Getting the most from your charitable giving

Charitable giving is an important tradition during the holidays and Americans are the most generous people in the world. Giving Season, the final weeks of the year when donors make approximately 40% of all annual gifts, unofficially kicked off Dec. 3 with #GivingTuesday.

Whether you’re giving $40 or $400, here are some tips to help empower donors to optimize every donation and avoid the many scams that try to undo people’s generosity.

Soul search

Make giving a family thing. Engage them in discussing what types of causes are important to all of you. Do you want to make a difference on a national, local or international level? Be empowered to pursue your personal charitable vision. There is no wrong answer to identifying causes.

Review the mission

It has never been easier to confirm if a charity’s mission aligns with your charitable vision. Check your charity’s social media, speak to volunteers or even call the executive director.

Part of a charity’s responsibility is communicating its sustainable impact and goals to donors like you. The more transparent the better. Friends, family, and associates can also be great sources of information about nonprofit organizations doing a lot of good.

Do the research

Many people spend more time researching a new restaurant online than they do a charity. Leverage the wealth of information online at sites like GuideStar, Giving USA and the Better Business Bureau to vet your charities. Check out annual reports and other relevant information to find a charity with a solid background and mission statement. Also, look at a charity’s social media feeds for up-to-date, results-focused work, long term goals and happy volunteers.

Online, email, text and telephone scammers thrive on your kindness during Giving Season. Scammers create “mirror” social media pages that resemble a legit charity’s page. The best, fastest approach is “close then click.” Close out of any portal soliciting your donation and click to open a new tab to donate directly via a charity’s website. You’ll also save on third-party processing fees. The key is you initiating contact. Trust your instincts – if you have any question about a charity, call the charity directly or check whether it’s a registered 501c3 at

Set a budget

How much you give is a personal decision and every dollar counts for charities. Generally, an annual charitable budget can be anywhere from 1 to 12% of income; there is no such thing as a “too small” donation. However, larger gifts to fewer charities create a bigger impact. Consider donating $100 to one charity rather than $20 to five charities. Also, give unrestricted gifts and let the charity determine the optimal use of your generous gift. Above all, create a budget and stick to it. You can’t—and shouldn’t—give reflexively to everyone who asks.

Consider “noncash” gifts

If you’re not in a position this year to make a financial donation, give your time instead through volunteering. Many organizations have wish lists on their website or Amazon. Wish list items are shipped directly to the charity and are sure to be used. Avoid donating unsolicited items – it’s expensive to move and store non-necessities.

Individual charitable giving – in any form – has never been more important. Don’t wait to be asked by a charity to do something. Be proactive and it’s likely to be the most fulfilling thing you do.

Eileen R. Heisman is President and CEO of National Philanthropic Trust (NPT) a public charity founded in 1996 to help donors, foundations and financial institutions increase philanthropy in society. Based just outside of Philadelphia, NPT ranks among the largest grantmaking institutions in the U.S. and is the country’s largest independent donor-advised fund sponsor, with grants totaling $6.8 million to charities worldwide. Learn more at

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