Philanthropic methodology


I've already started jotting down a list of goals for next year, and one thing I know I want to focus on is more responsible, planned philanthropic giving. I've heard and been told that gifts that can be counted on (i.e. monthly gifts, or seasonal gifts that happen every year, like memberships, or whatever) are both more useful for organizations and increase giving for individuals. I can see why that would be the case--if your giving is just one of your bills, you do it automatically, not just when you feel like you have extra. (It would also help greatly with keeping track of your charitable giving for tax purposes.)

So, I think I want to try to standardize my giving next year. I want to figure out an amount, based on a percentage of take-home, to give, then plan how the majority of it will be given and when, and set up direct payments. This is going to take several steps, though, and I'm going to have to think about each of them.

First, I need to figure out what the right amount to give is, given my income, my other financial priorities, etc. So I looked around at tithe amounts. Tithe literally means ten percent, and some churches are strict about that. However, lots of churches ask for half-tithes (5%) or quarter tithes (2.5%). I'm not a person of faith, and even if I were, I'd be uncomfortable, I think, with a church that demanded any percentage. Still, this gives me a place to start thinking about it. Remember that kerfluffle a year or so ago about how much given rich people give to charity (or, more likely, how little)? Thinking about that, I did some Googling and found that the national average for charitable giving in 2005 was $1,800/year per family, about 3.5%. I haven't decided what my magic number is going to be, but it will be in this range somewhere.

Next, I need to decide how to split it up. There are a lot of worthy charities out there. Which ones do I want to sponsor? At what levels? That's a much harder question than how much to give. I'm working on compiling a list, and then I'm going to see about ranking it. I'm also going to leave myself some money that isn't ear-marked, as things always come up. This is the part I'm really stuck on. How do I decide who needs my money the most? I'm finding the idea a little bit overwhelming, honestly.

Once I get my priorities lined up, though, I am going to set up automatic payments. I'll divide my annual amount into a monthly amount and set up payments to equal it, either on annual or quarterly or monthly basis, just like any other bill. And that money will just be gone, and I won't spend it on things I don't need, and it will get to places that can use it.

Or at least that's the plan. What do you think? Does that make sense? Any thoughts on amounts, percentages, or organizations to which to give? I have given to charities for several years, but I've never been all that disciplined about it, so this is all kind of new. I think it's important, though. I want to be a person who lives my beliefs--the older I get, the more that's a priority--and one of the things I believe is that it is absolutely the responsibility of those who have more to assist those who have less. And it should also be the pleasure of those who have more to do it, as we are very lucky to be in the position we are in. In 2010, I want to do a better job expressing my gratitude.


Grace, I think this is a lovely idea and a great goal. Like you, we've never given regularly but I like your plan and outline for giving monthly with bills. Some of my favorite charities are local ones. It just feels good to help a little known non-profit in your own backyard who is doing so much good on a local level.

One problem I've had with giving to the larger organizations is the junk mail I get afterward. I also don't like all the "free" gifts they seem to have the money for in order to get you to send more money, seems counterproductive. The Wildlife Federation has been horrible in this respect. Although I believe in their cause and will probably give again, it's very annoying getting something from them every month or more. Just seems like a waste. But maybe the free gifts are donated and the mailings are done by volunteers.

You inspire me to be a better giver. I'd been following your lead in giving about a certain amount per month. This year has been tougher with major paycuts.

I have some charities I give to every year and would like to continue. But part of me wants to give all my money to the Fistula Foundation because I feel the good there is so tangible.

This all reminds me that I haven't given to NPR yet this year and I listen to them all the time so I better get on it...

I've been doing kiva, which isn't really fully charity, since they pay it back. But I keep "reinvesting" in Kiva people. I like the one on one nature of it--that I get to pick the exact person. Also the kind of person who wants money short term & would pay it back seems like a person who takes it seriously.


I think this is such a good idea. I give to 3 different organizations on a monthly basis. I've been thinking about your exact dilemma lately though too. I like Rachel's suggestion of giving local. I'm thinking food bank here. Everyone deserves food to eat, and in tough times, food is hard to get when you have other bills. If you want to lean towards a larger, more global organization, I'd suggest trying to find one that fits your values, or just speaks to your heart. Would you like to help folks get eyeglasses? Do you want to give a goat? Do you listen to public radio? Would you rather help abused and neglected animals? There are organizations for almost everything.

I think if I give more, I'm leaning towards something more local so that I feel like I am helping folks in my area. Food bank, Penelope House, my local animal shelter, somewhere around here. The Red Cross gave us food after Hurricane Katrina, so I'd consider our local RC too.

Just my ideas. Good luck and please, let us know what you pick. I'd really be interested.


I gave to the ASPCA in Kate and Ted's name for their wedding. Problem is, since then, they won't stop mailing solicitations to us. :-p Nevertheless, a worthy organization that you would be interested in donating to as well, I'm guessing.

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