Dos and Don'ts For A Giving Season Tinged By Uncertainty

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<p>When their not working out on the ice, girls at Figure Skating in Harlem polish their academic skills, thanks to grants from The New York Community Trust.</p>

When their not working out on the ice, girls at Figure Skating in Harlem polish their academic skills, thanks to grants from The New York Community Trust.

Amy Wolf / New York Community Trust

By Jane L. Wilton

For many Americans, the holiday season is a good time to give to charity. After this year’s especially divisive election, people want to help even more.

Contributing to education programs, the arts, the environment or other causes is an investment in the future, and like any investment, charity takes thought.

Community foundations such as ours are here to make sure you have the tools to give smart and effectively. As we give thanks for so much, it’s a good time to consider some DOs and DON’Ts for giving.

DON’T forget smaller nonprofits. In times of uncertainty, larger groups tend to reap contributions, but lesser-known ones are in touch with the needs of their neighborhoods or particular people who need help. DO call your local community foundation (like us) for guidance.

DO chose the right assets. For example, if you give appreciated stock that has been held for more than a year, you avoid capital gains taxes, yet your income tax deduction generally is the market value of the stock. Or take advantage of the charitable IRA rollover, and have your IRA make a distribution directly to a qualified charity and exclude the distribution from income.

DO involve your family by letting loved ones suggest charities. For example: Your kids may learn that not only does Aunt Edna love birds, but those birds benefit from the environmental groups in their own neighborhood. DO consider going an extra step and set up a donor-advised fund for your children as a gift, then let them make recommendations.

DON’T get the name wrong: Do you know the difference between Make-a-Wish Foundation, Children’s Wish Foundation International, and Kids Wish Network? Some fraudulent charities take advantage of name confusion. Make sure your gift goes to a bona fide charity.

DO: Ask if your employer matches gifts to charities. It’s a simple way to be twice as generous.

DON’T choose a charity solely based on administrative costs: We all want to keep overhead low, but nonprofits sometimes go bust because their administrative costs are not fully covered. Look at the nonprofit’s effectiveness, and speak to experts. Call a community foundation, such as The Trust. Ask how your money can make a real difference in addressing problems.

Do check out our website and our video below to see how we can help you help others.

Jane Wilton is general counsel of The New York Community Trust. She can be reached at or (212) 686-2563.