How To Plan Charitable Giving

America is a generous nation, and unselfish concern for the welfare of others is one of the hallmarks of a great society. Some traditions make it a practice to give away as much as 10 percent of one's earnings. To many, that may seem like a lot, especially in a down economy. On the other hand, remember that hard times mean hard times for charities, too. At whatever level you're comfortable giving, there's no better feeling than helping those in need. Here are some tips on how to maximize your charitable dollars.

Select a charity. With so many worthy charitable organizations out there, it can be a little overwhelming to choose one to support. Find a particular cause you want to champion -one you feel passionate about. Perhaps it's underprivileged children, battered women, abandoned animals or victims of natural disasters. There's plenty of need. If you're not sure where to start, you can research local charities by visiting charitynavigator.org or volunteersac.org.

Determine your contribution. Meeting with a financial adviser will help you determine a budget and establish an amount you feel comfortable donating. By designating a practical amount to give, you're more likely to give consistently without worry. If you have more time than money, you might consider volunteering. Most charities can always use an extra hand. Or, if you possess skills that a charity might need, consider donating your services.

Create a schedule. Many people wait until the holidays to give, but that can create stress if you're on a tight year-end budget with gifts to purchase. Avoid the discomfort and guilt associated with last-minute donations by distributing your contributions throughout the year. With your consent, most charities will gladly set up automatic payment plans, so your contributions can be delivered without hassle each month or quarter.

Understand the benefits. In addition to warm feelings, your donations possibly entitle you to tax benefits. Though charities will often send a thank you receipt around tax time, keep track of what you give to whom, and consult a financial adviser with any tax questions you have. Also, remember that if you show up and volunteer, you will meet like-minded individuals and broaden your circle of contacts -a benefit no businessperson should ever overlook.

Inspire others. Your story has the power to inspire and move others to take action. Share your experience with your family, friends and even coworkers. One person can only do so much, but a crowd can accomplish truly great things.