Oct 09, 2020

Create A Charitable Giving Plan: A 7-Point Checklist

Oct 09, 2020

Sabrina Rosh
We encourage those interested in giving back to take an active and focused approach to their philanthropic endeavors. Building an infrastructure around the causes and goals that mean the most to you can make charitable giving more effective and rewarding. At Wealth Architects, we call this a “giving plan” and below are 7 simple steps to make one.

1. Distill your motivation for giving.

Before drilling down into the specifics of your giving plan, start with the big picture. What is it that really inspires you to be charitable? Begin this process by reflecting and reconnecting with those experiences that instilled in you a desire to give back.

  • Are you motivated by a particular formative experience?
  • Did your parents encourage you to volunteer growing up?
  • Were you, yourself, a recipient of charitable services in the past?
  • Is there a current event inspiring you to take action?

Take some time to write down your motivations and values. This doesn’t need to be a lengthy essay; a paragraph or two on your “why” for giving would suffice.

2. Develop a giving purpose statement.

Determining which causes to support comes down to values and priorities. What is truly important to you and what feels most pressing? The answer can, and likely will, evolve over time. For example, a young adult might be motivated to give to public radio because they listen to it on their commute; years later, as a parent, their interests may shift to giving to their child’s sports team because of the joy that activity brings to their family.

We encourage you to compose a purpose statement that will serve as a high-level guide to keep you on track toward your ultimate philanthropic goals. The statement should encapsulate your vision for change by combining your values and priorities. Below are some questions to get the wheels turning. Are you interested in, for example:

  • Funding arts and humanities in the San Francisco Bay Area?
  • Improving access to quality education in low-income counties across the country?
  • Providing aid to disaster relief and recovery in developing countries?

Here is a sample giving purpose statement: “I believe that no family should have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. I also want to get more involved in making an impact locally so I can meet those who I wish to help. Therefore, I want to focus on addressing food-insecurity in my city.”

Take a stab at writing your giving purpose statement. Sleep on it. See if it resonates the next morning. Iterate until you have something you feel excited about.

3. Time, Talent and Treasure – determine what you can give.

With your purpose statement in mind, assess the value you have to offer, including time (volunteering), talent (sharing your skills), and treasure (financial/asset donations). One could donate money to an organization, such as a food bank, volunteer to organize a canned goods drive, or lend talent by assisting a nonprofit with services within one’s expertise such as legal consulting or coding their website. A few hours of specialized work may well be worth much more to the organization than a cash donation.

Donating time and talent also serves as a great alternative to financial donations if you’re not in a position of having significant disposable income. Working hands-on with nonprofits presents an opportunity to deepen connections with organizations, advising where and how you might want to donate money down the line.

Consider what you have to give in the areas of time, talent and treasure. Write down, specifically, what you can realistically give. Be ambitious, but also beware of biting off more than you can chew. The best commitments are the ones that we make good on.

4. Explore and research charities of interest. Pick one or a few.

There are over two million charities in the US and more abroad. In addition to finding organizations that align with your giving mission statement, it is essential to conduct due diligence to ensure their work is ethical, reputable, and leads to real impact.

Charity Navigator and GuideStar by Candid are two nationally-recognized charity evaluators that provide key information such as mission, leadership, impact, accountability and transparency ratings, and financial information (e.g. 990 forms, which are nonprofit financial statements). Schwab Charitable also lists several tools and is a useful resource as you explore the charitable giving process. Again, working on-the-ground with organizations is also an illuminating research tool.

There are many nonprofits doing important work worth getting behind. But one can’t give to all of them. We often advise our clients to consider concentrating their giving on a select number of organizations – or just one – for greater impact. This approach can be more efficacious and rewarding than distributing smaller gifts across a slew of organizations.

Focusing on a community foundation can be a worthwhile option for those hoping to maximize their impact locally across several causes. Operating somewhat like a mutual fund, community foundations accept donations that they, in turn, use to meet a multitude of needs across the community, including those that suddenly appear as in the case of COVID-19 relief efforts. Alternatively, you can work with a community foundation to help you identify the causes or charities that align with your purpose statement.

Research and determine one, or a few, organizations that you are excited to support. Write them down.

5. If giving assets, seek to do it effectively.

Donating to charity can offer significant tax advantages to both the donor and nonprofit recipient, especially if you are informed about all of your options. Two worthwhile considerations are Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) and Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs).

A DAF is a charitable fund that can grow and gift assets (cash, bonds, stocks, real estate, and more) to eligible charities over time. While these gifts may be disbursed over the course of several years, the donor has the benefit of receiving an immediate tax deduction for the entire sum. A QCD is another vehicle for extending the impact of a donation by allowing certain taxpayers to transfer up to $100,000 from their IRA to eligible charities, tax-exempt.

For more on DAFs, QCDs, and other strategies for maximizing your dollar, consult with financial and tax advisors and review our piece on Charitable Contributions and How To Take Them Further in 2020.

If giving financially, make a plan to give in a way that maximizes benefit to you and the charity of your choice.

6. Consider involving the whole family.

Engaging the entire family in philanthropy can make the experience fun and rewarding. Your giving plan can include building in family volunteering traditions and including children into the charitable giving decision-making process. Moments around the dinner table could be used to have a discussion about your family’s values as a whole as well as individual interests. Fostering within your children a sense of ownership in this process can help cultivate a long-term desire to discover causes they feel connected to and make an impact.

Fidelity Charitable endorses a family governance framework, in which “a family applies guiding principles to general policies and specific practices for carrying out the roles and responsibilities of their joint activities, such as family philanthropy.” Read more about their family philanthropy best practices here.

Copyright © 2004–2006 Patricia M. Angus

Write down the activities in which you wish to engage with your family as it relates to charitable giving.

7. Consider your legacy and estate plan. 

How do you want to divide your estate among your loved ones and charitable causes after you’re gone? While this may be an uncomfortable and complicated topic to consider, making plans for your estate in advance will save your beneficiaries from any guess-work and ensure your wishes are successfully met. Depending on one’s priorities and financial position, some considerations for leaving a long charitable legacy might include:

  • Donating a piece of property or real estate to the community. 
  • Starting a family endowment or private foundation.
  • Using a Donor Advised Fund in your succession plan and specifying which charities you would like to receive the remaining assets. With a DAF,  you can also add loved ones as successors on the fund, thereby allowing them to continue gifting from the account you established in your lifetime.

Make these vital decisions now so you can have the assurance that your loved ones and cherished causes will have your support in the future. A comprehensive wealth advisor can help you build a plan to fulfill the legacy and estate options that might make sense for you, given your unique set of circumstances.

Ensure that your giving plan takes into account the nuances of your legacy and estate plans.

Having a robust plan in place will help ensure a meaningful and rewarding giving experience that generates maximum impact both for the charities you support and your own personal journey. Good luck and enjoy the process!


Wealth Architects does not offer tax or legal advice. For your specific situation, please consult with a tax and/or legal professional.