Getting involved to ensure charitable giving does good

You and famed investor Warren E. Buffett may have more in common than you think - at least when it comes to charitable giving.

Sure, you can't donate as much: Buffett announced last month that he would start to give away roughly 85 percent of his fortune, worth more than $40 billion.


But the way he decided to make his donation - entrust the bulk of his funds to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose co-chairs he believes will "do a good job" with the cash, according to an interview in Fortune magazine - mirrors the thinking of many young philanthropists today.

It's not just about writing the check. You want to be sure that your money will be put to good use.


A 2002 study by the Charities Aid Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in the United Kingdom, found that young donors place a priority on knowing how charitable dollars are spent.

"Though they'd never use the term, young people have a sense of civil society," said Catherine Walker, head of research at the foundation. "They understand what makes a place a good place to live."

It's reported that Generation Y volunteers at a higher rate than other age groups. And while not everyone wants to chair a committee, they like to dive into projects where they can make (and see) a big impact.

"What's different about this generation is that they seek direct, hands-on involvement before they invest money, a sort of test run," said Tim Seiler, director of Public Service and The Fund Raising School at Indiana University.

As a result, charities are trying to create opportunities for young volunteers and donors to become involved and take on leadership roles.

The United Way, for instance, is helping to create Young Leader Societies. Located in cities throughout the nation, the societies are made up of people under 40 who donate $1,000 annually.

In addition to coordinating projects, such as relief help in New Orleans, the societies host networking events with local leaders and offer classes.

"I think people want to be involved with their donation," said Matt Jones, 35, who helped start Cincinnati's chapter three years ago:


Sound like you?

Here are some tips on how to get involved:

Research online.

In school, it's easy to find volunteer opportunities through student organizations and career centers.

On your own, finding a cause that you're passionate about might prove more difficult, especially if you're trying to become involved with a major nonprofit group or are unfamiliar with local charities in a new city.

But the Web offers a number of resources to help you find a cause.


You can search for charities by category at Web sites such as, and

Once you've narrowed the list to a few potential organizations, you can learn more details, such as how efficiently the nonprofit allocates your cash, at watchdog sites, including and

Volunteer first.

There's nothing wrong with volunteering first and writing a check later.

"A smart nonprofit organization will always engage a potential donor in the life of the organization first and then solicit their financial support," Indiana University's Seiler said.

Smaller organizations especially may welcome the help, said Walker of the CAF.


And the more you know about and become involved in a specific organization, the more rewarding it will feel to give financial support.

Give what you can.

Don't become preoccupied with the amount you donate.

In 2005, the average charitable giving per household was an estimated 2.2 percent of after-tax income, according to the Giving USA Foundation.

If your cash flow is tight, you often can arrange to make small, automatic contributions from a paycheck or checking account each month. Donations, too, are tax-deductible if you itemize.

But even $20 can make a difference to a charity.


"Keep in mind that Buffett's gift is of the extraordinary kind," Seiler said. "Everyone can be a philanthropist at some level. And if you get into the habit, some day there may be more zeroes on your check."

Carolyn Bigda writes for Tribune Media Services.