It’s that time of year again when everyone wants your money. Brace yourself for more dinnertime phone calls and mailbox solicitations.
In this season of giving, charity seems to be getting an extra jolt because next year the popular tax deduction for donations, for many, will lose a lot of its punch.
Let’s get personal
Fundraisers and requests from charities used to bother me. So did the collection plate at church. I felt guilty because no matter how much money we made there was never enough to give some of it to others. And with all our debt (we had plenty!), how could I be expected to help others when I couldn’t even help myself?
Then our financial house of cards came tumbling down. It was ugly. Losing our business, our income and getting a notice that our home was scheduled to go into foreclosure was a huge wakeup call.
When I was at the darkest point, I made a promise: If I ever see another dollar, I’m going to give some of it away. First. Then I will do the best I can with the rest. And I meant it.
I did see another dollar, in fact, many dollars in the years that have followed. And I could not wait to give to others and to myself. “Give and save first, then spend” became our money management philosophy.
We were not giving large amounts, just a few dollars at first, but when given from a heart bursting with gratitude, those gifts became powerful—for both me and the recipient.
Giving from a heart of gratitude—not a sense of guilt—was the catalyst for turning my life around. Coming this close to losing everything made me really appreciate what I didn’t lose—my family and my home. I was shocked by just how good it felt to give to others—not because I had to, but because I wanted to experience that joy again and again.
Was it foolish?
From time to time a financial planner will argue with me that it was foolish to contribute to our church and others while paying exorbitant interest rates on credit-card debt. I disagree. Perhaps we could have paid the debt down faster, but I doubt it. Sure, it took 13 years. But I know myself. Giving gave me a grateful heart.
The power of giving
Gratitude gave me the stamina and discipline to keep going all the way to paying off the very last debt. Giving felt so good, it made paying off debt and living on less possible. I could have never made it without so many blessings along the way.
If you don’t have money you can give right now because you want to devote all of your spare cash to getting out of debt, or you and your income have parted company for a season, don’t let that stop you. Giving a portion of what you receive, no matter how small that amount might be, is the key.
Give your time as a volunteer to help out in your community. Use your talents to help a school, church, public library, local hospital or other organization that would otherwise have to pay for that work to be done.
Share those great supermarket bargains (especially the buy-one-get-one free deals) with a local food pantry. Grow a garden next summer and share the bounty.
Your giving plan
Make a commitment. Giving is a very personal thing, so there are no rules. The secret is to start somewhere, knowing you can make adjustments to your giving plan.
We decided to give away 10 percent of our net income. You might want to start with five percent, or two.
Sign up for a specific schedule if volunteering at a school or hospital. Mark your calendar for the days you will visit the food pantry.
Whatever you decide to give, commit to it so giving becomes a habit. No amount of money or effort is too small. Once you catch the giving bug you will be anxious to increase your commitment.
Pick your charity. Giving to a cause that you feel passionately about adds a special meaning to giving. If teaching is your passion, perhaps there is a needy classroom in the inner city that needs help. Love pets? Give to your local animal shelter. Are you concerned for children? Find a shelter for battered women and children that could benefit from your generosity.
You may feel more comfortable giving to a large charity that has professional management like The Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse. You’re bound to find a match when you open your eyes to all the needs around you.
Know your charity. Avoid getting ripped off by arming yourself with excellent knowledge of the charity you support. Learn all you can so you are closely familiar with the organization, its purpose and the good it is doing.
Make sure you have the charity’s correct name and address. Scam organizations will often select a name very close to a reputable organization to trick donors.
Next, take a look at that charity’s latest IRS form 990—required to be filed annually by all IRS-recognized non-profit corporations and easily found online.
Legitimate charities will be happy to provide information about themselves, so make a request directly. Its 990 will show you how much the organization spends on administrative costs and how much of the dollars they collect make it to the charitable cause.
As a donor, you should know what they do with the donated funds and how they do their work.
Give to charities whose work you can observe in your own community, if possible. You can request written literature and a copy of the charity’s latest annual report.
As a guideline, the most reputable charities spend fewer than 40 cents from each dollar donated for administrative costs, some a lot less.
Check for free. GuideStar has data on more than 850,000 IRS-recognized nonprofits and posts each charity’s IRS required form 990 on its website. Access to 990s is available with free registration at this site. Another site, Charity Navigator rates charities according to their financial health and how efficiently they are run.
Keep good records. A fringe benefit of some charitable giving is a potential tax deduction if you itemize your tax return, which reduces the amount of your income that will be subject to federal income tax. Just be aware that starting with your 2018 Tax Year filing, the rules have changed.
When donating to an IRS-approved 503(c) with the intention to take a tax deduction, do not give cash and never give your credit card number to a telephone solicitor. Give your gift by check or money order so you will have a record for tax purposes.
Caution: The IRS requires that you obtain a receipt from the charity (a canceled check will not work) for all larger tax-deductible contributions. If you donate through a charity’s website, make sure it is a secure site.
Hint: Before completing the transaction, look at that page’s URL in the address bar. It should start with “https.” If the “s” is missing, which indicates it is secure, do not proceed.
Generally, charities that rely on telemarketing spend way too much of their funds on fundraising. Once you realize the call is from a non-profit organization—they are exempt from Do Not Call Lists—politely excuse yourself and hang up.
If it’s an organization you’d like to support, contact them directly. More of your dollars will make it to the cause. Telemarketers work on commissions which eat up donation dollars quickly.
It’s good for us
Giving makes us happy. It’s a fact. Givers are happier people than non-givers. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, a survey of 30,000 American households, revealed that people who gave money to charity were 43 percent more likely than non-givers to say they were “very happy” about their lives.
Another study conducted by social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia determined that people who donate their dollars to charities or splurge on gifts for others are more content than those who squander all the dough on themselves.
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Giving makes us healthy. One study conducted by the nation’s top universities—Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford reported in The Christian Post, revealed people who are givers see the benefits of delayed mortality, reduced depression, increased well-being and good fortune.
“Give daily, in small ways, and you will be happier. Give and you will be healthier. Give and you will even live longer,” says Dr. Stephen Post, bioethicist and co-author of the book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life.
Giving makes us rich. That goes for individuals and nations, too. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey provided credible results: People who give charitably make significantly more money than those who don’t. More giving doesn’t just correlate with higher income; it causes higher income. And when people earn more, they give more, so the wealthier they become.