Bonus tip: skip the silent auction.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Charity Navigator, charities raise as much as 40 percent of their annual contributions at year’s end. Giving Tuesday falling in November increases this seasonal trend. As with all things money, you want to get the most for your giving. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years for making charitable contributions count.

But First, I Have to Share The Weirdest Charity Event I Know

Every year in Spokane, Washington, there’s a charity auction of stallion breeding services to benefit charity. The auction currently benefits the local Ronald McDonald House. It’s a worthy cause and they raise serious money–but still.

When I ran a weekly newspaper in Spokane, we featured this auction in our event calendar. Our headline read, “Horse Sex for Charity.” The auction staff did not appreciate the exposure or our humor.

Tip 1: Buy Lawyers

Here’s my most surprising way for making charitable contributions count: buy lawyers with your donated money. No matter which side of a cause you support (and everything these days has multiple sides), nonprofit lawyers and lobbyists are working to advance your cause.

Funding legal and policy work doesn’t have the same immediate gratification as donating to meet basic needs. I believe that, in the long run, funding systemic change helps eliminate problems instead of just temporarily alleviating them.

Examples of nonprofit law groups include American Civil Liberties Union, National Rifle Association, The Nature Conservancy, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Immigration Council, and Lambda Legal. These are just ones that come quickly to mind for me. I promise there’s a nonprofit law center out there for you.

Tip 2: Concentrate Your Efforts

According to the National Center on Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the US. Clearly, you can’t support them all. So, don’t feel bad about saying “No” to year-end solicitations. Instead, focus your giving.

You can have more success in making your charitable contributions count by focusing your giving on one problem or one organization that resonates with you. It could relate to something that affects or involves your family. Health concerns, education, and religion touch nearly every household. You could support something local in your neighborhood, city, or region. You might choose something related to your profession or hobby. If you concentrate your giving in one area over time, you’ll create more impact, develop more knowledge, and have more meaningful engagement.

Also, consider giving to a smaller organization where your contribution might give a bigger boost to the organization. For instance, one year my wife wanted to donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to help fight childhood disease. You’ve seen St. Jude commercials on TV. They raise more than $1 billion a year.  After some research, she decided to support St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a medical nonprofit that funds childhood cancer research. St Baldrick’s raises less than $40 million a year, has excellent management and transparency, and spends just three percent of their revenues on administration.

Tip 3: Multiply Your Force

Get even more for your money by multiplying your force. Many larger employers will match some or all of your contribution to a nonprofit. That’s just easy money for you and the nonprofit you support. Sometimes, the nonprofit itself offers a match to your pledge of support. I’m reminded of this at least twice a year when National Public Radio is raising money.

While nonprofits really do need donations with no strings attached, consider if possible earmarking your donation to fund fundraising. That way, your money helps raise more money.

Here’s where I’d remind you to itemize your contributions on your income taxes as a force multiplier. However, the tax laws are changing for 2019, and most people won’t benefit from itemizing. I don’t think this will impact charitable giving overall, but we’ll have to wait and see.

And honestly, skip the gifts unless it’s something that you really would use. That saves the nonprofit money and you clutter. Don’t we all have enough stuff already?

So, where are you donating your money this year?


(Image courtesy of Fairchild Air Force Base)

My Three Tips for Making Charitable Contributions Count
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