Commentary & Analysis

How to give MORE money to the causes you love

Like many people, the end-of-year holiday season is one of my favorites times of the year. I relish spending quality time with my loved ones, decorating my house, and feasting on fun foods I only make at this time of year. 

But as a professional fundraiser, this time of year is extra special for me. That’s because this is when so many of you choose to make gifts to improve the communities you live in. And not just to The Center for Election Science, but to a whole host of worthy causes.

It makes my heart swell to see your generosity. It’s why I got into this profession in the first place, and it’s what drives me to provide the best experience I can for you all year long.

And this year, that got me thinking. As a fundraiser, I know a lot about donations and how you can donate in the most effective way possible. So, to kick off the year-end giving season, I wanted to give a little something to you: some easy advice on how to give most effectively this holiday season.

Minimize the Cost of Your Giving

Check to see if the nonprofit you’re supporting offers the option to cover the fees associated with your gift. We do, and so do most other nonprofits. The cost to you will be fairly minimal unless you’re making a really large gift. And if you are making a gift over a couple hundred dollars, please don’t make your gift via a nonprofit’s online donation form! It’s way too expensive! In this case, consider the options listed in the “maximize your giving” section or simply mail a check. 

You should also consider making a gift directly from your bank account. We call this option “eCheck” and it’s an easy and secure way to make a gift with minimal fees. For us, this is the most cost-effective way to give if you’re donating more than $15. So, this saves money—whether you cover the cost of the fees, or we do!

Still not happy with your options? You could send a check through the mail. But remember, that still has costs to you (a stamp and envelope) and to the cause you support (spending staff time to deposit and record your gift manually). 

Maximize Your Giving

Minimizing fees is a great way to make sure that more of the money you want to donate makes it to the nonprofit you support. But there are also free ways you can make your money go even further

The first thing you should do is check with your employer to see if they match employee donations. Companies such as Microsoft, The Home Depot, Google, Apple, and The Gap (just to name a few!) all match the gifts their employees make. But this isn’t just an option for large corporations, so don’t forget to ask your employer if they offer a match. Otherwise, you could be leaving money on the table! Need help? Email Kirsten and she can help you!

Another option is gifting appreciated stock if you’ve received stock options from your employer or invested independently. The benefit here is that when you donate appreciated stock that you’ve held longer than one year directly to a nonprofit, you avoid the capital gains tax. That effectively means you’re able to donate as much as 20% more to a nonprofit than if you’d sold the stock and given them the cash! And, you can still deduct the full fair-market value of the stock from your taxes. 

You should also consider opening a donor-advised fund. Donor-advised funds (DAFs) are fun tools offered by financial institutions such as Fidelity, Charles Schwab, and your local community foundation. They’re essentially a charitable bank account where you can donate your money, taking the entire tax benefit in the year you deposit it into the account. But, you can send the money to a nonprofit whenever you’d like!

This means you can strategically pick a year to donate lots of money to your DAF, allowing you to itemize your donations on your taxes. However, there is no pressure to give all of that money to charity in that same year. Want more reasons why DAFs are a great option? Check out this article by our Executive Director. 

Give For the Right Reasons

Finally, I have to make a pitch about the most important thing you can consider when making effective gifts to nonprofits this holiday season. Give for the right reasons—that you care about something, and you trust the experts to do the most good they can with your money.

If you care about an issue, take the time to research nonprofits working in that space. Examine their programs to see how many people benefit from them and by how much. Think about what would happen if those programs went away. And think about what would happen if they continued and were successful in addressing the cause area. 

Don’t simply look at their overhead. Or insist that your gift be restricted to purchasing items for one specific program. Do your research and once you feel good about an organization, give generously and in good faith. 

Have questions about how to give more effectively? Want to talk through your unique scenario? I love to chat about philanthropy. Email me and I’ll be happy to help you give as generously as you can this holiday season and beyond.