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Seniors and philanthropy

Just because we get older doesn’t mean our inclination to give diminishes. Those generous, feel-good practices established in prime income-producing years can still be alive and well. But circumstances change and older individuals may have to use more discretion in giving. Whether the amount is a few hundred or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, many of the issues are the same. The following are practical steps to avoid confusion and make sure that funds from a fixed income are spent wisely.

How to Decide

One of the first questions that needs to be answered is what percentage of the total spending budget should go to gift-giving. This decision should be re-visited annually in case financial circumstances change.

The next biggest challenge is the overwhelming number of requests received in the mail and on the phone. This can be daunting for anybody, but for senior citizens it can be particularly confusing. Here’s how to handle the situation: When the mail comes, bills, personal correspondence, thank you letters for donations, subscription renewal notices, junk mail, and charitable solicitations must be sorted for follow-up or disposal. For charitable solicitations, the first task is to identify which organizations have already received gifts, and whether they should receive additional donations, which ones have yet to be given anything, and of those, which should be sent contributions.

Another problem is how to decide between different organizations raising funds for the same medical condition or societal problem.

  • What issues/campaigns should be supported; e.g., a physical ailment, homelessness, food drives, wilderness/parks, peace campaigns, overseas programs, etc.
  • Of those issues, which one or two organizations are best suited to address them
  • What percentage of the total gift-giving budget should be allocated to each

A  Thoughtful Plan for Charitable Gift-Giving

Below is a check list to help you decide when to give and when to say “no”:

  • Develop a list of institutions you wish to support: alma mater, medical center, your place of worship
  • Identify the issues most important to you: homelessness, specific physical illnesses or disabilities, hunger, wilderness/parks, peace initiatives, education/literacy/libraries, arts and music
  • Identify the major organizations that serve the issues of interest, whether on a local or national level
  • Winnow down the list by deciding to which you want to give and assign an annual dollar amount to each
  • Note whether you want to give annually, quarterly, monthly or weekly
  • Decide if you want to have some paid automatically using your credit card or checking account. Make a note of this next to the organization’s name on your list
  • Use this list to keep track of donations throughout the year, indicating form of payment (check or credit card), date, and amount

If you make donations online, here are two tricks:

  1. Keep your list next to your computer and note “online payment” via name of credit card
  2. Set up a separate email account where solicitation emails and receipts from charitable organizations can collect and easily be found later on

Daily Discipline

As you sort through the mail, put aside all charitable requests in a basket or file. In a separate folder, “Charitable Donations, (Year),” place receipts for donations already made. Compare the incoming requests with your list, throwing out any that are not on the list or ones to which you have recently made a donation. Decide how frequently you will deal with the remaining requests.

Telephone Solicitations

You may want to write this clearly, right next to your telephone, and follow the script.

  • Say “no” to requests
  • Say “no” to giving credit card information
  • Say “no” to pledges
  • DO SAY: I don’t accept phone solicitations. Send me something in writing and I will consider it. And please put me on your Do Not Call list.

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