Planning Your Charitable Giving
Include donations in your monthly budget.
Our two cents
No matter how much you plan to give to charity, it's important to work that amount into your monthly budget to know what you can truly afford. Planning your donations also means you'll be more likely to remember to give. And it helps you budget for taxes. Of course, money isn't the only way you can contribute. Donating your time is just as valuable and, in some cases, more meaningful.
Get the facts before you donate
Thoroughly research a charity or organization before making a donation. Think of your donation as an investment: Find out what impact your money will have and evaluate how efficiently the organization operates. It's all part of being smart while doing good.
Where is your money going?
Before you donate, confirm the organization's 501(c)(3) status and try to determine how much of your donation will go toward program services versus administration and fundraising. Visit sites like charitywatch.org and charitynavigator.org for help.
Here's a general rule of thumb: Steer clear of organizations that spend less than 60% of donations on directly serving their cause. This doesn't mean that charities asking for money on the street aren't trustworthy—but it's important to understand exactly what your money will pay for.
Give time, money, or both
You don't have to be rich to donate—for many organizations, even $10 helps. But there are many other valuable ways to give back: sorting and wrapping toys for a holiday drive, donating blood, or mentoring a student, to name a few. You could also gather up shirts and pants you don't wear anymore and give them to an organization that collects clothing.
Volunteering can be especially helpful to nonprofits, which often depend on volunteers to accomplish their goals. If you really want to learn about an organization, there is no better way than by spending your time with its staff and those they serve.
Consider donating appreciated assets
If you'd like to make a substantial contribution to a charity, consider appreciated stock that you've owned for more than a year. The charity will benefit from the full current value, and you'll avoid capital gains taxes and be able deduct the fair market value.
Not all nonprofits are able to accept stocks, but a donor-advised fund can manage the transaction for you. Visit schwabcharitable.org to learn more.
Donate only to the causes that mean the most to you
Giving out of guilt can mean that you'll have less to give to organizations you're really passionate about. Create a charitable giving budget for the year, but once you've hit your limit, don't feel bad about saying no. Giving back to your community is important, but only give what you can afford.
Donating gives you a great feeling—and offers other benefits
A tax-exempt donation is a charitable gift you can claim as a tax write-off. Donations can include anything from giving used clothes to Goodwill to making a cash contribution to a 501(c)(3) organization—as long as you follow a few simple rules.
When donating money or property, be sure to:
- Itemize deductions on your tax return if you plan to deduct charitable donations.
- Request a receipt for donations worth $250 or more to a single charity. If the donation is in cash, you'll need a receipt or a corroborating bank record, regardless of the amount.
- Get an independent appraisal for gifts of property worth in excess of $5,000 ($10,000 for closely held stock). You won't need an appraisal for exchange-traded stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.
- Subtract the value of any benefits you receive for a charitable contribution (for example, books, DVDs, meals, or entertainment) before you deduct it.
- Talk to a tax professional to create a personalized giving strategy if your charitable giving becomes complex.
To be able to write off donations, make sure the total exceeds your standard IRS deduction for the year. Use the Schedule A form to save money on your tax return. For more information on which contributions are tax-deductible and which are not, visit the IRS guidelines for charitable deductions.
Make your contributions go further by inquiring about whether your employer has a matching charitable gift program. Many employers will match what you give or offer volunteer programs as part of their benefits package.
1. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Diversification, automatic investing, and rebalancing strategies do not ensure a profit and do not protect against losses in declining markets.
A donor's ability to claim itemized deductions is subject to a variety of limitations depending on the donor's specific tax situation. Consult your tax advisor for more information.
Schwab Charitable is the name used for the combined programs and services of Schwab Charitable Fund, an independent nonprofit organization. The Schwab Charitable Fund has entered into service agreements with certain affiliates of The Charles Schwab Corporation.