If you’re like me, you receive at least one piece of paper mail each day requesting a donation to charity. You let a pile of these solicitations pile up on your desk all week until you’ve built up sufficient guilt or annoyance to tackle them. Then, one by one, you sort through your “charity mail”, trying to determine which ones to toss and how much to give to the ones you’ve decided to donate to.
As an activist, my free time, money, and effort are already in short supply when I decide to spend another 30 minutes each week sorting my “charity mail”. Not only does it take time, but for the cash-strapped like me, this method reflects poor financial planning as many small donations end up costing me more than I afford. That’s why I’ve decided to streamline this aspect of my life and ensure I’m still giving all I can to the charities that matter most to me by automating my monthly donations. Here is the step-by-step process I used:
Automating monthly donations for maximum impact
- Determine how much you can donate each month to charity – Like most people, you’re probably on a budget which forces you to give less than you’d like. However, clearing establishing how much you can give will help you feel good about what you do give and reduce any guilt you feel at ignoring additional solicitations
- Decide what’s most important to you – There is no shortage of important causes. But with a limited budget, you should choose the ones that matter most to you. I recommend approaching this first subjectively, then objectively as follows:
- First, think about what causes really move you. For what causes will you give up your time or even your safety? Which causes do you find yourself tearing up over? Which causes can your personally relate to? Write down all the causes that really make you feel like giving.
- Second, get objective. Remove your emotions from the equation and ask “What donations would have the greatest overall impact on the causes I’ve identified as meaningful to me?” This is no small question, but it’s a good tool for narrowing your choices. For example, if you’ve chosen animal rights as a personally moving cause, getting objective may cause you to identify organizations that try to change animal rights legislation as more impactful than an organization that rescues individual animals, even though the latter may induce a more emotional response.
- Get specific and local – If you haven’t already done so in the last step, get specific about your causes. Visit an organization’s website that deals with the big picture cause and see what subsections their website is divided into. Investigate if there are local issues that are specific examples of the general causes. For example, if you are interested in protecting the environment and live in Florida, you may want to focus on one or more of the issues surrounding water use and pollution in Florida. Or, if you are interested in getting Democrats elected in office, you could donate to your local Democratic party.
- Don’t forget the arts, free press, and education – Giving the free press the resources to report with biases introduced by wealthy donors is important. So is supporting creative endeavors you find valuable. Often, creative pursuits are funded solely by inspired individuals. These things may not fall under your definition of charity, but you may consider allocating money to them as well.
- Decide what percentage of your monthly budget to allocate to each of your chosen causes. The dollar amount you spend on each cause is the percentage times your total donation budget. For example, if you have $100 to spend each month and want to donate 30% to animal rights legislation,
that’s $100*0.3 = $30/month
- Identify the best organizations to donate to and set up recurring donations** – There are sites like Charity Navigator that can help you decide on the most impactful organizations for your chosen causes. For local efforts, you can get involved directly to decide if an organization is worthwhile. If supporting political candidates is an important cause to you, you may want to adjust your fund amounts and campaigns funded as elections come and go. You could also choose to support an organization that works to elect the kinds of candidates you align with. Almost all organizations have a way to set up a monthly donation online.
- Document and revisit your plan – Every year or so, look back at the distribution of charity funds. Has your income changed? Have your priorities and values shifted at all? Are there organizations you are no longer interested in contributing to? Are there new organizations you’d like to incorporate into your charity budget?
It may take a little time to set this up, but once you do, you can stop wasting time with all the mail (paper and email) asking for money and rest assured your money is going to the causes that are most important to you.
Want to see how this works?
If you’d like an example, you can see how I’ve allocated my $100 each month here.
How do you donate?
Are there any organizations you reccomend checking out? How do you determine where and how much to give? Let me know in the comments!