End-of-Year Charitable Giving

Yesterday I sat down to decide how much to donate to tax-exempt organizations before 2012 ends. Each year I become aware of new organizations that I think are doing important work, but I don’t want to forget the old standbys that have worked hard for many years and are competing for much needed dollars.

Maybe you’ve seen an email that has been circulating. It lists some charitable organizations, such as the Red Cross, and lists how little of your dollars go to those in need if you choose to give to that organization. I became disillusioned with the Red Cross during the whole Katrina debacle. At the time I learned that the Salvation Army was very good in terms of the amount of donations that go to help those in need (due in part to a CEO who takes a very low salary). However, I later have heard allegations that they discriminate against gay people. I have also heard those allegations refuted. It makes me think that some people working for the organization have discriminated, but the organization itself does not. You’ll have to decide what you believe when it comes to the Salvation Army.

Here are some things to consider before making that tax-deductible contribution.

1. Double your dollars. I get many offers from organizations I care about to double my contribution if I give by a particular date. I always try to take advantage of such offers as I don’t have a lot of money to give. One in particular is the National Parks Foundation. Check it out if you are interested.

2. Local organizations. There are some great organizations in the Madison area. The United Way of Dane County is an umbrella group for lots of other organizations. It also contains information about those organizations–what they do, and where they are headquartered. I contribute regularly to Outreach Inc., a local organization supporting the rights of gay / lesbian / bisexual / transgendered persons. Another local organization I like is Angel’s Wish, dedicated to helping cats get good care and loving homes. Madison Community Foundation is another local organization that directs dollars locally and sponsors some great projects.

3. Well-established National Groups. I’ve been a member of both the Sierra Club and Amnesty International for years. I know these groups are legitimate and do great work, Amnesty all of the world, and the Sierra Club, all over the country.

4. Verify Tax-exempt Status. Make sure that you are donating to an organization that is tax exempt according to the IRS. Some are obviously not exempt–like political organizations, but others are not as easy to figure out. Check this article for more information.

Donating to an organization that you believe in is a good way to lower your taxes while helping your community or the world in general. Happy New Year!

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