How to donate: 7 tips to improve your giving

A recent Fidelity Charitable survey shows that donors to charity share common concerns that hold them back from giving more. Consider these solutions.

Two-thirds of U.S. donors want to give more to causes they care about—but many have concerns that make it challenging to give as much as they’d like.

So what are the concerns standing in the way of giving? Our recent report, Overcoming Barriers to Giving, show that obstacles to giving come in many forms: Some donors are concerned about how nonprofits communicate with them; others are concerned about organizing and tracking their giving. But the primary concerns most donors have fall into two key areas: financing their giving and understanding the impact of their donations.

Does this sound familiar?

Three-quarters of donors say financing their giving is a top concern; more than eight in 10 say impact is a top concern. We’ve provided seven tips focusing on these two top issues, and this advice will help you donate, no matter your charities of choice, no matter the amount.

Financial tips

Tip 1: Automate your giving to hit your goals

Many donors have a general idea of how much they’d like to give each year—so you may find it helpful not only to have an amount in mind, but to also pre-schedule donations throughout the year to hit that goal. You may already pay your bills this way; doing the same for charities means you’re more likely to give what you planned and balance your giving with other parts of your budget.

It’s easy to set up automatic donations from your checking account or credit card. Some employers help you do this with payroll deductions, as well. As a bonus, you won’t need to scramble at the end of the year to send in your donations.

Tip 2: Contribute appreciated assets, not just cash

Nearly half (47 percent) of donors said they would contribute more if they could take an increased tax deduction—but most donors aren’t taking full advantage of the deductions that are already out there. One way to make donations without touching your cash is by giving appreciated assets like stocks directly to a charity. In doing so, you may not need to pay capital gains taxes on the stock’s appreciation, effectively increasing your donation and decreasing your tax exposure.

Donors are also more frequently turning to donor-advised funds for the donation of appreciated assets. A donor-advised fund is charitable giving vehicle, sponsored by a public charity, which often has expertise in converting appreciated assets into charitable dollars. By contributing appreciated securities to a donor-advised fund, you may be eligible for an immediate tax deduction and then recommend grants from the fund over time. You can choose one charity to receive the proceeds or divide them among multiple charities.

Tip 3: Talk to a financial planner

Part of knowing how to donate is understanding how much you can afford to give, which can be difficult. Four in 10 donors in the survey were conflicted about whether to hold on to money for personal needs or donate it to charity.

However, your financial planner or other financial advisors can help you identify and work toward your charitable goals, alongside the rest of your financial goals. They can also help you identify charitable tax-saving strategies you may not even know about.

A seedling and a watering can representing the ability to grow the impact of your donations.

Impact tips

We know donors want their donations to have an impact, but that they don’t always learn what that impact is. Our report shows 81 percent of donors had concerns about the impact of their donations. Donors are also challenged by issues such as which organizations are most effective—especially given the deluge of requests from friends, family and charities.

Tip 4: Write a mission statement to focus your giving

In our survey, 53 percent of respondents said they were bombarded with charity requests for how to donate their resources. In addition, 45 percent felt burdened by requests from friends and family members, who expected donations to causes close to their hearts.

Creating a giving mission statement helps you focus on issues you care about most and want to support. It is a way to give yourself permission to say “no” to causes that may be worthy but don’t align with your values and charitable priorities. In addition, by concentrating your efforts, you can increase their impact.

Tip 5: Understand how your favorite charities operate

About two-thirds (67 percent) of donors said they’re occasionally unsure about a charity’s trustworthiness. A little research may be all you need to determine how your gifts are being used.

Not finding answers in emails or newsletters they send you? Ask the charity directly about their funding needs and how they use the donations. Also, charity research tools such as GuideStar and Charity Navigator publish reports with pertinent information on nonprofits. The greater the confidence you have in the charity, the more you’ll feel that your gift is making a difference.

Tip 6: Use a giving guide to find effective charities

Impact guides, like ones from the Center of High Impact Philanthropy, offer reports by category (education, poverty, global health), summarizing the programs, impact and operating efficiency of organizations you might consider as recipients of your donations. You can also follow respected foundations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to see where their money goes.

Tip 7: Teach the whole family how to donate

Including your family in giving actually has a dual benefit: it can deepen the impact your family has now and into the future on a worthy cause, but it can also increase the amount you give. Here’s how.

For families with kids at home, a simple idea to get started includes setting up donation jars for yourself and your kids. You can set an example as well as encourage them to contribute to the jars with spare change, gift money, allowance or job income.

Then, set aside time to talk about where they want to donate their jar’s contents, where you will give yours, and what other charitable donations you make. Discuss current events, your values and family priorities. These conversations are also great times to talk about other ways your family might give, such as through volunteering.

Are you ready to change how you donate to make your giving more effective and easier? Leave ad hoc giving behind and create a plan. Our checklist of strategies, which shows you how to donate effectively, can move you toward the rich and fulfilling giving experience you’ve always wanted.

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How Fidelity Charitable can help

Since 1991, we have been a leader in charitable planning and giving solutions, helping donors like you support their favorite charities in smart ways.

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