Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Donations: Tax Deadline Approaches, but Don’t Get Taken While Giving!

The Tax Deadline Approaches:
Don’t Get Taken While Giving!
January Newsletter Column

You may be reading this as the Dec. 31 deadline for tax-deductible donations approaches.  Or maybe it’s the new year already, and you want to be intentional as you plan your philanthropic and charitable giving for the new year.  Of course, even without the tax benefits, many of us are moved to give and make a difference in the world.
No matter our personal circumstances or the amount of money and time that we can afford to share, giving to others is a life-affirming act.

Envelopes pile up on the desk and emails stack up in the in-box from many worthy causes–and some not-so-worthy operators.  My own giving guidelines are honed from reading broadly on the topic, web searches, volunteer leadership experience, and an early budget-office career.
I’ve also learned about giving from getting taken now and then.

My suggestions:

Give to what you know.  If you are volunteer for an organization–or if a coworker, close friend or family member is involved there–you will know if it’s doing relevant work, doing it effectively, managing money wisely, and not putting up its leaders in penthouses.  This is why I give the biggest chunk of my donations to this congregation, to the UU Service Committee, the UU Legislative Ministry in California, and to our two remaining UU theological schools– in Chicago and Berkeley.  When I know some of the staff, board members, or other volunteers, I have a better idea of what’s going on in an organization, and I can trust my money is being used well.

Give to what you value.  For example, I couldn’t imagine living in a community without a UU congregation or local Public Radio station, so I support them.

Give locally.  Most social change is forged and social services are delivered at the local level, not out of national headquarters. That’s why I try to give to local branches and chapters, rather than to respond to appeals from New York and Washington.  Every year at UUSS our members vote to select the Community Partner organizations with which we share our Sunday offering each week (such as Family Promise, the local SPCA).  I give in the offering basket with confidence that these were nominated and vetted by church members who have close knowledge of each organizations’ programs, staff and volunteer leadership, and who actually see the benefits of the work.

Give with awareness and intention  about what you’re gaining by giving.  Being reflective about what we get out of our generosity personally can help us avoid being manipulated by appeals to pity, guilt, urgency or drama.

Give after taking time to think about it.  Authentic fund raising professionals will respect your wish to take time to consider whether and how much to give.

Never give over the phone. That is, don’t give to solicitors over the phone (unless you are the one who makes the call to the organization).  Phone solicitors usually charge a large fee to the recipient organization.  Don’t give in response to an email unless you have an established relationship and receive regular emails from the organization.

Give to your own well-being.  Take care of yourself even as you strive to help others.  If you are paying high-interest finance charges, for example, work on getting those costs down rather than piling on debt. That will give you more financial security and more freedom to give in the future. Credit card companies don’t need your help.
Decide the total amount you can give in a year, either as a percentage of your income or your asset base or as a specific dollar amount withheld from your paycheck or drawn from your investments.

Of course, I barely follow that last bit of advice. Yes, I do set a percentage of my income for donations.  But when December rolls around, I realize that I can afford to give away more than I thought! This occurs to me as I reflect on the blessings of the past year and the blessings of my life.  When I pause to be grateful, it helps me to be generous.  And being generous makes me feel alive.

Happy New Year!
Yours in service,


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