Getting Prepared to Give

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It’s probably no surprise that a third of all charitable contributions are made in the month of December. In the U.S. last year the total hit close to $375 billion, and more than two-thirds of that amount—around $265 billion—came from individual donors, as opposed to foundations, bequests and corporate giving.

It’s a wonderful statistic and I’m proud to be a tiny part of it. In fact most people play some role in helping to build that number, including a multitude of individuals who only give tiny amounts.

But there are others who give more—a lot more. These individuals should not only be applauded, they should be lovingly warned to use prudent judgment when it comes to contributing.

In order to be smart, start planning your gifts now. If you’re hoping to contribute before year’s end, you don’t want to make your decision Dec. 30, as a surprisingly large number of big donors do.

On one level you could say it’s all good if you’re giving, but personally if I’m going to contribute to a cause, I want to know a little bit about where that money’s going. That’s why, especially when we’re talking about big dollar amounts, it’s smart to set aside a few minutes to learn what you can about a charity.

I’ll assume you’re smart enough not to be lured in by the cheaper hucksters who might solicit you by phone. High-pressure requests for immediate donations, failure to provide proof of tax deductibility, and even claims that you’ve donated to them in the past when you haven’t, are red flags to a contributor.

Yet even well known, established charities may not be doing their best with your donated dollars, at least in my opinion.

According to research, the CEOs of some select charities are pulling in more than 10% of their nonprofit’s annual expenses. While there are always extenuating circumstances, somehow it doesn’t sit right with me that a nonprofit should endure a $500,000 cost burden for a CEO salary when its total operating expenses are less than $5 million.

Salaries aside, a contributor also wants to know that a reasonable amount of their money is going toward the cause they intend to support. It’s your right and, where the charities are concerned, it’s their responsibility to do right.

There are several good resources on the Internet that can provide you with information about specific nonprofits. If you don’t have a personal connection with a particular group—which is sometimes the best way to get involved—I recommend you find out where some of the greatest needs are and exactly which groups are honestly doing something to help.

And if you’ve read this far, you probably care enough to help too, and for that I wholeheartedly commend you.