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How to make the most of Giving Tuesday

‘Tis the season to do good, but especially on Tuesday.

Charitable donations generally pick up at the end of the year. Yet experts say they kick into high gear on “Giving Tuesday,” a single day specifically focused on charity in the shopping-heavy week after Thanksgiving.

#GivingTuesday raised $177 million last year, according to GivingTuesday.org — and this year is on track to surpass even that.

“The pool keeps getting bigger as more and more people get involved,” said Rachel Hutchisson, chair of the Giving Institute, a trade association. “Generosity is increasing in America.”

Twenty-two percent of American adults are giving more to charity in 2017 than they did last year, according to a new Bankrate.com report, while only 12 percent said they are giving less. Money is the most preferred method, followed by clothing and food donations and volunteering time, Bankrate found.

“The pool keeps getting bigger as more and more people get involved. Generosity is increasing in America.” -Rachel Hutchisson, Giving Institute

Altogether, individuals gave $281.86 billion to charities last year, an increase of nearly 4 percent over 2015, according to the Giving Institute’s Giving USA. The average gift was about $126.

All that dough can do a lot of good. But Ellen Sirull, a senior manager of content at Experian Consumer Services, offers a few tips to make the most of your contributions and save money at the same time:

Give gifts that do good

One way to save while increasing your charitable impact is to make a donation in lieu of exchanging gifts. Rather than spend money on each other, you can gather money to give to a charity that’s important to you, Sirull suggested. You can even adopt a family in need over the holidays and provide them with winter staples like coats, as well as toys and other gifts.

Soldiers’ Angels, Christmas Family Adoption Foundation and Families First are a few of the organizations that put such programs together.

Salvation Army bell ringer volunteers William Schmidt (L), who is on his 20th year volunteering, and his grandson Bubba Wellens (R) ring their bells looking for a donation into a kettle outside a Giant grocery store November 24, 2012, in Clifton, Virgina.

Paul J. Richards | AFP | Getty Images
Salvation Army bell ringer volunteers William Schmidt (L), who is on his 20th year volunteering, and his grandson Bubba Wellens (R) ring their bells looking for a donation into a kettle outside a Giant grocery store November 24, 2012, in Clifton, Virgina.

Check into the charity

Before giving a dime, look to see how a group stacks up at rating sites like CharityWatch.org, CharityNavigator.org or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. Those sites assess criteria such as how transparent a nonprofit is about its finances and how much of its budget goes toward programs.

In addition, don’t click on a link or open an attachment in an emailed or texted charitable pitch, even if it appears to be genuine, Sirull said — and never wire money or send cash. Use a credit card instead, which offers more protection against scammers.

Reap the tax benefit

Donors shouldn’t underestimate the opportunity to maximize their tax savings. For starters, any charitable contribution is tax deductible up to 50 percent of your income.

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High-income earners in particular would do well to consider a noncash donation — like appreciated stock or part of a required minimum distribution from a retirement account — specifically because of the tax advantages.

Check out the IRS guidelines before giving, and save any receipts for when it comes time to file your taxes, Sirull said. The organization you’re giving to should also be able to provide information and documentation to confirm they’re a registered 501(c)(3).