Giving to charity can be one of the best ways for your money to make a difference. That said, if you want to be sure your donations make the biggest difference possible then you need to be proactive, and you need to have a plan before you decide to start writing checks to your favorite charities. Most of us have no real plan around our giving. If we get a letter from a charity that tugs on our hearts we might write a check. If you don’t get the same letter the next year, we tend to forget about that cause that we cared about the prior year. And of course who budgets and tracks their giving? Hardly anyone…
The first step in being proactive is determining how much you're comfortable giving to charity and creating a budget for it. Do you want to give a yearly lump sum, or do you want to give small payments every month? If you make charitable giving a part of your monthly budget then you can handle it along with your typical expenses, but if you give only a few times per year then you need to mark the date on your calendar and carefully review your finances before you donate.
The next question you have to answer is what causes you want to give to, and which organizations working on those causes will receive your donations. For example, if you want to help animals in need do you want to donate to your local independent cat society (so you can help both a charity and animals in your local area), or will you instead donate to a bigger organization like PETA? If you want to help fight homelessness will you give to shelters in your area, or donate to organizations who are trying to help fix the problem on a larger scale? Start by making a list of the causes that are important to you. The list may change throughout the first year or two as you are reminded of areas or causes that you would like to help.
Additionally, before you hand over your money you need to investigate the places you're giving that money to. Read through the literature that charities put out for donors like you, and get familiar with what the organization does. If you still have questions you should feel free to contact the organization and ask them. Charities are more than happy to let potential donors know where their money is going.
When people think of charity, money is the first thing they think of giving. While there's no substitute for monetary donations, many charities are only too happy to accept other forms of donation as well. For example if you need to get rid of old clothes or housewares then instead of just throwing them in the garbage you can donate them to Goodwill or to the Salvation Army. If you have bags of dog food you can't use shelters will often be more than happy to take them off your hands. You also have time and skills, and if you want to help a charity but you don't have spare money you can always offer something you can do instead of something that you have.
There's only so much room in your budget for charitable giving, but if you want to do more then you can combine that amount with other things you're willing to donate in order to make a bigger impact. Not only that, but if you keep your receipts then your donations may be claimed on your taxes come April, meaning that everybody wins!
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