Charitable contributions are a challenging issue for many people. Sure, we all want to be generous and help others, but sometimes we don't know how much to give, who should get our money, or where to start. Admittedly, military folks have a small advantage, as we are encouraged to give to the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) and our service's aid society through payroll deductions. Even that can be hard: how much should you give, and which agencies should you choose for CFC?
The religious tradition of tithing states that you should give 10% of your income to the church. Many people hear that 10% number, believe that they can't afford it, and then just give up on the idea of charitable giving altogether. Alternately, many people don't choose to give to a church because they don't worship regularly and that isn't a comfortable place for them to give. However, there are so many other ways to look at giving and I encourage each of you to consider fitting charitable giving in your budget.
I believe that people who are able to help have an obligation to do so, and I also believe that there is good karma generated from charitable giving that will bless you in other areas of your life. You don't have to agree with either of those statements, they are just my thoughts. Plus, you get a nice tax deduction if you itemize.
Let's start with the amount. Depending on your current financial situation, anything from 1% to 10% might be appropriate. I think that you start where you think you can, while also challenging yourself to increase the amount in the future. I find that it works better if I do it at the beginning of the budget, just like savings. If we wait until the end of the month to give, somehow it seems that there isn't any money left. In some sense, it isn't the amount that matters, it is the thought behind it. You need to decide if you are working with a yearly, monthly, or weekly giving budget. We chose to set aside a certain portion of each paycheck for charitable giving, but other ways will work as well.
Now, where do you want to give? If you are religious, your place of worship is a good place to start. How much would you like to contribute to their activities. Keep in mind that if you worship in a military chapel, your contributions are being used differently than those of a civilian congregation. Either way, you might want to be proactive and ask how your church/synagogue/mosque uses their offering money. You might be surprised to learn where your money ends up.
Out in the community, there are innumerable opportunities to give. Think (with your family if appropriate) about what is important to you. Our family often contribute to military causes, family support activities and environmental groups (but not the wacko ones.) In just a quick brainstorming session, you can probably think of several dozen groups that you would like to support. Once you've made the decision to give, narrowing it down to your budget is usually the hardest part. Be sure to check on the charity's records before giving, which can be done easily using charity rating websites such as Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. You can learn all sorts of interesting information there, but many people choose to focus on the portion of the fundraising that is used for administrative expenses. Keep in mind, however, that some charities might have higher administrative expenses than others because of the nature of the charity, not just because someone is spending poorly.
Charitable giving is an important part of American culture and helps support millions of valuable projects every year. Think about how you can contribute and then go out and do it. I think you will be glad you did.