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Give Generously — and Wisely

By Terry Savage on November 21, 2018

Did this year fly by faster than ever? The holidays are here again. And now that we have expressed our thankfulness, we enter into the season of generosity. Despite changes in the tax code that make it less beneficial to donate to charities, this is the year to give more, not less. Almost every charitable group or foundation is keeping their fingers crossed that Americans will be even more generous this year, even if the higher standard deduction means less incentive to itemize and write off charitable gifts.

Whether it’s fires or floods or mudslides that destroyed homes, this has been a record year of climate disasters, not in some far-flung land but in our own states. Cancer and Alzheimer’s, hunger and animal cruelty haven’t taken a holiday this past year. So whether you give out of a generous heart or superstitiously to ward off the ill consequences of selfishness, this is the time to consider how to make sure your gifts go to a worthy organization.

It’s a mistake to simply write a check to an organization based on its name. Of the many charities with the word “cancer” in their title, you will find that some take more than two-thirds of the money they raise and spend it on “fundraising costs.” That includes salaries to those running the organization! You want your dollars to go directly to the cause, with minimal amounts shaved off for “expenses.”

Search for the best charities

It’s easy to do the research. Every registered charity must file IRS form 990 with the government. But you don’t have to comb through them for details and ratings comparisons. Just go to CharityNavigator.org, the largest database (nearly 10,000 charities) that rates potential charity recipients based on their financial health, accountability, and transparency. Each charity gets an overall score, and a star rating. You’ll even get a warning — a “donor advisory” — when Charity Navigator considers an organization to be a scam. The charity ratings look at total assets, payments to affiliates for marketing services and CEO pay. Note: it’s not wrong to have a high-paid executive team, if they are delivering results and managing a large asset base.

Let Charity Navigator analyze these facts and make an overall assessment for you before you make your gift. If you are simply looking for a “cause” to share your good fortune, you can search charities by categories on this site. That ensures that your dollars will do the most good. Or simply designate your gift to the Charity Navigator “Giving Basket” and your dollars will be automatically spread to several worth organizations. You’ll get one tax receipt and can even set up recurring, automatic donations.

Leverage your contribution

Look for ways to make your charitable dollars do double-duty. At this time of year, many charities announce “matching gifts” made by generous donors. Also, many corporations will match employee contributions, so be sure to ask the HR department if this program exists at your workplace.

This year Facebook and PayPal have teamed up to match donations made through Facebook to nonprofits up to a total of $7 million. You simply create a fundraiser by selecting from a list of available nonprofits. This is a great way to call attention and support to charities in which you have a personal interest. It lets your friends publicly show their support as you fight a disease or just respect your choice of charities.

You can also use Facebook to set up a “personal fundraiser” where the money does not go to a charity. This is similar to online giving sites like GoFundMe.com, where you can easily set up a campaign for any good cause, whether a recognized charity or just to help an individual in need. Givers can’t deduct donations unless they are made to a recognized charity, but the money you give can still help others in need.

And that’s the bottom line as we come to the end of a year that has seen economic growth and stock market profits — but not for everyone. It’s so American to generously give to those less fortunate. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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