During this time of year, I want to be more generous. I’ll receive a Christmas bonus from my company and I feel the Holy Spirit prompting me to give it away. The problem is, I don’t know to who. There are so many charities, ministries, and organizations fundraising, and I have a hard time knowing which are reputable, trustworthy, and safe. I want to give before the year ends for tax purposes, but I’m running out of time. What advice can you give?
Dear Cautious Giver,
First, my disclaimer: I work for the best not-for-profit ministry in the world and I think everyone should support Crown’s ministry! Okay…now to give you an unbiased answer to your great question!
Years ago, I met a poor man who lived in the poor part of town in his very poor country. To look at this man’s home, you would declare him to be poor. To look at this man’s face, you would declare him to be rich. What immediately struck me was not his lack of material possessions, but his abundant joy. His beaming smile reflected a genuinely joyful heart. As I got to know him, I learned that he was a generous giver. In spite of what some would consider his miserable poverty, he was free from the distractions of the world and focused on serving and giving to others.
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” And we are a nation of givers.
Last year, American individuals, estates, foundations and corporations contributed an estimated $390.05 billion to U.S. charities, according to Giving USA 2017: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2016. That is a huge amount of money donated to help others and most of it comes from small, faithful givers like you and me. However, the amount we give as a percentage of GDP has remained stuck at around 2%.
Scripture emphasizes the joy and blessing gained in living generously. A generous life requires the discipline to cap one’s lifestyle in order to tithe and give joyfully.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV)
Numerous studies prove the physical, psychological, and professional benefits to a giving life. People give over the holidays because they are happy helping others, feel good making a difference, enjoy being connected to something positive, and want to take advantage of tax deductions. (By the way, the standardized income tax deductions are being modified as I write, so keep up to date on changes that are coming.)
Pray about giving and make sure your motives are pure. In other words, don’t give in hope of getting something in return, even recognition. Determine what you genuinely care about, where you have received benefit or what problems you are hoping to see solved in the world. This will help you narrow your options to the organizations that you should research.
Try to determine the effectiveness of the organization that you want to support. Do they really make a difference? Are they credible and legitimate?
Choose only options for your donation that are open and transparent, operate with integrity and represent Biblical values.
Support organizations that adhere to best practices in governance and accountability, are wise with their funds and measure and report their results.
Ministry Watch or Guidestar are helpful websites where you can check a ministry’s reputability. Beyond that, contact the organization and see if you can ask questions about their needs and where or how the funds will be used.
Legitimate organizations have options for donating securely. Do not give over the phone. You can make a pledge but never give your credit card number or personal information. Be careful giving via text.
Red flags should go up if you are contacted via phone and the caller won’t provide detailed information or how gifts will be used. Scammers commonly choose names that sound like well-known organizations. They may thank you for a pledge you didn’t make but make you think you forgot, use pressure to get you to donate immediately, ask for cash or to wire money and offer to send someone to collect. They can’t provide proof that it’s a tax-deductible group. Don’t give any personal information to someone calling to solicit your donation.
Technology has simplified the giving process with secure online options. Donations made by December 31 are tax deductible (for those that can itemize their charitable giving). Gifts made by credit card are deductible this year even if not paid until next. Gifts made by check can be deducted if postmarked by the 31st even if not cashed until 2018. It’s advisable to allow extra time to process gifts of stock and real estate.
To claim charitable deductions, you must itemize your taxes. And, you must have records to support your gifts. Every item worth more than $250 requires a written acknowledgement from the charity that describes the gift and its value, whether cash, clothes, household items or a vehicle. Bank statements or canceled checks are advisable as proof for monetary gifts.
Check with your employer to see if they match employee contributions. If you own your own company, consider a matching gift to inspire staff generosity.
Donating stock that has grown in value since purchased provides a charitable deduction for the current value and eliminates tax on the gain. This works for appreciated real estate as well.
Establish a will or living trust naming your favorite organization as the beneficiary of some of your assets. A trust can pay out over a period of years instead of one lump sum.
Giving is a tangible act to show God’s love to the world. So, make a list of where your heart is leading you to give. Check it twice. Do your research. Now give… generously and cheerfully. And remember Jesus as you gather to celebrate His arrival into the world. He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Thanks for your question. Merry Christmas!
Originally published on the Christian Post, December 15, 2017
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