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The team from Charity Navigator, the nation's largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor advocate, shares their thoughts on emerging nonprofit-sector issues and offers tips to better inform your intelligent giving decisions.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

How Much Should I Give to Charity?

The 2019 Giving USA Report came out recently and confirmed what many nonprofit fundraisers already suspected: giving among everyday Americans is down. Experts have shared a number of theories about why this may be, including changes to the tax law and increased volatility in the stock market. 

Whatever the reason, or reasons, the news in this report should make us pause and reflect on what this means for us and the world around us. While foundations and corporations have increased their support to the social sector, individuals, like you and I, continue to contribute the majority of charitable dollars given annually in the United States. What does it mean for the critical work of the charities we support when our giving wanes? Do we need to dig deeper into our pockets? Should we?

I’ll confess when I started writing this post I spent probably too much time Googling, “How much should I give to charity,” expecting that the Google gods would have some divine wisdom I could package as my own and share with you here. Instead, what I found was a spectrum of data, research, and opinions on how much you should donate based on your income, who doesn’t give enough, why it’s important for you to donate more, what it means to give too much, etc.

All of this seemingly fruitless searching led me to this conclusion: giving is incredibly personal and it is not for Charity Navigator or any other party to prescribe how much you should be donating. Sure, a financial planner may suggest a hard number based on your income, portfolio, and other assets, but, for many of us, our motivation and ability to give is influenced largely by factors outside of our control. 

Rather than suggesting a dollar amount or percentage of our incomes we should set aside for charitable giving, I believe leaders in the nonprofit space should be challenging us, as donors, to honestly consider what generosity means to us. And, the organizations they represent should make a concerted effort to understand and support our unique donor journeys.

World events and the endless doom and gloom news cycle led me to think about my own generosity recently. Ask me what causes matter most to me or which charities I think are doing important work, and I’m happy to share my list, but my personal giving doesn’t always match up with my zeal. It’s not because I don’t believe in giving (I work at Charity Navigator after all…) or because I don’t want to, but because I don’t always have the means to do so. Generosity looks different for me than it does for my friends, coworkers, and neighbors, and that’s okay! After spending some time reflecting on what generosity means to me--what value does it hold, what do I want it to look like in my life, etc.--I created a plan to make generosity a habit rather than an obligation tied to a dollar amount. 

I encourage you to take a few moments today to think about what generosity means to you and to create a plan for making it a fulfilling habit, rather than another obligation. Once you’ve walked through this exercise, I believe you’ll feel more inspired and excited to give. If you’re feeling bold, leave a few sentences in the comments section below, sharing what generosity looks like in your life or what motivates you to give. 

Charity Navigator is an exceptional resource for all donors. It empowers anyone, regardless of their means, to give confidently knowing their donations will have a real impact. Consider incorporating Charity Navigator into your habit of generosity. First, create a free account to get the most out of our resources. Use our charity ratings to identify a highly-rated organization working on the issue that matters most to you and save it to your “My Charities” to receive updates about the charity. Then, use the Giving Basket to donate to the organization you’ve selected. You can set up one-time or recurring gifts to the charity, and all will be tracked in your personal account.

Charity Navigator aims to make impactful philanthropy easier for all. We believe that every donor plays a part in making the world a better place, and this part is amplified when donors support effective and efficient organizations that are having a greater impact on the causes they’re serving. 

The findings in the 2019 Giving USA Report should give us pause. We should take time to reflect on the important ways to the nonprofit sector is changing, shaping, and improving the world around us. We should think about what happens when those forces for good struggle to secure the resources they need, and we should consider whether or not we’re truly doing our part to help them. We should answer for ourselves what generosity means and looks like for us and we should commit to making generosity a habit in our lives.  After all, with a soft year in donations, the causes nearest to our hearts most likely need us now more than ever.

Using decision-informing tools like Charity Navigator, along with a renewed spirit of generosity, can help all of us have an even greater impact on the world around us. Perhaps we can’t donate more, but we can make a commitment to supporting outstanding charities that are working on real issues in innovative, efficient, and effective ways.

Written by Ashley Post, Communications Manager at Charity Navigator.

As a 501 (c) (3) organization itself, Charity Navigator depends on public support to help donors make informed choices. Please consider investing in the future of Charity Navigator by making a donation today.  Donate now >>


Jim said...

A thoughtful, and thought-provoking post. The basic question, "What does generosity mean to me?", is probably the best question I could be asked (the subsequent one, "... and what can I afford?" is my own subsequent question). You're right, no cookie-cutter answer can possibly fit, and the responsibility is mine (with a view toward my growing family, of course). What I do know is that I've been privileged - in ways that were quite invisible to me in my growing-up years - and as I've learned, and reflected, I've realized how deeply, in multiple dimensions, I've been privileged and blessed. Can I, probably in not great ways, share these (another thought provoking story, in one of the New Testament gospels, of "the widow's mite" says no gift is too small)? So, thank you for your post.

Unknown said...

That was a very thoughtful and touching post. It helped me remember how lucky I am, how much I want to help and how important giving is, not only the for recipient but for the donor. Thank you and your extraordinary team at Charity Navigator. I loved Jim's quote about 'no gift is too small'.

Unknown said...

There are many forms of generosity. If you find it hard to give money then you can give time and help to folks with whom you come in contact. It is generosity of spirit that matters!
Regularly review your financial situation to see if more can be found for those less fortunate.


onewhoknows said...

I have been donating 5% of my salary for the last 30 years. Charity Navigator has always been a great resource to help me decide which Charities are worthwhile and which should be avoided. Unfortunately, there are many charity scams out there, but charity Navigator's resources can clearly show you the good charities and the ones that are not so good. Of course I also donate to charity Navigator, because without them, I wouldn't have a clue as to which charities should receive my money.

Luvaduck said...

Part of the problem for me is being overwhelmed with requests after making donations to organizations that shared my name and e-adrs with others. The only way I can deal with being solicited 20-40 times daily, sometimes with multiples from the same organization or person, is to delete them as a group. That requires sorting out personal email, takes time and is extremely frustrating when the group/person doesn't have a unsubscribe icon, and many unsubscribed pop up again as they glean my adrs from another list.

Unknown said...

I was not a giving person until my daughter and I heard a Compassionate International presentation and sponsored a child. Before that I was happy to give a bum a 20 but no thought out extended support of a charity outside of our local church, and that was sporadic as well. Supporting a child, writing and encouraging her, was like drinking from a cool mountain stream. I found local charities that work with the down and out. Gospel Mission, Salvation Army, St Vincent DePaul, and recently, through CN, Kids Alive. Through regular conscious giving I have received far more than I have ever given. The blessings flood me and I don't deserve a drop of it. Giving away the Lord's money is the most fun I've ever had. Thank you Charity Navigator.

Unknown said...

I heartily agree w/ Luvaduck about being overwhelmed with requests after making donations to organizations that shared my name and email with others. I give about 12% of my income to 501(c)3 orgs (my church get about half of that) and ~5% to non-deductable (mostly political) campaigns. My reward is that I'm inundated with fundraising requests, and I must spend way too much time just cleaning out my email and unsubscribing. Email-based fundraising now represents a "tragedy of the commons" in which fundraisers compete for a limited amount of funds, and the quantity of appeals is so much that many potential donors just cut it all off. This is a topic that Charity Navigator should explore more fully.