March 27, 2024

Charitable Giving – Starting the Conversation

Charitable giving is an aspirational goal for many, while others treat it as a critical piece of their overall budget. The range of charitable causes are as vast as the size of the gifts. We all have certain causes and issues that touch us deeply and become causes we want to draw attention to or create change in. Charitable impact can unite us with these issues and helps to create change in the world around us.

Many believe charitable giving is most effective when it wraps time, talent, and treasure together.

Our time is the most valuable resource we have.

Our talent and unique gifts should be shared with those around us, and not just in a way that earns a profit.

Our treasure, while perhaps the easiest way to give, is not always easy! 

As a financial advisor, our treasure is the area of giving I will focus on in this series of articles. But the first two are as important (if not more important) to create a truly successful and meaningful charitable giving plan.

Why does charitable giving seem so difficult?

Oftentimes, it comes down to budgeting. Just like saving for retirement or that next goal, without some form of budgeting charitable giving doesn’t happen.

When I got my first job out of college, I had the goal to give 10% of my income. When I looked back at the end of the year, I was confident and proud of myself that I had done well. But when I totaled the numbers, they were abysmal. I’d successfully given 3% of my income. I was both disappointed and confused. As someone who had a budget, how did this happen. As I reflected on the reasons, one came to the surface – I didn’t have causes budgeted. In other words, I was always waiting for that perfect cause to give to. When less ideal causes came up, I would give $25-50 here and there, but nothing meaningful. I was holding on to my giving and hadn’t released it freely.

The result was I gave haphazardly to a number of charities that I didn’t really care about, and none of the gifts had been particularly meaningful to me or to the causes. None of them had moved me to give my time or talent, which are critical to a giving plan.

I set out in year two to change. That change has led to a wonderful tradition in our family that I encourage others to try. Each year in November or December, my wife and I have a date night. This can be as elaborate or simple as you want. With young kids at home, ours tends to be simple but meaningful! We begin by praying together and reflecting on the past year, thankful for our blessings. We discuss the highs and lows in our lives and in our families. We discuss the biggest causes or issues that impacted us during the year and ask ourselves what it would look like to give to these. This is the aspirational time, a time when we are clear minded and focused on what we could do in the upcoming year(s). We’re not limited by a budget, because we haven’t gotten to that point yet. We recognize in ourselves that by starting with a budget we’re limiting our ideas.

We know that everything we talk about won’t happen immediately, but over the years this practice has created a robust giving plan that will carry us into the future.

Next comes the conversation about how much to give to the causes we’ve identified. The idea of giving 10% is what first comes to mind to many who share our Judeo-Christian worldview. The Bible illustrates this when God gave the Law to Moses in the desert.  Later, Jesus updates the Law to say give all that you have.  For many, the 10% rule has stuck, so I will use that as a general guideline.  

One question I have received and have asked myself – does the 10% apply before (gross) or after (net) taxes?  A friend of mine likes to ask, “Would you rather be blessed on the net or the gross?” I like this question, but we shouldn’t view our giving as a transactional relationship. “If I give this, then I should expect that.” Gifts should be from the heart without regard to anything coming back to us. For those looking at Scripture, God makes it clear in several parts that he wants the first fruits. He wants the “gross” when thinking about it in today’s financial acumen. Regardless of how you interpret your net vs. gross, or if you even use 10% as your baseline, I encourage you to continue striving to make a larger difference year after year.

This can be a fun challenge!

Once we have our upcoming year’s giving budget and we know the causes we want to support, we spend the end of the date setting amounts to give to each cause and organization. At times we already know the organization, but oftentimes we need more time to research and pray about it. 

We view our giving as a reflection of our lives. With infants at home, we recognized the cost of diapers and other infant care, so we found a local charity that provides diapers to those in need. When we learned of a family friend who benefited from the Ronald McDonald House, we gave there. When one of our children was diagnosed with asthma and we learned of the sticker shock of inhalers, we found a charity that focuses on providing much needed inhalers to those who can’t afford it. Our giving has been shaped by world events and disasters (man-made and natural), as we’ve given to areas in need and to refugees in our own community.

While some of these passions and purposes change each year, others are recurring. It should be no surprise that the recurring missions are the same ones that we’ve chosen to pour our time and talent into. Our church, and its many related impact points, is the bedrock of our family and thus is the bedrock of our giving. My time on the board of Hope for Ghana and our time in Ghana together, have shaped our family’s giving to that organization as we pair our time, talent, and treasure.

When we look at our total impact, we categorize it as both religious and non-religious. We also categorize it by geographic region, challenging us to give locally, domestically, and internationally. Each year during the budgeting process we plan a “Miscellaneous” giving bucket to allow room for causes that come up throughout the year.  The budgeting process before the year begins ensures our giving is made to the level we intend and to the causes we care about.  

I encourage and challenge you to plan your giving this calendar year. In my next post, I’ll share some ways to maximize your giving through a tax-efficient giving plan. Any giving plan starts with recognizing who you want to impact and how you want to make that impact part of your legacy.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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