Charitable Giving Tips: What to Consider

November 2, 2012

Charitable giving is a critical part of many estate plans and not just for the super-wealthy. Many New Yorkers have worked hard their entire lives to ensure the financial well-being of their families. Besides passing on assets to loved ones, many local residents consider it an incredibly important testament to their values to share some wealth with charitable organziations that they hold dear. That does not have to mean donating enough money to have your name placed on the side of a new building. Instead, it often simply means providing a concrete indication of one's commitment to having a goal beyond oneself and the merit of giving back to others.

However, it is important to be educated about some pitfalls in charitable giving and the ways to make the donations prudently. For example, a brief article from The Hill this month provided a helpful "Do and Don't" list with regard to charitable donations. The issues shared in the story are worthwhile for donations made at any point in the year as well as long-term gifts like those crafted into estate plans. The underlying theme of the article is a basic checklist of tips to ensure the money you give actually acts to help the individuals that you hope it will and will be used in the manner you desire.

The story points to a list of "charity watchdog" groups that offer comprehensive analysis and recommendations to ensure that your donation is used as efficiently as possible. Those websites include: Charity Navigator, GuideStar, CharityWatch and The American Institute of Philanthropy.

The most important thing to understand about a potential charitable organization is how they are spending the money they receive. Charitable donors are entitled to basic information about the budgets of these organizations. The watchdog groups suggest that a general rule of thumb is that these non-profits should spend no more than 35 cents on fundraising for evey dollar taken in to actually provide the help they claim. Asking for that information is a critical first step. It also might be helpful to learn about the leadership organization. What is their vision and where do they plan on going in the future?

Money is a bit tighter for everyone these days and that includes charities. In these belt-tightening times helping others is often more important than ever. But at the same time it is of utmost importance to ensure that donations are used as efficiently as possible. Taking the time to ensure the organizations to which you are providing money are doing the best they can to use those funds wisely is a prudent way to make choices about both short and long-term gift giving.

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