It’s the time of year when we consider last minute charitable donations:

  • Christmas puts us in the “giving” mood,
  • Donating by 12/31 means tax savings on our next tax return, and
  • If the tax code changes in 2013- this may be a good time to maximize the tax benefits of “doing good.”

My family is highly committed to contributing to organizations we care about. We donate in three ways – financial contributions, in-kind gifts (goods) and, of course, our time. Our contributions have evolved over the years, and we have become a bit more “selective” about who we support.

Tips to Maximize Your Charitable Contributions

Invest in Human Capital


As Charles Wheelan, in Naked Economics writes, the investment in human capital does greater long-term good than just donating cash. “Teach them to fish…” is a term recognized by many familiar with New Testament. By creating better educations for our young people, providing job-training to those out-of-work, and supporting institutions who mentor individuals’ development of productive lifestyles (e.g. social skills, executive functioning…), we all benefit. These gifts are life-changers, not a short term band-aid.

Local schools – CPS schools are desperate for funds to bridge the gap between funds they receive and what they need to provide the technology, arts, and auxiliary programming so necessary for our growing youngsters.


Heifer International – programs like Seeds of  Change in Arkansas/Appalachia help communities build food sustainability programs, working to end poverty in those regions

Small Donations can be Big Donations


Perhaps you’ve heard of giving a cow or a goat? Heifer and Oxfam America give animals – these valuable assets help build communities and end poverty – see the Oxfam video below:

Give  the Gift of a Loan


Having heard wonderful things about Kiva, I spent time on their website. Kiva provides micro-loans to businesses throughout the world. You can read about the various opportunities and choose the people you’d like to lend money to.

Because one of our 3 children was born in Paraguay, I chose to support 3 businesses there:

Right now I have over $75 in credits that I can reinvest in these or other businesses. How gratifying to see the progress!!

Make sure money’s well spent


Charity Navigator evaluates organizations and rates them by evaluating two broad areas of performance — their Financial Health and their Accountability & Transparency. The charities earn stars, and donors can thus determine which organizations best utilize their contributions to help those in need.

Many of us have heard stories of United Way CEOs earning hundreds of thousands of dollars — very frustrating for those of use who work so hard for our incomes. Do you know what per cent of your charitable contributions actually reaches the person(s) in need vs what per cent is used for administrative/soliciting donations? Find out using this helpful site!

Select this link to see 4-Star Chicago Charities

Donate your Time and Talents


Often, we find ourselves cash-poor, but this doesn’t mean you can’t make a meaningful contribution. Some of my favorite charities:

Fourth Presbyterian Church Tutoring Program

Children in grades one through twelve, from the Near North, West Town, and Humboldt Park neighborhoods, come to Fourth Church for weekly one-to-one tutoring sessions with volunteer tutors/mentors. Healthy meals, creative enrichment activities, computer lab access, job training opportunities, internships, scholarships, and literacy activities are key components of the program, which operates four evenings a week during the school year.

Communities in Schools

This fantastic organization matches services and businesses to schools in need. From eye exams and dentistry to theater programs, businesses contribute resources by partnering with this group. Do you have a business that would benefit Chicago students in need? This organization may be a great resource for you!

Get Involved in your Community

Harry Osterman updated the 48th ward on Nov 30, providing information on Vital Bridges (HIV/AIDS), Heartland, the Swift School hat and coat drive, as well as the Peirce Elementary Book Drive. Our Lakewood Balmoral Residents Association rallies the neighbors to support local initiatives. Make sure you’re a member of our block club and you get regular updates from your alderman.

Final Thoughts and Tips from Charity Navigator


  1. Be Proactive In Your Giving
    Be thoughtful about how you spend your money and what goals you hope to achieve
  2. Hang Up The Phone / Eliminate The Middleman
    Read our report about  telemarketing
  3. Be Careful Of Sound-Alike Names
    Uninformed donors are easily confused by charities that have strikingly similar names to others. How many of us could tell the difference between an appeal from the Children’s Charity Fund and the Children’s Defense Fund? Their names sound the same, but their performances are vastly different.
  4. Confirm 501(c) (3) Status
    Wise donors don’t drop money into canisters at the checkout counter or hand over cash to solicitors outside the supermarket. Situations like these are irresistible to scam artists who wish to take advantage of your goodwill. Smart givers only support groups granted tax-exempt status under section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
  5. Check The Charity’s Commitment To Accountability & Transparency
    Check out your organization on Charity Navigator!
  6. Obtain Copies Of Financial Records
    • The most efficient charities spend 75% or more of their budget on their programs and services and less than 25% on fundraising and administrative fees,
    • a charity’s ability to sustain its programs over time is just as important as its short-term day-to-day spending practices,
    • seek charities that are able to grow their revenue at least at the rate of inflation, that continue to invest in their programs and that have some money saved for a rainy day.
  7. Review Executive Compensation
    Charities need to pay their top leaders a competitive salary in order to attract and retain the kind of talent needed to run a multi-million dollar organization, but compare to other organizations to make sure the salary is not out-of-line.  See CN’s  CEO Compensation Study
  8. Start A Dialogue To Investigate Its Programmatic Results
    Talk with the charity to learn about its accomplishments, goals and challenges, and be prepared to walk away from any charity that is unable or unwilling to participate in this type of conversation.
  9. Concentrate Your Giving
    Spreading your money among multiple organizations not only results in your mail box filling up with more appeals, it also diminishes the possibility of any of those groups bringing about substantive change as each charity is wasting a percentage of your gift on processing expenses for that gift.
  10. Share Your Intentions And Make A Long-Term Commitment
    Smart donors support their favorite charities for the long haul. They see themselves as a partner in the charity’s efforts to bring about change.

A Final Note about Charitable Contributions


Donating your time, talents, or resources doesn’t just leave your bank account intact. It gives you an opportunity to connect with your neighbors. Spending time building relationships and community, by helping those nearest to you, is truly the most rewarding contribution of all.

Happy Holidays!




Pin It on Pinterest

Share This