Altruistic for the holidays: Five steps to great charitable giving

For The Baltimore Sun
How to make the most of your charitable giving this holiday.

Great gift giving is all about finding that perfect something that will be meaningful for a friend or loved one. When you find the perfect gift, you just know it.

Great charitable giving intensifies these good feelings with a layer of life-changing impact followed by a rush know as the "helper's high."

Charitable giving impacts on the lives of others in one's neighborhood, city, country or world.

A great giver is someone who asserts the power of his or her personal generosity as a force for change. And, a great giver …

•Can be rich or poor.

•Can give time, talent or dollars.

•Understands the impact they wish to make with their gift.

•Advocates for causes he/she believes in.

With so many inspiring charitable organizations and causes, how do you figure out how to make the most impact with your generosity? There is no single strategy that is right for everyone, but here are five steps to get you started.

1. Pinpoint your passions

Clarify what you care about. Are you inspired by animals, the environment, food security or poverty mitigation? Do you want to make an impact locally or internationally? Support an organization that provides direct service or research or advocacy?

2. Figure out a giving budget

A budget can be as simple as just picking a dollar amount or could be based on a percentage of income you wish to dedicate to making a difference.

3. Identify organizations to support

Once you've clarified your passions and budget, do your homework to identify organizations or projects that inspire you. You can explore their websites, talk to friends, volunteer or attend a program or event. If you're partial to financial information, review detailed IRS data found in their Form 990s.

4. Make a recurring monthly gift

Monthly gifts provide stable, reliable funds for nonprofits that inspire you. And in many cases, you can have a bigger impact because you are able to give a little bit more when giving monthly. How? It may be easier to give $50 a month, totaling $600 overall, than to make a one-time $500 donation. It's simple to setup on most nonprofits' online giving pages. Just check the box that asks you to make the gift recurring and the charge will run automatically each month. It will be the only charge you'll look forward to on your credit card statement because of how great you'll feel.

5. Inspire others to give

One of the most powerful ways to really make a difference is to inspire others with your passion. Run a race, ask for donations instead of gifts for a birthday or holiday, or host an event on behalf of your favorite charity.

Jamie McDonald, 51, of Roland Park, is the founder of GiveCorps, a Baltimore-based online fundraising collective that supports nonprofits and higher-education organizations through donation distribution.

Info: givecorps.networkforgood.com.

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