently, many will match — up to a certain amount — whatever an employee donates themselves. So that $50 could be $100, or if you have the funds, $500 could be $1,000.
Look into a donor-advised fund
In recent years, Castle says donor-advised funds have become a popular way to give and maximize your tax deduction. The way these work, you take a tax deduction (if you itemize) in the year that you contribute to the fund. The money is invested to grow and you can distribute the funds to the charities of your choice over time, she explains. “To increase impact, some people will create a ‘giving club’ with friends and family members to pool resources into a shared donor-advised fund,” she adds.
Choose a few, not twenty
When you think about your charitable giving approach, Castle says it’s smarter (and more helpful) to organizations when you go deep, instead of wide. In other words: while giving $10 here and $5 there is, of course, appreciated, it doesn’t have the same significance as picking a few causes you believe in and giving more. “Instead of making lots of small donations to multiple groups, you will have a bigger impact by giving larger gifts to a handful of charities,” Castle says.
Research before you give
Of course, it’s vital to do your homework and research a charity’s background and values before you hand over your cash. There are a few items to look at, including if they have a clear and well-articulated vision, as well as a track record of delivering on their goals, Castle says. “When conducting your research, look at the charity’s website, annual reports, list of board members and other supporters to see who else is committed to the organization,” she recommends. “For good measure, you may also want to do a quick search to review recent media articles to see if there have been any controversies, large gifts and/or achievements.”
Celona says to take it even further and verify all of the information they claim by double-checking on Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Guidestar and/or Charity Watch. Last but not least, she recommends paying attention to this rule of thumb: at least 50 percent (and hopefully, much more) should be going directly to the cause, not to administrative costs. “Taking these few steps can ensure legitimacy with the cause you’re looking to support and also that your dollars donated are actually reaching the people in need,” she adds.
Think beyond the dollar
If you wish you could give $100, but it’s simply not feasible right now — don’t walk away from your charitable impulse. Instead consider finding creative ways to get involved, no matter how big or small. Start by asking yourself: Do I have products in my home I can donate? Can I use my skill set to network and help? Are there volunteer opportunities virtual or otherwise?
- What You Get When You Give To Charity
- HerMoney Podcast: Mitch Albom On Love, Loss, And Giving Back
- Are You Too Emotionally Attached To Your Money?
JOIN US: How are you giving back this year? Join us in the private HerMoney Facebook group and share your best philanthropic philosophies— and pick up a few new ones!