What are the steps necessary to creating a charitable giving plan and avoiding pitfalls?
Given the enormous amount Americans gave to charity in 2015 -- $373 billion -- it is no surprise that most Americans believe that foundations and corporations are responsible for most of this charitable spending. The reality, however, is that most of America's charitable giving, approximately 80 percent, comes from individuals. This proves that your generosity, combined with that of your compatriots, makes a substantive difference in the world.
Establishing a Charitable Giving Plan
Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can give you all the tools you need to become a savvy, as well as compassionate, donor. There are several steps involved in creating a charitable giving plan. If you have a spouse or significant other, you may want to work together on this aspect of estate planning; of course, it is also possible that you have differing charitable goals or that you prefer to keep your assets separate. If you have children, depending on their ages, you may to involve them in some of the process so they begin to understand the power and pleasure of giving.
Steps to Consider as You Plan Your Charitable Giving
- Zero in on Causes Important to You
Try to choose charities that are close to all of your hearts. Depending on the resources available, you should target no more than a handful of causes so that you can feel you are making a sizable contribution. Consider a broad range of charities -- environmental, educational, religious, medical, political, those dedicated to feeding the hungry, those focused on helping the abused or enslaved, those designed to teach work skills to prisoners -- before narrowing your list down. Everyone has a different agenda when it comes to charitable giving. Try to focus on three to five charities that are most important to you.
- Evaluate the Charities that Directly Support Your Chosen Causes
You want to make sure that the charities you choose are legitimate and that the bulk of your donation goes to actually helping the needy rather than to administrative costs or high salaries. Check out the charity's website and also look at websites that evaluate charities, such as Guidestar.org or CharityNavigator.org. Consider exactly what the charity does and read about how much difference its work is really making.
- Decide on a Reasonable Amount to Budget for Charitable Spending
With the assistance of your estate planning attorney, you should be able to come to a conclusion about how much money you can realistically spend on donations. Once you decide on the total amount, you should consider how you want to divvy the money up. For example, will you divide it equally among all the charities you have chosen? Or will you provide more money to the charity you consider most worthy?
- Avoiding Common Charitable Giving Mistakes
Your qualified estate planning attorney will assist you in avoiding common mistakes made in charitable giving, such as:
- Donating impulsively without checking out the agency you're giving to (which may result in donating to a fake charity intentionally named to be confused with a legitimate one)
- Making an overly restricted gift that may be difficult for the charity to use
- Donating unusable or inappropriate good, rather than money
- Selling securities and donating the profits, rather than donating the stocks themselves
These mistakes may lead to problems that prevent your gift from being as helpful as you intend and may also keep you from taking advantage of the tax code benefits you may be entitled to when you make charitable donations.