When are impact reports impactful?

board graph

Recently I have been reflecting and refreshing my perspective on Penelope Burk’s ongoing research dedicated to evidence-based approaches to donor retention and raising more money to support missions of nonprofit organizations throughout the world.

This has been on my mind partially because I am a long-time champion of Burk’s pragmatic, qualitative and quantitative data and many nonprofits with a mid-year fiscal year-end are developing impact reports for donors and key stakeholders. Impact reports are valuable engagement tools appreciated by many donors and funders. Plus, these stories of change and accountability can lead donors to actively consider giving again and, many times, more!

Burk conducted follow-up conversations with donors several years ago leading to a second edition of her seminal book, Donor-Centered Fundraising, in 2018. Here are a few of the responses cited around impact reports:

I would definitely make larger gifts if … those solutions were backed up by better impact information.

I’ve narrowed my giving down to organizations that issue informative and concise reports about what they are achieving with donors’ contributions …

An update on what they are accomplishing with the gifts that I and other donors have already made is actually more effective than another appeal. The updates themselves make you want to give again.

Campaign Monitor and Qgiv looked at nonprofit marketing strategies that are both effective and efficient use of resources from the perspective of more than 1,000 donors. They found there is power in hearing from real people, about real people, and the results a donation is creating. In fact, 61.1% of donors want to hear stories about organizations’ impact and how their services are helping. 

Consider when you make a gift to your local food bank, health clinic, early education center as well as your church and alma mater. Are you interested in receiving the free lapel pin, plaque, or month-at-a-glance calendar? Or would you prefer a brief, personalized communication highlighting the difference your investment made in the lives of people … many of whom you probably will never meet? Personally, I do not need another swag bag. I value understanding and seeing the results of my giving and welcome the opportunity to learn more through the eyes of those whose lives have been changed, transformed, strengthened, or enhanced.

I invited several colleagues, peers and fellow philanthropy professionals representing diverse sectors and experience to join me for a conversation on the topic of impact reports. I asked them to define an impact report, share how they measure the impact of this communication tool and a key learning for the next generation of impact report creators. What a robust, insightful and super fun conversation! Here are a few of my key takeaways you might also find helpful:

  1. Impact reports are a time to share the why and how of the organization. It’s not just the facts; it’s an opportunity to tie the donor’s gift to the mission.
  2. It answers the question “so what?”. A science-based education institution describes intellectual stimulation, excitiing youth and turning on “light bulbs”.
  3. Changing the behavior of a client through resources, education and opportunities to connect with others is hard to document because its qualitative. We tell stories, show faces, use different technology including video.
  4. These tools also are an opportunity to provide a sneak peek of what’s ahead and sparks curiosity for follow-up conversations.
  5. Donors experience impact; show them personally rather than telling them. Inspire them to feel the importance of the work by inviting them to “wear the shoes” of those the organization serves through a virtual field trip for instance. Be creative!
  6. Impact reports come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe they are regionally specific or as simple as a phone call to share a recent breakthrough. And keep telling the stories in compelling ways that speak to the heart and soul of the organization and its work.

As a nonprofit professional who may or may not have a background in writing but has been charged with creating your organization’s 2020 impact report, where might you start? It can seem like a daunting task but you are well-positioned to ensure the relationships your organization has with its donors and stakeholders are built on a strong values-based foundation of accountability and integrity.

It’s as simple as telling a story!

About the Author

Kerry Bartlett

Kerry A. Bartlett, CFRE, MBA, Managing Director

Kerry has spent more than 25 years in the nonprofit sector as a fund development professional and has particular expertise in annual funds, major gifts, endowment campaigns and legacy giving. Kerry is also known for creating and implementing effective donor-centered stewardship programs that build, maintain and strengthen nonprofits’ relationships.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve, but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 500 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of 36 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning, and governance.

5 Opportunities Fundraising Professionals Can Utilize During Covid-19

Fundraising during Covid

Historically, nothing drives charitable giving like disasters, whether natural or economic. During disasters, both the need for help and the desire to help are amplified. That holds true with the current COVID-19 crisis. However, a global pandemic presents a unique dilemma: the need is global, the timeline is uncertain, the economy is volatile, and the variables are changing daily.

Our profession and work have prepared us for this crisis perhaps more than most. Philanthropy is responding throughout the United States and around the globe faster than we have ever reacted before. As fundraisers, we are uniquely positioned to identify the problems, articulate the immediate and urgent needs, craft emotionally compelling stories, and provides hard data to support the case.

