Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guidelines for Charitable Giving

Many people, including many who regularly read this blog, have investment portfolios which they seek to optimize regularly. But what about our charitable giving portfolio? How often do we consider if we are making contributions to the most efficient and effective organizations related to the causes about which we are most concerned?

Most of us perhaps give our tithes and offerings to (or through) our local church, but then we respond to other appeals for financial help. And especially at this time of the year we are  swamped with requests for charitable gifts. Through the requests found often in our mailboxes, by the appeals we receive in our e-mail inboxes, and from personal petitions made by religious or civic organizations, we are regularly asked to be generous in helping other people.
So, how should we decide which charities or causes to support? Do we respond primarily with our emotions, giving to those groups who best stir our feelings of compassion, concern, or guilt? Or do we have a planned charitable giving “portfolio”?
Let me suggest the following guidelines when considering a charitable gift:
(1) Does this gift help eliminate the root causes of problems more than just helping victims of those problems? For example, giving to help feed the hungry is good and important; giving to help eliminate the causes of hunger is better.
(2) Does this gift help solve problems in the future rather than merely meeting current needs? In spite of the needs of many Native Americans now, this is one main reason in my previous posting for suggesting giving to the Native American College Fund.

(3) Does this gift go to (through) an organization that is highly effective and efficient? Perhaps Charity Navigator, the leading independent charity evaluator in the country, is the best way to check the strength and integrity of charities. In their words, Charity Navigator “works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of over 5,500 of America’s largest charities.”

(4) Does this gift go to a group that meets the previous criteria but has relatively few supporters as opposed to those groups that have a great deal of support? Some of the charities or causes I support are not on Charity Navigator because they are too small or specialized, but partly for that reason I choose to contribute to them. For example, I recently sent a donation to Associated Baptist Press.

(5) For those of us who are Christians, the first question we should ask is: Does this gift reflect commitment to Jesus’ words, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness”? Even though I recognize that there are many “secular” groups that are consistent with seeking God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness, mainly I want the charities to which I donate to be Christian in both how they operate and in the charitable work they do.
What other guidelines or charitable giving suggestions should be added?


  1. Leroy, you bring up a very good topic here. I am also interested in something you said in your very first line about "investment portfolios which they seek to optimize regularly." Along the lines of your post, I wonder how much of that optimizing takes into account the 5 questions you have asked about charities, and/or similar questions regarding socially responsible and ethical investing. I fear that many good people have their investments wrapped up in businesses with practices they would never actively support in any other way. Important issues at stake are environmental impact, diversity and equality, working conditions, family benefits, outreach and charity, etc. Here are some good resources for anyone who wants to explore this more:

  2. I appreciate Tim's significant comments, and at a later time I will probably address the issue he introduced.

  3. Today, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, has for many years been reported as the most giving day of the year as more checks seem to be written today in support of philanthropic causes. I'm not sure why it is today, but early in my career much was said about this day and having appeals arrive in people's mailboxes the day after Thanksgiving.

    There are millions of causes in our country. Most, if not all, receive some form of support. Without a doubt we are the most philantrhopic nation in the world.

    The keynote speaker at Kansas City's National Philantrhopy Day breakfast was Dr. Claire Gaudiani, a former college president and now professor of history. She was speaking about her latest book, "Generosity Unbound" (Broadway Publications). I haven't read it yet, but she summed it up in her speech. She basically contends that philanthropy, as it has done in the past, can help bring our economy out of disaster and strengthen the middle class. I haven't read her book yet, but her speech was most informative and inspirational.

    Giving at this time of year obviously has it's tax implications, but moreover it is also a season for giving. Giving sets an example to our family, benefits needy causes, and provides immense satisfaction for the giver. Your guidelines are most worthwhile. After considering them, this fundraiser encourages everyone to give to something through whatever means s/he has. Whether it's a baked treat to a neighbor or change in the Salvation Army kettles or causes for which we are passionate...please, please...GIVE.

  4. David, thanks much for posting your meaningful comments!

  5. Since becoming permanently employed again, I have bee surprised that we increase our percentage of giving roughly 50% from 12% up to 18%. This has bothered my view on the policy of giving - which has requires of me both habit and joy. Many of the gifts are tax deductible, which is a serious consideration (and one reason why many Americans are philanthropic), but we also give substantially to non-tax deductible causes just out of mercy for our fellows in need.

    Charity Navigator is one one very good resource for evaluating charitable organizations. Having worked for two of their ranked charities I would say they do their best rating apples and oranges but the results can be questionable.

    Definitions for justice and mercy (mandated by scripture and within other religions as well), are as elusive as a good definition for a Christian. The generalities hold, but not the specifics - one's justice is another's injustice. Indeed we are dealing with this issue at work right now.

    But in the end the general principal you mentioned must remain: GIVE.