Give Wisely and Save on Taxes: Tips for Charitable Donations

Many Americans rush to complete their charitable donations before the end of the year. In their haste, they may not recognize two keys to smart giving: careful vetting of charities, and tax planning that helps make the most of a gift, according to Senior CFP Board Ambassador Jill Schlesinger, CFP®.

“Considering how many people make charitable gifts at year-end, it’s amazing how little thought and research can go into the process,” Schlesinger said. “There are fake charities and scam artists who take advantage of generosity.”

Charitable giving reached an all-time high of $390.05 billion last year, according to Giving USA 2017: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2016. The rise was spurred largely by individual giving and 2017 is likely to break last year’s record. Charitable donations are tied to stock market performance, and the S&P 500 is up nearly 25 percent in 2017, through mid-November.

In her latest contribution to, Schlesinger offered a checklist for Americans who are preparing to make end-of-year donations.

Step 1: Confirm the charity is legitimate by searching the IRS’s tool, Exempt Organizations Select Check. Cross-reference by asking the organization for its employee identification number, and then searching the same database for it.

Step. 2: Research the charity’s financial health. The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving AllianceCharity Watch, GuideStar and Charity Navigator offer guidance on how charities spend money. Many Americans want to understand what portion of a donation goes to overhead, versus the cause itself.

Step 3: Determine how to donate. Options include donations of goods, checks, wire transfers and credit card payments. Americans can also donate appreciated securities and write off the current value of a stock, or make donations directly from their IRAs, though some rules apply to the last case.

Step 4: Keep good records. For any donation valued at $250 or more, the IRS requires a bank record, payroll deduction or written communication identifying the organization, the date and amount of the contribution and a description of the property.

To be deducted from 2017, donations must be given or postmarked by midnight on Dec. 31st.

A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional can help Americans design a financial plan that makes the most of annual charitable donations.