The good news: funders are being more flexible than ever and there are 5 opportunities fundraising professionals can utilize RIGHT NOW to make an impact.

1. CARES Act Tax Benefits

Changes in the tax code for this year make end-of-year giving especially advantageous in 2020. Among these changes – thanks to the CARES Act – is a new opportunity for non-itemizers to claim a tax deduction for their charitable giving this year. Taxpayers who take the standard deduction can claim a charitable deduction of up to $300 for cash donations in 2020. For itemizers, the limit on the charitable contribution deduction has been lifted and individuals can deduct cash gifts in 2020 right up to 100% of their Adjusted Gross Income, rather than the usual cap at 60%.

As for corporations, the CARES Act has increased their deduction limits to 25% for cash contributions this year. Considering the sizeable growth in value experienced by many corporations in recent years, particularly in 2019, this new opportunity should not go unnoticed.

2. Depreciated Securities

Typically, a volatile economic market creates some concern about making donations using stock holdings, and typically securities that have lost value are not thought of as ideal assets for charitable giving. However, 2020 is not a typical year.

In a volatile economic market, there is an opportunity to optimize the value of depreciated securities in funding a charitable contribution. The steps are a bit different when using depreciated securities to make a charitable gift compared with the steps when using appreciated securities – and this difference is how the tax-wise advantage kicks in. The donor would sell the depreciated securities and donate the cash proceeds from the sale. This allows the donor to take a charitable contribution deduction for the cash gift AND a capital loss on the sale of the securities. The loss can be used by the donor to offset any gains that may occur this year on other stock holdings, effectively reducing the donor’s tax liability even more. The bonus? The charitable organization may ultimately receive a much larger gift than if the donor had simply used cash to make the gift.

If navigating the tax codes and changes this year seems complicated and stressful for a donor, their wealth managers and philanthropic consultants can help.

Although we know tax benefits are not the only reason donors consider charitable giving, it certainly helps when there are opportunities available. Make sure to highlight and communicate these opportunities to your donors!

3. Donor Advised Funds

Unlike in previous times of volatility and economic insecurity more individuals and families than ever are using Donor Advised Funds to manage their charitable giving. Like donors with family foundations, donors who have created Donor Advised Funds may be more readily interested and willing than others to make major gifts this year, since the funds have already been put aside for this very purpose.

Giving USA’s Report on Charitable Giving shows that contributions to Donor Advised Funds are experiencing an annualized growth rate of nearly 20 percent in recent years. At this point, there are an estimated $120 billion held in donor advised funds. This year is the ideal time for these donors to leverage their Donor Advised Funds to support the causes they care about.

4. Renewed Vision: New Markets – New Methods of Delivery – New Partnerships

Indeed, our industry is defined by our vision, and the current crisis does not change that fact; our vision is not merely changed by the current crisis— by seeking new solutions, it can be renewed. Normally, we ask, “Who needs us? What can we do?” and “Who can assist us in that mission?” Whereas now we are asking, “Who needs us now? What can do now?” “Who can we partner with to realize that vision now?”

Your strategic plan for the upcoming year needs to be reviewed monthly, perhaps even weekly, as the situation continues to evolve. In doing so, we can continue to explore new approaches to how we work, whether in new markets, new methods of delivery, or with new partnerships. In times of crisis, it merits a reminder that nonprofit charitable organizations are in the RELATIONSHIP business – in relationships with those they serve – in relationships with those that invest to achieve the organization’s mission – and in relationships with other organizations that have alignment in providing solutions. More than ever before, it is time to actively engage donors, constituents, and potential partners to find new and innovative solutions to realize and renew the vision.

5. Vulnerability is an incredibly valuable tool in your tool belt – USE IT!

For those us in the philanthropy profession, our altruistic nature and inclination for empathy is emotionally exhausting in hard times, yet simultaneously, these feelings drive and inspires us! Compassion fatigue is a reality. And that is okay. In fact, it is great. We are in the compassion business – and vulnerability is a skill set that service-driven, mission-focused development professionals excel in harnessing.

