Cereal company founder W.K. Kellogg famously noted years ago that it is easier to make money than it is to spend money wisely. It’s still true — spending is easy, but spending wisely takes a lot more effort. One aspect of your spending may be giving to charities and causes in which you’re interested. Try to make that giving deliberate instead of impulsive in 2017, recommends Cynthia Crawford and Andrew Zumwalt, professors in personal financial planning for University of Missouri Extension, and James Preston, MU assistant executive director for gift planning and endowments.
“We believe that people, when their finances permit, want to be generous,” Crawford said. “As with all spending, as Kellogg suggested, giving wisely takes some effort.”
As you think about your financial plan for 2017, consider the ideas below to help you carefully incorporate giving into your plans.
- Think about getting your hands dirty, first. Giving doesn’t always have to involve money. It can be volunteering your time and wisdom. They count, too. Many times people choose to volunteer as workers and serve on committees or boards before deciding to give. They want to see the charity in action and see results firsthand so they can be confident their financial gifts are well invested in the effort.
- Set a dollar amount early in the year for 2017’s charitable giving. While that amount may need to be flexible — to accommodate, for example, giving to memorials at the passing of a family member or friends, or giving when there are tragic natural disasters — having a target figure for planning purposes is a healthy start.
- Concentrate. Say no to most, yes to a few. Pick a small number of charities (most of us can count them on one hand) to support in 2017. Giving a meaningful amount that will make a difference to those selected charities means saying no to most others.
- While it may seem on the surface that supporting a number of charities with small gifts (less than $20) helps spread the money around, realize that it may cost the charity more than your $5 or $10 donation to process your gift, send a thank-you message and enter information into a database.
- What is a meaningful amount? You decide. If it is meaningful to you, it should be meaningful to the charity. Make it enough to be meaningful to you.
- Realize that your priorities for giving may change over time as your focus changes or charity missions change. Re-evaluate your selection of charities annually.
- Don’t give based only on the charity’s name. There are less-than-honorable charities that deliberately make their names sound similar to great nonprofits.
- It’s easy to learn more about a charity that you’re considering supporting. First take a look at the charity’s website, particularly focusing on its mission and goals. While you are online, look the charity up in charitynavigator.org and charitywatch.org. Each site rates major charities on financial health, transparency and accountability. Can you deduct your gift at tax time? Check money.us/irs-charity
- Maximize your gift’s impact. “I don’t want the frozen pizzas, holiday wreaths or spaghetti dinners,” says Crawford. “That takes time and money away from the organization’s work. If the charity is in my giving plan for the year, my gift is 100 percent for the work they are doing.”
- Involve your children and grandchildren in the process of giving. What organizations have been meaningful to them or helped their friends? Can they volunteer alongside you? Can they go with you to deliver the gift or help you write the check and put it in the mail? Sharing by example the value you place on generosity is powerful.
- Not only is what you give your choice, when you give is your choice, as well. Planning to give in the future or at your passing is only a wish unless there is a written plan in place and the appropriate papers are signed. Don’t keep your planned gift a secret. The charity may need to ask questions in order to be certain it can use your gift in the manner you desire. And whether publicly or quietly, the charity wants the opportunity to thank you in advance.
- “Once you give once, it is inevitable that the charity will be back asking for additional gifts. That’s the perfect time to ask what your first gift accomplished,” says Crawford. Make sure you know your gift has made a difference before giving again.
Making your gift a deliberate and carefully thought-out part of your financial plan can help your generosity make a greater difference, and give you even greater satisfaction in the coming years.
This information is part of the online course How to get an “A” in retirement. This course is written specifically for University of Missouri faculty and staff (UM faculty or staff can get registration information here). An online retirement planning education course will be available to the public later in 2017. Please email Cynthia Crawford at email@example.com to request that details be sent once they are available.