Money Talks, So Should You

Suitcase Finance: How to work charity into your budget

Sarah K.
by Sarah K., Dimespring 30

My work gives me the extraordinary opportunity to speak with hundreds of donors who want to make financial gifts to organizations they care about. Each and every one of them faces unique financial circumstances, but there's nothing more rewarding than helping someone make an impact on a cause they passionately support.

Official statistics vary, but recent estimates show that the average American gives approximately 3 percent of their income to charity. And it's not the super wealthy who are skewing the scale  research consistently indicates that those who make the least are actually giving the most in terms of percentage of their incomes.

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Giving to charity is important to me, so this year, I'm challenging myself to give that 3 percent  even in the face of paying back student loans and making my way through the normal financial growing pains of being a 20-something. I figure I'll always have financial obligations, so making giving a priority now will help me establish a life-long habit.

If you’re thinking about growing your current level of charitable giving or making your support more meaningful, allow me to be the first to thank you on behalf of all the deserving non-profits out there! Here are the steps I'm taking to make my goal a reality.

Pledge your support over time.

If 3 percent seems like way more than you could ever give at once, I'm right there with you. The good news is that many organizations will allow you to set up recurring payments on a weekly or monthly basis. A gift of $10 per week is probably less than what you're shelling out for daily coffee runs, but it translates into a gift of more than $500 for your cause over the course of a year. Now that's impact!

Build charitable giving into your budget.

I use Mint.com to manage my budget, and I have a line item each month for charitable contributions. This strategy helps me keep my regular pledged commitments, while maintaining a clear picture of how much I have available for special circumstances, such as fundraising dinners or sponsoring friends doing charity runs.

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Give where your heart leads you.

As a fundraiser, I have never once received a gift from someone who is unhappy about giving it. That's the great thing about charity  you have the freedom to lend your support to those causes that address issues that stir your soul or provide services you can't live without.

Personally, I give to local public radio stations, which keep me up-to-date and connected to the different communities I move to. I also support an animal shelter where I volunteer, as well as a health organization that has a close connection to my family.

Have a cause in mind but aren’t sure where to start? Websites such as Charity Watch and Charity Navigator are dedicated to helping donors make informed decisions about which organizations deserve their hard-earned dollars. And when in doubt, ask! Any legitimate non-profit should be excited to talk to you as a potential donor and answer your questions directly and honestly.

Sarah is a 20-something consultant, living wherever the job takes her. Originally from Wisconsin, Sarah is always on the hunt for a good craft beer and restaurants that serve fried cheese curds. Sarah is a member of the Dimespring 30, a group of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.