Now more than ever, you get to be vulnerable with your donors and allow them to be vulnerable with you. You can and should be bold. Have those hard conversations with top donors about the state of the organization: Its immediate needs and its renewed vision. Donors are likely feeling the same emotions as you and very likely will embrace opportunities amidst these uncertain times to have a way to experience the great joy of building solutions to very real problems. Again, as fundraisers, we are first and foremost in the relationship business. Now is the time to Be Direct, Be Candid, Be Transparent, and Be Vulnerable – and look for the opportunities!

About the Authors

Beverly Brooks Thompson headshot

Beverly Brooks Thompson, PhD, CFRE, Managing Director

Beverly Brooks Thompson is a published academic and practitioner in the field of philanthropic leadership. With over 20 years of experience, Thompson has served as senior counsel to the most prestigious non-profit organizations and boards in the country with responsibility for campaign development, implementation and management for programs that exceed goals of $500 million. She also advises families, family offices and family foundations on philanthropic planning and corporations in corporate responsibility and employee engagement. Beverly is a Certified Advisor in 21/64 Next Generation Family Wealth and a Master Trainer for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. 

Ted Sudol

Ted Sudal, J.D,. Managing Director

Ted draws on four decades of experience in fundraising, strategic communications, phi anthropic law, and consulting in crafting creative and personalized philanthropic plans. He approaches each engagement with a focus on finding simple solutions for complex matters to achieve optimal outcomes. His expertise is tailored to higher education, healthcare & human services, the arts, and global initiatives.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve, but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 500 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of 36 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning, and governance.

Fundraising Before, During, and After Disaster

Board meeting
Beverly Brooks Thompson headshot

Beverly Brooks Thompson, PhD, CFRE

Managing Director


As we face the most active hurricane season in recent history, I’ve come to learn that as leaders, being proactive is our best way to contribute. Make no mistake, I am not a disaster management specialist. I am, unfortunately, a disaster fundraising expert. I have been on the fundraising frontlines of several of our nation’s largest disasters, from hurricanes, to campus shootings, to the 1,000-year flood. While I pray you never experience such crises, I share these tips with you in hopes that if you are faced with such an event, you will be armed with the information needed to effectively mobilize your fund development team, lessen the anxiety in your community, and best leverage your talents to help those in need.

The only nation is humanity.  ~ author unknown


As organizational leaders, we must have an executable emergency plan in place for our development team. While the disasters we encounter are seldom the ones we plan for, we can still be prepared.

  • Assemble a team of your top decision makers for communications, fundraising, data management, security, and implementation. Devise a crisis management plan and agree to meet monthly to review it and make adjustments as needed.
  • Identify your essential personnel and create a contact list with names, phone numbers, addresses, etc. Think creatively about your contact methods; during a disaster you could very well lose access to typical communication channels (e.g., cell towers go down or are overloaded). One way to address this is to establish a physical reporting protocol. Identify a meeting location where everyone can convene in the event communication lines are compromised.
  • Establish a chain of command with contingencies. Everyone should know who initiates the crisis plan; essential personnel must know how to identify when their services are needed; and all employees should know who to contact in regards to their safety, location, and personal status. There’s always a possibility that someone on your team may be directly affected by the crisis, so ensure you establish contingencies within your chain of command.  
  • Create detailed lists of property and critical sites that need to be secured. For example, does your faculty have research that needs to stay frozen or does your hospital have blood centers that need stable temperatures? Identify who is responsible for these tasks and be sure you are keeping supplies on hand for such occurrences (e.g., dry ice, generators).
  • Establish a communication plan executable when you are without electricity.  Sometimes you may not have electricity but your constituents do, so consider contingencies such as generators; pop-up call centers; pre-established partnerships with your local media outlets; and contracts with off-site IT consultants who can remotely support your website, social media, email, phone messaging, and text messaging systems. It is vital to have an emergency communication protocol that enables your team to get messages out, but don’t underestimate the power of social media as it can become the tool in which your constituents communicate and interact with you.
  • Outline a strategy for volunteer coordination and designate a leadership team for this effort. In a crisis, people want to help, so planning for how you will manage that help is important. Identify who will organize volunteers, a check in time and place for volunteers to assemble, how you will communicate, a protocol for how decisions will be made, etc.
  • Verify your donor database contacts annually or biannually. Some disasters may lead to a large number of your donors being displaced or relocated. Create a system that enables your donors to easily update their contact information with you year-round, but especially during the crisis.  
  • Prepare a microsite that can be launched remotely at any time. Include things such as preparation checklists; instructions for securing things outdoors, securing windows, etc.; contact information for police, fire, electricity, water, sewage companies; evacuation, closure, and shelter information; and volunteer coordination details. Remember that this may be the first time your clients are experiencing this type of disaster. For example, if you are in a university setting, it may be an out-of-state student’s first hurricane, so don’t assume they are familiar with what your local students might consider common knowledge in terms of preparedness.
  • Encourage everyone to always keep their communication devices charged. In the event you lose power, but still have cell connectivity, you want everyone to have a fully charged devices. Consider investing in car chargers with proper adapters for all your devices, especially for essential personnel.  
  • Make hard copies of your plans and require essential personnel to keep them accessible at all times. When we need this information most, we will likely not have computer access or may be away from the office.


