It’s not too late to align your spending with your priorities. If charitable giving is an important part of your budget, take a step back and reevaluate your giving strategy.

There are a myriad of causes and organizations you can support, which can leave even the bestintentioned philanthropist confused, frustrated and overwhelmed.

The following steps can help ensure that your money is being used effectively and efficiently by the organizations you choose to support.

STEP 1: Clarify your values and preferences.

Before you reach for your checkbook, ask yourself a few questions. What causes are important to you? Is there a particular demographic or group of people you would like to support? Would you prefer to give to a local, regional, national or global organization? As a donor, what do you hope to see in the organization’s leadership or structure?

The answers to these questions can help you make a list of charities that will allow you to align your financial resources with your personal values, making your donation even more meaningful.

STEP 2: Consider each organization’s mission.

Once you have determined which organizations meet your criteria, research each charity to make sure their programs, mission and goals match your expectations.

Consider meeting with an executive or local leader to hear about the charity’s strategy and its impact on the community first-hand. During the meeting, ask about the organization’s short- and long-term goals, as well as how it measures success. You want to be sure that the charity is making progress toward achieving its goals.

STEP 3: Investigate each charitable organization’s financial health.

Look into how each donation is used and what percentage of the money goes directly to the cause. Fundraising and administrative expenses help the charity do its work; however, you should be cautious about organizations with higher overhead costs. Ask the charity for a copy of its most recent annual report and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990. These forms outline the charity’s budget allocation and financial plans, and can provide you with insight into how your money is used to make the intended impact.

If you’d like an objective perspective on a charity’s financial health, fundraising practices, day-to-day efficiency and accountability standards, look at how watchdog groups evaluate the organization.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance (, GuideStar ( and Charity Navigator ( are several national groups that offer unbiased evaluations.

STEP 4: Make giving part of your plan.

As you figure out your donation strategy, consider meeting with a financial planner or tax advisor who can help you select the most appropriate donation method for your financial situation. These professionals can also work with you to create a strategy for ongoing contributions or to make giving part of your legacy.

Keep in mind that there may be legal or tax considerations, depending on the amount and form of your donation (i.e., check, investment donation, etc.).

By taking the time to thoroughly evaluate charitable organizations, you’ll give yourself the peace of mind that your money is being used wisely, effectively and for the purposes you intended.


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Michael W. K. Yee, CFP®, CFS®, CLTC, CRPC®, is a Financial Advisor,
Certified Financial Planner ™ practitioner with Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. in
Honolulu, Hawai‘i, with Na Ho’okele Financial Advisory Team, a financial advisory
practice of Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. He offers fee-based financial planning
and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 29 years.

Ameriprise Financial, Inc. and its affiliates do not offer tax advice. Consult your tax
adviser regarding your specific situation.
Investment advisory products and services are made available through Ameriprise
Financial Services, Inc., a registered investment adviser.
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