How to Plan Your Giving

While people earning more than $80,000 a year make up 75% of all individual charitable donation, only 35% do any research about their giving.

Most folks are put off by the term “philanthropy” (Greek; love of man) and think it is only for the uber rich. That would be wrong. Most of the million-plus (!) not-for-profits in the US are funded by ordinary folk of ordinary means. And 98% of the money donated stays right here in the US, most of it in the giver’s locale.

There is a large under-the-radar subculture of people who, on their own or more sensibly together, donate in a planned way on a regular basis. However, while those earning over $80,000 per year make 75% of all individual contributions, only 35% admit to doing any research about their giving.

Why is that? For starters, how about a lack of role models, discomfort and uncertainty, time constraints, and lack of pressure to get into action. But if we could peer slightly ahead to see the personal satisfaction, even fun, that planned giving usually results in, to say nothing of the positive outcomes at the other end, many of us would dive right in.

I want to recommend a slim volume that everyone reading this column would find fascinating. It is a fast 135 pages and is easily digested at one sitting. The insights and revelations virtually pour off the page. The book is Giving With Confidence and it is written by the former head of the Hewlett-Packard Foundation, Colburn Wilbur.

He takes you through the process of planned giving step by step, so that even if you are wishy-washy about the whole subject, by the end you are enlightened and enthusiastic. For one insight, he points out that for many donors, their grant making follows the path of their children’s lives. Just as so many parents do with volunteering for the PTA, Little League, Girl Scouts and so on.

The reason so much giving goes to those types of local organizations is because not only does your own family benefit, but also you can see the results of your efforts with your own eyes. Yes, much good and important work can be done from afar with your granted donation but one never should feel badly for keeping your activity near to home. There is plenty of need all around us.

Physicians may say “I give plenty of free care,” or “I (haphazardly) end up at the end of the year having donated quite a bit to various causes that have approached me.” But we are talking about something quite different; a life-enhancing legacy that you can enjoy now, not just after you are gone and your estate might have donated.

A key point Wilbur makes is that we should identify our passion, something that gets us worked up, to get us started. The list of categories alone is endless: education; health; environment (the top 3, according to a local professional); the arts; religion; and poverty to name just a few. And it really helps if we draw on a knowledgeable advisor, such as is found at a community foundation. Or go online to the myriad of helpful sites listed in Wilbur’s book.

He also says it is helpful to think of yourself as an investor who has skin in the game and is (self) interested to look into the organization you end up focusing upon. Do a site visit, and interview the director and the staff of any organization that you are considering. You will be welcomed and treated royally. After all, you are their lifeblood and there are no illusions otherwise.

Do we need public funding for certain kinds of programs and charities? Absolutely, yes. Consider disaster relief, attacking systemic poverty, epidemics, etc. But the opportunities and needs in our world are so vast, and some so interesting to us, that private involvement will always be the bedrock of support for the non-profit world. Philanthropy can be fun; so pick up the book, get involved and see what I mean.