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Tis the season for giving: A guide for how to give, even a little

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LA Post: Tis the season for giving: A guide for how to give, even a little
December 26, 2023
THALIA BEATY - AP

Christmas is over, but giving season for nonprofits is just starting to peak.

The end of the calendar year is when nonprofits make appeals far and wide to attract donors — in part because of holiday traditions or, for some, tax advantages. Nonprofits get about 30% of their annual donations in December — including 10% in the final three days of the year — according to marketing agency Nonprofits Source.

“This is one of the busiest times of the year for us as we assist donors with their year-end giving," said Erin Musgrave, a spokesperson for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Many potential donors don’t realize how much nonprofits value even small gifts, especially local organizations that meet community needs. And nonprofits and industry groups warn that donations are down this year, so gifts right now could help them a lot.

Only 11% of Americans itemize their taxes, which allows them to claim significant tax deductions for charitable donations. That means most Americans don't give in December for tax reasons.

“They’re thinking about the organization in their community that’s having an impact and digging deep and giving,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

As you watch commercial appeals and sort through donation requests, here are some things to consider:

WHERE SHOULD I DONATE?

Experienced donors often have a short list of criteria they use to help select nonprofits to support. It could be organizations that serve the area where they live or specific causes or issues with which they have a personal connection.

A question to ask yourself is: “What are the issues or communities that are important to me and where do I want to make a difference?”

A great way to find out about organizations in your area is to ask your friends, coworkers and neighbors. They may have interacted directly with a nonprofit that supports after-school programs, sends companions to elderly residents, advocates around traffic safety or supports local artists. For any topic that is important to you, an organization in your area is likely working on it.

Another potential consideration is check if your employer will match donations to the nonprofit you want to support. If so, your donation could go even further.

If you feel burdened by all the urgent appeals everywhere from the checkout line to the mail or online, one tactic is to make a budget and set aside time to give to organizations important to you. Be realistic, make a plan and then, set aside the guilt.

DO I HAVE TO GIVE NOW? I HAVE LOTS OF EXPENSES.

No, simply put.

First, there's no obligation to give to nonprofits. Many people make a difference in their communities — donating blood, volunteering with their fire department, caring for neighbors and myriad other ways.

Second, many nonprofits actually prefer for donors to set up automatic monthly donations, even in very small amounts, rather than giving a lump sum at the end of the year. The automatic donation from your bank account or credit card means they can plan for how to spend those funds in advance, which often helps them save money and resources.

HOW DO I EVEN KNOW MY MONEY IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE?

Some donors say they want their dollars to go directly to the nonprofit's work and not to pay for rent or salaries. This perennial view of wasteful “ overhead ” spending has some draw backs, though to be clear, donors have good reason to assess the organizations they support carefully.

But a useful data point comes from the nonprofit ratings agencies themselves. Starting ten years ago, the agencies like BBB Wise Giving Alliance and GuideStar, now part of Candid, teamed up to challenge the idea that the best way to measure the value of a nonprofit was the portion of its funds spent on administrative costs and fundraising.

Michael Thatcher, the president and CEO of Charity Navigator, which overhauled its rating methodology in September, advises that donors consider the organization's impact and whether it's achieving its mission.

“What does the money do? Not where was the money spent?," he told The Associated Press earlier this year.

WHAT IF I DON'T HAVE A LOT TO GIVE?

People who study philanthropy and advise donors like Vanessa Lee, a program officer who coordinates giving circles at the Chicago Foundation for Women, emphasize that giving back is not the purview of the ultrawealthy.

“It’s not like you have to have millions of dollars to be a philanthropist,” said Lee. “You can do this at $10 a month.”

Additionally, donations from low- and middle-income people, who give smaller amounts, usually go directly to nonprofit organizations, in contrast to many of the wealthiest donors, Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies said. His organization has researched the giving behaviors of billionaires and found that a growing portion of the overall dollars donated each year goes to donor-advised funds and foundations, not directly to nonprofits.

In one recent example, the CEO of Dell Technologies, Michael Dell, donated stocks valued at $1.7 billion in October and December to the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and to donor-advised funds for future charitable donations. Private foundations are obligated to grant out at least 5% of their assets each year but there is no minimum granting requirement for DAFs.

“The very wealthy are giving it to intermediaries they control and parking the money indefinitely,” Collins said. “So there’s a more of a tax advantage goal, whereas most people are giving, regardless of the tax consequence.”

___

Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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