  • Finding your people should always be your first priority. Use your pre-established calling trees to locate your employees, staff, students, clients, etc. As a leader, you must first manage your organizational family before you can support your surrounding community.
  • Communicate early, clearly, and continuously during and after a crisis. Send updates often; your people want to hear from you and frequent communication can help keep misinformation at bay. Distribute information from the CEO or President so people know your top leadership is directly involved in managing the crisis.
  • Be consistent in your messaging. Having a singular media spokesperson is ideal but not always feasible in the event of large-scale crises. Preplanning to ensure you know who the single point of contact is for messaging and establishing a team of spokespeople can help your team communicate accurately and consistently, internally and externally. Consider all the areas in which you might need communication leads and pre-plan accordingly (e.g., academics, athletics, medical, facilities).
  • Leverage your own mass messaging systems to deliver voice, texting, and email messages to your constituents. Having these automated systems in place prior to a crisis will enable you to quickly and easily distribute consistent messages.
  • Keep your microsite updated so those not on your mass mailing list can access information from your microsite. This becomes the central repository for all your communications.
  • Proactively manage media personnel who ascend on your organization. When the media is on your doorstep or is demanding information, provide them with a specific site to do business, credential them, and give them a timeline of when to expect updates from you. Appoint a designee for requests and clearly communicate this protocol. Provide access to information and affected areas in a controlled manner. You have the ability and responsibility to manage all public messages and photographs, and to protect the privacy of your constituents.  
  • Communicate even if there is no new information. People want to know that you are always on top of things. This is particularly important for those who are concerned about loved ones connected to your organization but watching from afar, such as parents of your students or families of your employees. Remember to always time and date stamp updates.
  • Open your call center to the public to effectively manage information. Before disaster strikes, your IT team should have a plan in place for executing a public call center on behalf of your organization. Be sure your communications team is involved in the planning so they can spearhead the organizing of personnel to manage the center. During a crisis, actively publicize the number for your call center and establish yourself as a public resource. At the end of each day, have your call center team compile a list of frequently asked questions and post these to your website.
  • Establish a web portal for sharing to support your community. When you have a pre-established crisis microsite, these become easy to implement. Think of this as a CraigsList-type of resource for your community. It could invite postings and shares for things such as residential or commercial real estate rentals, housing/room-sharing, carpooling, resource sharing, etc.
  • Designate a documentation team in advance of a crisis. This should be team members who are not needed on the frontlines and can focus solely on capturing photos and videos of your organization’s response to the disaster. Chronicling your efforts will be helpful as you begin telling your story post-crisis, and as you begin debriefs and pre-plan for future events.  
  • Plan for post-disaster responsibilities. As things settle down, you will want to host informational meetings, town halls, debriefs, and other gatherings. Organizations that assume leadership roles often remain in crisis mode long after the disaster has passed.


