How Much Should You Give to a Charity: Or is There a Formula For Determining How Much You Should Give vs How Much You Can Afford

This answer is something that an attorney often says to a client: “it depends”. This is a highly personal decision that can encompass many factors. The personal and or religious beliefs of the person and their spouse. How they think that they can best help. Whether the contribution is in money or used property or appreciated property or in time and efforts and service. One person may give money to the Church, while another may drive Church members to the Church who may not otherwise be able to attend; while still another may be baking cakes or dinner for the people attending after the religious service.

Of course, we should consider the financial aspects as well; such as how much can a person afford, and their age, their income and assets and a wide variety of competing factors, such as saving for the education of their children.

If a client asked me this question I would ask the person or spouses, if they were married, to include charitable giving as a line item in their budget. This is a good practical way to make the financial decision after the initial decision of whether a contribution should be made at all and if so in what form, money, property, service, etc. A wide range of belief exists in this area. I have heard some charities respond to this question by saying that: “you should give until it hurts” and I have heard the other extreme say: “charity begins at home”.

As a tax attorney and business person I would consider the tax benefit of reducing your taxes with the charitable giving, including your out of pocket expenses for your charitable work along with the tremendous opportunity to promote yourself in business whether you are the owner of a business or an employee. An old saying in business is that much of the higher level of business is done outside the office. Of course, not to mention the good that you are doing in and of itself.

Perhaps, if you are a retired person you might want to consider doing charitable work as a way to re-enter a new world of people and events an avoid the isolation that sometimes befalls a person when they leave the work force.

Many statistics exist online that provide all kinds of information on what other people have done and given exist, including by income group, geographical location and other factors, but I have chosen not to cite them because I think that this is a very personal decision that is different for everyone with no one factor or amount “right” for everyone; however, if you have made a decision to make a financial contribution to a charity then I would recommend a discussion with your tax attorney to decide the best strategy for your charitable contribution and I would have that discussion before 12/31/17 before we experience a major change in tax law that might otherwise upset what would have been a great plan!

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