by Julie Ann
‘Tis the season for giving! Oh and not just those pretty shiny presents under your twinkling tree. It’s a key time of the year for charitable giving as well. With the holiday-giving spirit in people’s hearts and year-end tax deductions on their minds, charities and non-profits know it’s the best time to seek donations.
But how do you know what charity to support? How do you know that the money you are giving actually goes to where you think it is going? How much should you give? What about those tax deductions? Here are a few helpful tips to help you make the most of your charitable giving this holiday season.
Did you know that there are about 1.4 million charities in the United States that you could support? With that many options, how do you know which one(s) you should support? Chances are you already have a passion for something in your heart. Is your passion making sure kids have school supplies, helping no-kill animal shelters, feeding the homeless in your community or supporting cancer research? Do you want to support your local community, the nation, or the world? Do you want to support a smaller organization with a limited focus or a massive well-known organization? Before giving any support, take some time to sit down to reflect and pray about where you should give. If you are having trouble making a decision, a good place to start is by reading the charity’s mission statement.
Once you have decided which charity to support, you should do a little supplemental research to ensure your donation is being used prudently. A good charity should clearly have statements and reports on its Web site showing you how much money they raise, how that money is distributed, and evidence of how their money is bringing results. If you are supporting a local charity, arrange a visit to its facility or office for a first-hand look at what you will be supporting. You can also use Web sites such as http://www.charitynavigator.org or run a search for reviews for an outside perspective on the charity.
The next big question you should ask yourself is how much should I give? On the practical side, many organizations will provide the amount needed (i.e. $30 per month to feed a child in Africa or $250 to send an inner-city kid to summer camp in the mountains), and if this fits into your budget, then it’s an easy way to make the decision. On the spiritual side, there’s the question of whether your charitable giving goes above and beyond your tithe or is a part of it. There are arguments for both perspectives, so inform yourself, seek advice from your mentors and prayerfully consider this issue before building into your budget the amount you will give. In addition to regular charitable giving, consider a “rainy day” amount for unexpected donations such as natural disaster relief or to support a cancer walk for a friend’s sudden illness.
While many charitable organizations can certainly use your money, many can also use the gift of your time. Whether it’s serving meals to the homeless or doing basic office paperwork, volunteering can be priceless. It’s easy to write a check to an organization each month and then forget about the work they are doing. Getting involved will help you truly see the results of your giving. Everyone has time to give even if they don’t always have the cash to give.
Finally, besides the warm-fuzzy feeling of knowing you are helping a cause, Uncle Sam will also reward you with a tax deduction (if you itemize your deductions), provided the charity has been determined to be exempt under IRS code 501(c)(3). Most exempt charities have statements to that effect on their literature, letterhead and Web sites. Be sure to keep paperwork (request receipts) to back up your giving report in case of an IRS audit. For example, hang onto cancelled checks or bank statements clearly showing the organization’s name, date, and amount of the gift. Also, if you donate clothes or household goods to a charity, you can claim that as giving, so be sure to get paperwork verifying this. There are plenty of resources on the Internet that will help you navigate what you can claim in your deductions, or you can consult a tax professional if you need assistance. You can also consult the latest IRS guidelines on their charitable giving Web site.
As you give this holiday season, may God bless you abundantly and may you feel the joy of giving in your heart all year long.