  • Be ready to offer a disaster relief fund for donors. Having your microsite prepared in advance will enable you to quickly and easily activate online giving. Be prepared to take online credit card payments and text messaging giving. Donations are greatest during and immediately after the event, while it is still headline news. Use this time to share your message.
  • Keep your disaster fund purpose broad so that you have the flexibility to meet the unexpected needs that will arise. For example, you might need to use the funds for support students and their families, address damages to facilities, or provide supplies to crisis support staff.
  • Do not cease normal fundraising efforts unless safety is a concern. If you have events scheduled related to your core mission, make them happen. Stay focused, stick to what you do, and avoid mission creep. Do what you do best and fundraise for it through the height of the crisis.
  • Keep talking about the great work your organization does despite the disaster. You will exist long after the crisis ceases so be sure people think about the everyday things you do, not just the current event. The unfortunate nature of disasters leave you with a unique platform to share your story; seize the opportunity.
  • Keep disaster donations separate from your normal operations when at all possible. Code them differently and separate them from any campaign counting, operational expenses, etc. You should document and justify disaster donations and expenses, so tracking these dollars separately is important. Also, do not be afraid to seek out state, federal, and private disaster relief grants on behalf of your organization.
  • Stay in touch with your supporters throughout the disaster. There is a natural connection between donors and the organizations they have previously supported. You will find past, current, and new donors who want to give, so ensure you are ready to receive their contributions.
  • Establish a system for managing supply donations. During a disaster, people and businesses often want to send supplies and other goods. Identify a coordinator to interface with these donors and coordinate shipping/receiving efforts. Be very specific regarding what you will and will not accept. These items could be as large as truckloads of generators and mattresses, and as small as cases of bottled water and clothing. When you begin to receive supply donations in volume, storage space can be a challenge. Having a donation team in place to manage these activities is invaluable. Your donation team can also be your frontline team that works in collaboration with other community relief agencies such as the Red Cross.
  • Take care to understand the need before distributing funds. There is a delicate balance between getting resources to those in need quickly, and taking the time needed to assess the need. Having a team responsible for assessing the need will help expedite your response time, particularly when it comes to large cash funds.


  • Some people will disappoint you while others will amaze you. Understand that everyone reacts to disaster differently. Meet people where they are when they want to help, and if they aren’t interested in helping, move on.
  • No disaster is ever just like another. Be prepared to break rules and create new ones, and be sure to document justifications throughout the process.
  • Keep your head clear and remain certain. You might not always make the right decisions in the height of a crisis, but make the best decisions you can with the information and training that you have available. Change direction if you need to without apology, only explanation.
  • Remain open to coordinating with many large agencies such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, Pan American Health Organization, FEMA, FBI, and so on. Respect their protocols and jurisdiction, but do not be afraid to ask questions, demand answers, or stand your ground when necessary.
  • Document everything. Hold daily morning and evening briefing meetings with key constituents. Designate a recorder to document briefing conversations, questions, decisions made, and events that transpire. Keep all incoming and outgoing communications, including emails. All of this will be critical in dissecting your response post-disaster and helping you plan for the next crisis.
  • Prepare yourself to address donor fatigue (everyone is approaching them for help) and compassion fatigue (we’re overwhelmed with so many sad stories). Have a list of care professionals including social workers, counselors, etc. for your team members.
  • You might be back to work, but not back to normal. Provide stress relief opportunities and post-traumatic stress counseling within your organization. Make space for grieving and recovery.
  • Volunteers will begin to disappear despite the fact that you still need them well after the disaster. They are tired too and are trying to get back to their normal schedule, so think about how you might continue to engage volunteers while also offering them relief.

I don’t wish disaster on anyone, but I do encourage everyone to plan for it. Thoughtful preparedness can keep you at your best when you are faced with the worst. We understand fundraising is challenging, and know firsthand that it can be even more so during times of crisis. I hope our experiences help you in your planning processes, and please know that regardless of what comes your way, you are never alone.


Disaster Supplies List

If you would like to donate supplies, consider placing items in specific PACKS for distribution 60-quart containers with lids. See Supply Lists for Cleaning Supply Packs, Baby Item Packs, and School Supply Packs below. In addition, there is a list of items that will be needed for people to gut homes.

When donating, make sure to have an identified location that has been notified and is prepared to receive your donation.

Cleaning Supply Pack
Container size: 60-quart
Rubber Gloves
Heavy Duty Trash Bags
N95 Masks
Water Nozzle / Spray Bottle
Measuring Tape
Flashlights and Headlamp /Batteries for flash light
Utility Knife
Chalk Line
First Aid Kits
Insect Repellent
Sun Screen

Baby Item Pack
Container size: 60-quart
Wipes Baby Lotions
Baby Soap and Shampoo
Baby Cereal
Insect Repellent for babies

School Supply Pack
Container size: 60-quart
Insect Repellent
Sun Screen

For Cleanup:
Flat-blade shovels
Street push brooms
Safety goggles
Work gloves
Latex/rubber gloves
Dust masks
Crowbars (large and small)
Pry bars
Claw hammers
Utility knives/drywall saws (lots of blades!)
Portable sump pumps and hoses
Chain saws (with chain oil, extra chains, etc.)
Gas-powered generators
Flashlights and headlamps
Large Box Fans
Wet / Dry Vacs
Extension Cords
Trash bags (Industrial)
Storage bins
Dumpster bags

For Moving Debris:
Plastic snow/ice sleds
Five-gallon plastic buckets w/ Lids
Shovels (wide, round, snow!)

