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Tips for Giving Wisely

As the battle for the donor dollar becomes more competitive, community groups have to do more to convince people that they deserve support. At the same time it is also important that individual donors review the way they give – and why – to ensure they are getting the most benefit from their donor dollar.

Starting your own personal giving plan

World renowned giving expert Tracy Gary has some great tips for people who want to learn about how to give wisely.

One of the first things she suggests you do is to think about developing your own giving plan – this involves putting into place an action plan outlining the way you want to give.

Compiling a giving plan allows you to work through in your own mind what is important to you, affording you a sense of control over the way you are giving.

Your plan can be short or long, detailed or very simple. The important thing is to go through a process of thinking about your giving so that you become a better informed and proactive giver.

Step 1: Why do you want to give?

A good starting point is to ask yourself why you want to give to your community.

To help answer this question, check out our "Why Give?" page.

Step 2: What causes should I give to?

Having worked through some of the reasons why you give, it becomes easier to work out who to give to. Some questions that may help you establish your priorities include:
  • If I could change three things about my community, what would they be?
  • What issues do I really care about?
  • Should I support causes that directly benefit me?
  • Am I willing to support causes that do not benefit me?
  • Which type of work do I prefer to support – e.g. research, direct services, public education, self-help, advocacy?

Where to give

One important issue for you to consider is your own preference for giving in terms of location of the cause.
  • Do you want to give to an organisation in your local community or region?
  • How local is local? Is a group in your municipality local enough? Or do you want to support a group operating in your suburb? Or your street?
  • Are you more interested in supporting a state, national, or international cause?

You may feel that your giving will have the most visible impact if you give close to home. You are more likely to see first-hand the need for and benefits of your gifts, and you will be better able to investigate or engage in the activities of a local organisation.

In making a decision to give to a national or international cause you need to ask yourself if you are overlooking a local or grassroots group that addresses the same needs.

Your definition of “community”, whether it be geographical, social or economic will also affect your decision.

Step 3: Which organisations should I give to?

Once you have decided on the causes or issues you would like to give to, you need to choose the actual organisations you will support. A good starting point is to analyse your current giving.
  • Make a list of the organisations you currently give to.
  • Identify why you got involved in giving to them. Were they deliberate choices or did you accidentally start giving to them and continue through habit?
  • Do they still give you pleasure or do you need to change your giving to reflect your current interests?
  • If, after going through this process, you decide that you need to rearrange who you are donating to the following may help you to select specific groups that reflect your interests and values:
  • Make a list of all the community organisations that make a difference to your life and to the lives of your family and friends: from support for childhood (including kindergartens, schools, universities, TAFEs, and other educational institutions) to support for your older friends and relatives, giving them a place to go or belong.
  • Do you feel indebted to any particular organisation?
  • Do you like to know exactly what your money is supporting?
  • Do you like to fund buildings?
  • Do you like to fund specific projects?
  • Do you prefer to give to organisations mainly run by volunteers?
  • Do you prefer to give to small or large organisations?
  • Do you prefer to support an organisation that is just getting started or one that is already well established?

How to evaluate an organisation

Community organisations operate in different ways and use their funds differently. Before you give, it's a good idea to be aware of how the organisation operates. Some questions that you may like to ask yourself about a group include:
  • Do I agree with its programs and goals?
  • Does it achieve worthwhile results?
  • Do I like the way it is run?
  • Do I like how it reports on its activities and accomplishments?
  • Is it already financially healthy? Would it benefit from my donation?
  • How does it compare to other organisations of similar size, age and mission?
  • What criteria will I use to decide if the money I contribute is well spent?
  • How will I know if my criteria are met?
  • How will my contribution be used?
  • Will my donation be spent on the issue or problem directly?
  • Will my donation be tax deductible? (Most smaller community groups do not have tax deductibility and most people never claim a tax deduction, so is it that even important to you?)
  • How much of its budget is used for fundraising and administrative overheads?
  • Is it willing to share information with me?
  • Does the organisation establish personal relationships with donors? Will it respect my rights as a donor?
You can search for local causes or organisations to give to through – the online donations website operated by the Our Community Foundation and including the fundraising appeals of more than 1400 community organisations and schools across Australia and covering all areas of interest.

Step 4: How much should I give?

You need to plan your giving just as you would your other financial obligations. A way of thinking about how much to give is to apportion a percentage of your total income. Some of the issues to consider when deciding on the size of your giving include:
  • How much can I spend on giving while still being able to meet my family needs and without financially risking my savings?
  • How much do I feel comfortable spending on my giving each year?
  • Should I give a large contribution to one or a few organisations, allowing me to become more closely identified and involved with those organisations?
  • Or should I give smaller sums to several groups, thus being more anonymous and diversifying my giving to match a broad range of interests?

Step 5: How should I give?

There are common issues that need to be considered no matter what level of giving you decide on. But the more you give, the more significant these questions become:
  • Do I want to give on a regular basis to one or more organisations, perhaps via payroll or credit card donations?
  • Or do I prefer to make one-off donations at various times of the year?
  • Do I prefer to respond to appeals as they arise?
  • Do I like to give via the internet?
  • Am I able to make pre-tax donations through my workplace?
  • Should I consult a financial adviser about planned giving?
  • Does my will include bequests for organisations that are important to me or from which I have benefited?
  • Have I considered giving shares?
  • Have I considered other types of giving – giving time or professional skills, for example?
  • Do I want recognition for this gift or would I prefer to remain anonymous?

Step 6: When should I give?

Planning your giving also involves deciding when to give. Giving sporadically, as causes arise during the year, may work for you. However, being more strategic and proactively planning your giving may ensure that you are giving to the causes that really matter to you and may give you greater satisfaction, particularly in the longer term. It also gives you a rationale for saying no to all the requests that come your way as you have worked through in your own mind how you are going to give back.

These questions may help you to decide what works best for you:
  • When is the best time of the year for me to give?
  • Do I want to be able to respond to pleas for donations during crises?
  • If so, do I want to set aside an amount for crisis response?
  • Do I want to set criteria for crisis responses?

Step 7: Follow up

By insisting that organisations be accountable for the way they use your donations, you are doing more than reassuring yourself, you are reinforcing the integrity of charities and other not-for-profit and community organisations.

You can do this more easily in the local community by visiting the group, attending their activities and talking to people about the results of their work. With more distant and larger groups you can read annual reports, check out websites and scan the media for reports about the organisation's wellbeing.

Step 8: Annual review

Giving wisely and strategically means that you need to review and update your plan on a regular basis as your passions and financial situation may change. It is a good idea to carry out your annual giving review at the same time you do your tax return each financial year.

Remember: Give only when you feel comfortable that your dollars will be going to support an organisation you know and believe in.

More information and links