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How to put your philanthropy into action

Created date

October 23rd, 2015

With the holiday season fast approaching, many of us are getting into the spirit of giving. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to donate money to charity, you’ll find there are thousands of organizations that are looking for help. So, what is a philanthropist who wants to make the most of his or her donation to do?

First, you need to get clear on what making the most of your charitable giving means to you, says Christen Graham, president of Giving Strong, Inc. (, a social impact consulting firm.

“For some, it is an occasion to give back after a successful life. For some, it is a tax opportunity,” she says. “For others, they may decide that they can’t achieve the sort of impact they want through charity and instead will want to deploy their funds elsewhere—political donations, a community-based impact investment, and other choices.”

Ways to donate

With so many worthwhile nonprofits, it can be difficult to decide whether to donate smaller amounts to several different groups or to funnel your charitable giving to one cause that is close to your heart. Gena Rotstein, CEO of Dexterity Ventures, Inc. (, a company that sells donation tools to businesses, says that if your goal is to contribute to systemic change like ending poverty, it is best to set up a “mutual fund” of charities that address different layers of the problem. Her company established, where philanthropists can find a number of different micro-foundations that address different issues.

“Each fund has a few charities that, when combined, can be measured against a metric on the social issue, i.e., pushing the needle on social justice,” Rotstein says.

Once you decide which organizations to donate to, you’ll also want to ensure that your money is being used prudently and in accordance with your wishes. Patrick Coleman, CEO of GiveCentral (, a Web-based fundraising tool for nonprofits, says you can research charities online, including reviewing financial statements that large organizations must file with the IRS. He also encourages donors to ask questions directly to leadership, volunteers, and other donors to get a better sense of how efficient an organization is at deploying donations. 

Retirees who have more free time might also consider becoming a volunteer for the charities they support financially. Or, if you want to ensure your money is used for a specific purpose, you can give a restricted gift, which must be used by the charity according to your wishes.

“For example, instead of giving to a general fund at your alma mater, you might give to a particular academic program,” Coleman says. 

Finally, retirees who have significant investments might also want to review their portfolios to make sure they are aligned with the causes they support philanthropically. Graham says an environmentalist, for example, might discover she owns stock in a company she believes is contributing to climate change.

“Divesting that stock may be more impactful than any charitable gift,” Graham says.