If charitable giving is important to you, you already know it has the power to change lives. With so many organizations and causes in need, however, it can be tricky to make giving choices. In order to help you fund charities that are right for your priorities, your values, and your budget, I recommend creating a strategic giving plan.
Strategic Giving 101
Consider your past charitable giving decisions. Some of your donations were probably very intentional, meant to support your passions and causes that are meaningful to you. Conversely, some of your past giving was likely reactive and in response to things like disaster relief or direct requests from friends fundraising for their special causes. Both types of philanthropy are impactful, and generosity should always be encouraged.
However, even the most generous individuals benefit from creating a high-level framework for decisions around charitable giving. You can be sure to stay on track and remain clear on your priorities when you give yourself a means to connect your giving to your values, even when those reactive giving opportunities arise.
How to Create Your Strategic Giving Plan
Although there is no one-size-fits-all plan for making philanthropic decisions, there is a five-step approach that can help you remain clear on your priorities and make decisions about how to effectively use your charitable dollars.
Step 1: Get Clear on Your Priorities
When you think about the values that are most important to you, what comes to mind? Take a moment to jot down five or six. They could be things like equality, literacy, art, food security, climate change, justice, or anything else that has special meaning for you. If you’re having trouble making your list, check out this helpful resource from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.
Next, try to narrow your list to the three values that feel most important or urgent to you right now. This can be a difficult exercise, but focusing in this way is crucial to creating a strategic giving plan that sets you up for success. Remember that there are myriad organizations and causes that you could impact, but not all of them will serve your personal values. In addition, remember that the plan you are building now can always change in the future to accommodate changing priorities – nothing is set in stone.
If you have a spouse or partner – and especially if you have children at home – it’s helpful to have this values discussion with them, too. Values exercises are helpful for couples who want to make their philanthropic decisions together, and it’s a wonderful way to teach kids to begin thinking outside of themselves and to internalize the importance of giving back. The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has found that children whose parents give to charitable causes are much more likely to become philanthropists themselves. This is especially true of daughters.
SEE ALSO: How to Raise Non-Materialistic Children
Step 2: Know Your Target Number
A critical part of your plan will be to determine how much you’re willing to give each year. This will require reviewing your overall finances so you can decide how much you’re comfortable allocating to philanthropy.
Once you know your total giving number, break it down further by choosing what percentage will go to your intentional giving and what percentage you’ll reserve for those reactive giving scenarios. Many people choose to direct the majority of their giving to the causes and organizations they want to be intentional about supporting. If this sounds like the best strategy for you, consider using the 80/20 rule and directing 80% to intentional causes and 20% to your reactive giving. If it’s important to you to be more flexible about supporting great needs that may arise unexpectedly, you might choose to intentionally direct 50% of your philanthropic dollars and reserve the other half for things like disaster relief. There is no right or wrong way to break things down, so consider what best serves you.
Step 3: Think Beyond the Money
Having a strategy in place for your monetary giving is essential, but it’s important to expand your thinking when it comes to everything that philanthropy encompasses. For instance, you might also have volunteer hours to give, special talents to share, or the ability to use your voice to advocate for a mission you care about. Consider whether these are ways you would like to give, too, and strategize about how to divide your time or other non-financial resources.
Step 4: Consider the Perfect Timing
Charitable organizations are grateful for support at any time of the year, and they know that many people prefer to do their giving around the holidays at the end of the calendar year. However, many non-profits now offer the option to create a monthly sustaining gift that helps them manage operational expenses all year long. If you’re in a position to help your priority organizations plan for the resources they need month-to-month, consider giving multiple times per year – even monthly.
SEE ALSO: Cultivate Your Finances this Spring
Step 5: Put Your Plan in Writing
Once you’ve considered all of the above steps and arrived at your decisions, put your full plan in writing. Write down the organizations you will intentionally support, how much you plan to give to each, and the frequency with which you’ll give. Make note, too, of how much you’re holding back for reactive giving opportunities. Keeping such a list is great for philanthropic decision-making, and it will also be useful when it’s time to file your taxes.
Just because your plan is in writing doesn’t mean it can’t change. It’s important to review your strategic giving plan annually. Your values and priorities can change, and you may even find a cause that came to you as a reactive giving opportunity become one that you’d like to be intentional about supporting in the future. Think of it as a living, breathing plan that serves you in your quest to serve others.
Final Thoughts on Developing Your Strategic Giving Plan
There is joy in giving any time you can positively impact others, but even more so when you’re aligning your giving with your values. A strategic giving plan lets you be intentional about maximizing your impact in the ways that will be most meaningful to you, while also leaving room for unplanned giving opportunities.
If charitable giving is important to you, consider getting more strategic about your philanthropic decisions by developing your own strategic giving plan before you make your next gift.