If the congressional Democrats and President Obama get their way, 2011 might be the last year in which you’ll be able to fully deduct charitable giving on your federal tax return. Charitable giving isn’t just a way to lower your tax obligation: ideally, it’s a way for you to support the neediest among us. You choose where your money will best be spent, instead of the state or federal government doing so. How much you give is up to you. How much of it gets to whoever needs it most is also up to you:
Do your homework
Use CharityNavigator.org or GuideStar.org to look up how each charity raises and spends its money. Let’s look at two organizations that get lots of publicity for their work with animals, specifically the plight of homeless pets:
-77% of the money raised goes to fulfill the organization’s mission: No more homeless pets.
-Administrative expenses are 7% of income.
-It costs them 12¢ to raise $1.
-The CEO’s pay is .21% of income, and thus under $100,000. Best Friends’ 3 highest executive salaries combined are less than 1% of the organization’s income. And one of those salaries is that of the head of Best Friends’ Medical Center, a veterinarian who also sits on the organization’s board of directors.
-The organization gets top marks for its financial practices, accountability and transparency.
-79.6% of the money raised is used to fulfill its mission: To build our hands-on rescue, rehabilitation and adoption efforts to save the lives of as many companion animals as possible – one at a time – and promote education to increase shelter adoptions, reduce animal cruelty and advance the highest standards in animal welfare.
-Administrative expenses are 3.8% of income.
-It costs them 19¢ to raise $1.
-The CEO is paid $344,227, or 1.1% of income.
I choose Best Friends Animal Society over North Shore Animal League, because I don’t like to support a charity whose CEO earns more than $200,000. That’s one of my requirements, you’ll have your own.
Find a good fit
How about making a difference for the next generation?
Feed my Starving Children (69.14) does exactly that. Operation Breakthrough (66.96) offers daycare for poor kids in Kansas City. Child Advocates (67.08) are court-appointed volunteers who check up on foster kids in Houston.
Cradles to Crayons (65.77) gives clothes and books to poor kids in Boston and Philadelphia. Donors Choose (67.86) gets school supplies (everything from violins to microscope slides) for needy kids across the country.
Interested in giving on an international level?
Doctors Without Borders* (60.12), you’re probably familiar with. Kiva (67.56) is a microfinance lender. Heifer International (57.14) provides livestock. Lutheran World Relief (63.02) does everything from digging wells in poor countries to buying seedlings and tools for farmers.
Believe everyone deserves a chance to live in a safe community and a sturdy home?
Habitat for Humanity* (62.19 for its Las Vegas chapter) builds houses throughout the world.
Can’t find a charity in the database? Use this tool.
Have a plan
All year long, you’re bombarded with requests to give money. If you have a philanthropy plan, you can easily decide which charity to support. Knowing that you’re supporting specific organizations or areas of interest takes away some of the guilt you might feel when you say “no” to a charity that doesn’t fit your plan.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate:
-Write down how much you’d like to give in 2012, either as a portion of your income or a dollar amount.
-Make a list of every organization to whom you’d like to donate.
-Verify that the charities will be efficient, honest stewards of your money.
-Allocate an amount for each charity on your list.
This forces you to be ruthless and prioritize your favored charities. And it ensures that you’re thoughtfully giving to organizations you believe in.
It’s not all about the money
Even if you don’t have a lot of money to give, you can do something. Volunteer your time to play with the animals at the shelter. Clean out your closets and give away all the clothes, shoes and other items you don’t use. Buy a few extra cans for your food bank. It all counts. This site will help you keep track of non-cash donations.
What are you waiting for? Go out there and give.
*I donate to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and used to donate to Doctors Without Borders and Habitat for Humanity.