How a Philanthropy Plan Can Help You Give Smarter During Global Uncertainty

Beverly Brooks Thompson headshot

Beverly Brooks Thompson, PhD, CFRE

Managing Director

As a consultant focused on philanthropic leadership, I talk to people nearly every day who say they want to give generously to important organizations in their community, but they don’t know where to start. That paralysis of indecision often leads to an ungratifying giving experience, potential donors giving less, or not giving at all.

I also regularly hear from leaders of large organizations who say they’d like their companies to give smarter and more strategically but don’t want to look or feel bad when they refuse requests for donations. They want to give to places that make sense for them as individuals and as a company.

The root of both problems is often that the person or organization doing the giving doesn’t have a clear understanding of what their values and interests are and how those align with their philanthropic goals.

In this unique time in history, facing a global pandemic and abrupt economic downturn, it is even more important for donors to become laser focused and intentional in supporting organizations and causes they care about.

Although the times have changed, the way in which we approach funding has not. The solution is simple: develop a philanthropy plan! Whether you’re a high net-worth individual with an extensive philanthropic portfolio, an executive guiding a large organization’s giving program or just part of an normal American household that cares about giving back to the community, a detailed philanthropy plan can help you give in a more strategic and more satisfying way.

The transformation can be profound. Typically, individuals and organizations report higher satisfaction levels about their philanthropy when they carefully plan charitable giving to ensure its close alignment with their values. In these uncertain times for nonprofit organizations, it can also lift the gratification of giving, knowing that your dollars are supporting causes that are important to you in meaningful ways.

If your historic giving has been through a donor advised fund, you might be better positioned to maximize your giving than at any other time in history. It is estimated that over $120 billion dollars is being held in donor advised funds in the United States, awaiting direction. This is a terrific time to maximize giving from these funds in support of causes that align with your personal or corporate values. In addition, due to the very unusual economic climate, you might also consider options to maximize giving through depreciated assets – an unusual opportunity my Carter colleague, Ted Sudol describe in a LinkedIn post last month.

These four steps will help you begin developing a philanthropy plan that will put you or your company on a path to giving smarter.

Identify Your Interests and Values

A philanthropy plan should always begin with an important, reflective questions: how would I like to invest my influence, my time, my resources, and/or my money in a way that is meaningful? Specifically, what issues are important to you? Your interests, for example, could be as varied as wanting to support your college alma mater, breast cancer research, eliminating poverty, or supporting animal welfare. People can often identify their current interests more clearly by making a list of those places where they are spending their time and have donated before. Pivotal life moments can also help pinpoint where passions may lie, such as youth mission trip that changed your perspective on privilege or the death of a loved one caused by a disease. Putting these on paper is a key first step in crafting an effective philanthropy plan. Looking at what you value includes assessing what missions, beliefs, values, you have that guide your giving. For example, do you value leadership development, faith, democracy, or preservation? Do you value local issues over global or national issues?

Forcing yourself to identify your interests and values will help you focus your planning in a productive way. In the wake of COVID-19 and civil unrest, organizations and causes are still providing critical services to impact the causes you care about most. – Even if they are not directly addressing pandemic-related issues, every organization is doing their part to solve the needs of their constituents in new ways.

Choose Your Top 3 Categories

Once you’ve broadly defined your focus areas, it’s time to narrow them down. I recommend identifying the top three categories that align with both your values and interests — for example, if you want to support local leadership development programs and youth sports, the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs might be organizations that align with your goals. If you prefer to stay away from organizations that are religiously or politically affiliated, you can eliminate those from your plan. There is no shortage of organizations and causes to support. Having a plan that encompasses your values and interests assists you narrowing your focus in a meaningful way.

If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the annual report of the Giving USA Foundation, which details how the $427 billion in U.S. charitable giving was distributed in 2018. The report breaks up philanthropic giving into nine categories: religion; education; human services; giving to foundations; health; public-society benefit; arts, culture and humanities; international affairs; and environment and animals.

