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How to have a plan for your charitable giving — and stick to it

‘Tis the season for giving — and of asking for donations. On every corner, in every store, and on email and social media, charities are asking for contributions all throughout this month.

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Friends and relatives who may be facing a serious illness have campaigns set up to support their medical bills or raise money for research into their illnesses. Many people also traditionally give to their own favorite charities; workplaces promote charitable giving as well.

With over 1.5 million charities registered in the United States — and many unregistered ones — the pressure to give can be overwhelming. Most people want to help, but also want to be assured their money is being put to good use and will have impact.

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So what’s the best way to decide when and where to give money, and how to say “no” when necessary?

Establish boundaries.
Having a giving plan set up for the year and following it precisely can make people less vulnerable to the guilt games of those who ask for money, according to Jerome Tennille, who works for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors in Arlington, Virginia.

“First, find organizations and interests that align with your values,” he told LifeZette. “Then do some research and talk to references who’ve given or volunteered at these places. Set a budget for your time and finances, and draw a line.”

“Give if the cause matters to you,” said one expert. “Don’t if it doesn’t.”

Tennille believes people feel better when they honor their commitments to donate, but also don’t violate their own decisions.

“Whether you are giving $50 or $5,000, budgeting helps establish boundaries between you and friends or family who ask, and more importantly, pushy organizations soliciting funds. When you have boundaries and someone asks you to give, you can honestly say, ‘I’ve already made my charitable commitments for the year.'”

Find causes meaningful to you.
Adrienne Mazzone, of Boca Raton, Florida, follows her values and designs her giving around one of her keen interests: the future of children. She has found charities that interest her personally and feels good about her contributions. Her personal favorites are PhantomRescue.org, which locates and extracts children kidnapped or lured into sex trafficking; and NaturalHigh.org, which helps kids stay off drugs.

Do your homework.
Charities can be investigated via websites like GuideStar, GiveWell, Charity Watch, the Better Business Bureau, and Charity Navigator. Many philanthropic experts suggest the overhead for a charity should not be more than 20 percent, with 80 percent going directly to the project.

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Yet that can be misleading, according to Karen Eber Davis, MBA, a consultant in Sarasota, Florida, who helps businesses use philanthropy.

“I think a better question is, ‘What organizations create amazing results?'” she asked. “Some causes provide high-quality, low-cost solutions, like feeding a hungry child one time. Others provide high-quality but staff-intensive solutions, like helping a family escape poverty. Both are important. The key is, which organizations create the kind of world you want to live in?”

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’
Family and friends may urge your participation because of their social connection to you. Davis suggested first making sure there is a 501(c)(3) charity set up. Many personal requests are not part of a charity and donations that are made are not tax-deductible.

If your priority is the relationship, not the write-off, you’ll likely give — but be prepared for repeat requests. While saying “no” can be uncomfortable at first, experts suggest practicing a phrase that sums up your opinion until it is easy to say.

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Some examples: “I manage my giving carefully and have allocated all my funds at the moment, but good luck with your endeavors,” or “I support a small number of organizations with my giving, but I appreciate what you are doing. Keep up the good work!”

“Give if the cause matters to you,” Stephanie Cory, a fundraising consultant in Wilmington, Delaware, said. “Don’t give if it doesn’t. Simply be honest with those asking you. You don’t want an organization to waste its resources soliciting you, especially if you have zero interest in it. Let them know.”

Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating; she helps clients heal food addictions.

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