Change Agents

A Pay It Forward Blog

Wise giving takes more than applying the concepts of effective altruism. Maximizing your ability to give takes a deep understanding of the tools and strategies of top philanthropist. Let the experts at PIF help guide your year-end giving with a free assessment. 

Effective Altruism helps to answer the "Where?" and "Why?" questions for donors...but it does not address the "How?". Did you know that donating cash or writing a check to charity can be one of the least efficient ways to give? Donors have the ability to structure their giving more wisely to maximize their charitable deductions and further leverage their ability to give simply by being more intentional about how they give:

  • Gifting Appreciated Assets instead of cash allows you to avoid paying capital gains on the asset that you are giving. This strategy can save you 15-20% on the cost of your gift. It can also be a great way to get a step-up in cost basis on an asset - a common practice for donors gifting appreciated stock. 
  • The IRA Charitable Rollover is now a permanent law that allows taxpayers that are over 70 1/2 to transfer up to $100k per year from their IRA accounts directly to charity without having to recognize the distribution as income. Avoiding the income taxes that would otherwise be due as a result of the mandatory distribution from an IRA can create significant tax savings!
  • "Front-Loading" Your Giving can be a great strategy for high-income earners that plan to retire in the next 5-10 years. By uses a tool such as a Donor Advised Fund, donors "front-load" the giving that they plan to do during their retirement years. Doing so allows the donor to take advantage of the charitable deductions during years when taxable income is higher. The donations now in the donor advised fund can be invested so that they have the opportunity to grow over time. 
  • Charitable Bequests give donors a way to continue their impact even after they pass away. Unfortunately many donors simply name a charity in their last will and testament and do not do any additional planning. Strategies such as Pooled Income Funds, Charitable Pooled Trusts, or Donor Advised Funds can be used to plan for end-of-life giving while the donor is still living so that he/she can benefit from the tax deductions that come as a result of his/her generosity. 

These strategies are just the tip of the iceberg for savvy donors. To determine which combination of strategies you can use to increase your impact this year complete our Year-End Giving Assessment survey by clicking the link below. 

Free Year-End Giving Assessment 

Both the CEO and COO from the nationally recognized Wounded Warrior Project have recently been fired after reports by CBS that donations were being used for frivolous spending. Supporters of WWP are understandably upset and are demanding accountability. Here are some comments left from individuals chiming in after hearing the story:

  • This is why I never donate cash, but will offer my skillsets and time to a cause I believe in.
  • I've heard this kind of garbage before regarding a lot of charitable organizations with a big publicity budget.
  • Charities in theory are great organizations....but time after time this is what we see. I guess we should not be surprised these are the same people that are in charge of a lot of the governing organizations. Same old story, greed and selfishness. How very sad when the people that contribute are expecting their dollars to be used wisely.

This is not the first time that a large non-profit has been let down by supporters, and it will not be the last. In fact, some of large charities are wasting donor dollars to grow and will likely continue doing so. The most recent report "Pennies for Charity" from the Attorney General highlights the fundraising activity of for-profit telemarketing companies hired to raise money for their nonprofit clients. The report summarizes 2014 activities and indicates that just 48% of the $302 Million raised in 2014 actually went to the organization that was being solicited to generous donors.

So, what can you do to protect yourself from organizations that choose to use donations foolishly?

First, it is important to note that these situations that make the headlines are not common practice among the nonprofit community. Stories about these bad apples do tend to overshadow all of the good work being done by the overwhelming majority because, to be frank, it is what generates more clicks and equates to more advertising dollars. Unfortunately we live in a world where the majority of the news we consume is driven by negative emotion.

“The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger.”

Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator

Fortunately all hope is not lost. There are several fairly simply steps that you can take to make sure that your donation is making its intended impact.

  1. Do your homework (or consult someone that does). Resources such as Charity Navigator and PIF Foundation's Impact Report help you quantify how money is being spent by non-profits, the latter even analyzes the actual impact each dollar makes. Use these resources or do your own research before deciding where to give. Evaluating a charity’s 990 through Guidestar is also a good place to start.
  2. Focus on outcomes, not percentages. This news story and others like it use percentages to enrage donors (Less than 60% of WWP donations go to veterans). However, these percentages tell us nothing about the outcomes of the charity. From our perspective it is just as much a letdown when you have a charity using close to 100% of their annual donations to make an impact but actually yield little to no real results.
  3. Be a proactive donor. The fact that charities must solicit donors to keep programs operating means that donations will continue to be wasted on solicitations rather than a cause. Do your part by being proactive with your donation, do not wait for an invitation to start making a difference. Pure accountability in the nonprofit space will only exist under a system where the nonprofits themselves no longer need to focus on raising their next dollar.

Scams like this will not stop, but do not use this as an excuse to deny worthy charities. Instead, take the steps that we described and be confident in your choice to give because you have done your homework. Choose change, Pay It Forward.

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