As you’ll see, narrowing your philanthropic focus down to three areas doesn’t necessarily preclude you from giving to other causes. It will, however, help you prioritize your giving to the causes and organizations that matter the most to you.

Establish a Budget

Having a budget for your philanthropic giving is a must-have component of an effective plan. A budget assists you by giving you a framework in which to establish your giving plan. It also gives you a method of tracking your donations throughout the year. Start by determining what percentage of your income you’re comfortable with setting aside for charitable causes. Next, start thinking about how you’d like to divide that up among the top three categories you identified earlier in the planning process.

Whatever percentage you choose needs to be a comfortable fit within your overall budget for life expenses. When coming up with a figure, keep in mind that philanthropy doesn’t necessarily have to be all about money. Non-monetary contributions such as your time and influence can also be valuable commodities for organizations and should be included as part of your plan. This could include the occasional volunteer opportunity or significant board service. Time, influence and service can be very valuable and meaningful ways to engage with an organization and get to know them better.

There is a fourth component to the budget that should not be overlooked. Something is going to happen at some point during the year that you won’t anticipate — a natural disaster or a family member in need, for example. Therefore, include a contingency — usually 25 percent or less of the total amount you’ve set aside for the year — to cover unexpected philanthropic interests you may develop during the year. If you don’t spend the contingency, you can always reallocate it at the end of the year to one of your three priorities.

Select and Vet Organizations to Support

Once you’ve identified the areas where you want to focus and have determined how much money and time you plan to dedicate, it’s time to start choosing individual organizations to support through your giving throughout the year.

Your local community foundation may have resources to help identify specific nonprofits that are impacting lives in the area where you live. Vet each organization by examining financial statements or asking friends or professional colleagues for information about the work and leadership of those groups. The easiest way to explore an organization is to visit guidestar.org and download the financial reports for nonprofit groups across the country or simply read the annual reporting documents that organization has listed online.

If you have a life partner or spouse, you may want to think through the questions above together and develop a joint plan. This can also be an excellent project to do with children, as the whole family learns what is important to them, including them in the decision-making process. You can also do this with your employees. Creating a plan and a budget can help you and your loved ones or organization be more effective in meeting your philanthropic goals and create a positive, meaningful impact. If you’re overwhelmed by options, a professional can help you focus your values and interests and put you on the path to giving in a smarter, more strategic, and ultimately a more satisfying way.

Looking for assistance in developing a philanthropy plan? Beverly Brooks Thompson is a Certified Advisor in 21/64 Next Generation Family Wealth. Beverly is also a Managing Director with Carter, an international consulting company working to advance philanthropy worldwide. The Carter team consists of 35 senior-level professionals located throughout North America. For more information visit www.carter.global.

Charitable Gifts in 2020 Funded by Depreciated Securities.

wall street sign
Ted Sudol

Ted Sudol, J.D.

Managing Director

Why would a donor consider using depreciated securities to make a charitable contribution this year?  After all, such assets are not typically thought of as a good asset for charitable giving.

But this is not a typical year.

The use of depreciated securities may be just the right idea this year when donors plan for their charitable giving.  In the currently volatile economic market, many investors are experiencing a depreciation in the value of some (if not all) of their stock holdings.  Charitable giving offers a way to optimize the value of depreciated securities.

Here’s why: Unlike gifts of appreciated securities – which create a charitable contribution tax deduction and allow the donor to avoid taxation on the gain in value – gifts of depreciated securities create a capital loss (that can offset capital gains) and the opportunity for a charitable contribution deduction.

Here’s how:

  • The donor sells securities that have been held for more than a year and have lost value since being acquired.
  • The donor then uses the proceeds from the sale to make the charitable contribution.
  • This two-step sequence allows the donor to take a capital loss on the sale of the depreciated securities and a tax deduction on the charitable gift.

While tax considerations may not be the number one reason most donors make charitable gifts, the tax-wise aspects of this strategy can be substantial.  Let’s say the donor bought 1,000 shares of a stock in 2018 at $60 per share.  The stock is now trading at $25.  A sale of the stock yields $25,000 in cash and a $35,000 capital loss.  The $25,000 can be used to fund a charitable contribution.  And, this year, under the Cares Act, the donor can deduct charitable giving up to 100% of Adjusted Gross Income. 

Whether the donor plans to make an Annual Fund gift or a payment on a campaign pledge, the use of depreciated securities may be a strategy to consider in 2020.