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Four Ways to Make Your Donation Count

06/19/2013 01:04 pm ET | Updated Aug 19, 2013

Winston Churchill once said, "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." I am fortunate enough to have many clients who believe that maxim and donate generously to a variety of causes and charities. Because they have been successful in their careers, they are able to donate significant dollar amounts.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Just write a big check to an organization, one with a string of zeros on it. But one of my clients was concerned that when he gives a large gift, say $100,000, his donation gets lost when given to a well-known, national charity with an operating budget of $100 million. He wasn't sure his gift was really making the impact he'd like. So he prefers to give to smaller, local charities where he feels that amount of money can make a real difference.

The problem is that he was becoming frustrated. He observed these smaller charities are often gripped with operational inefficiencies. He hated the idea of his hard-earned money being wasted.

He was stuck. He wanted to get the positive feelings that come from making a substantial difference in the lives of others, but he was having a hard time finding a charity that met his standards.

I gave him four pieces of advice that I hoped would ease his mind.

1. Get involved. If possible, volunteer your time and expertise before you donate a lot of money. As you become more familiar with the organization, you can see where they are struggling. You can then make a directed gift that allows you to combine your time, talents, and money to help fix the problem. Plus, the more involved you are with the organization, the more opportunities you will have to see how they are making a real difference for their constituents, and the better you will feel.

2. Do your homework. Access resources that help identify well-run charities. Community foundations, such as the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta (www.cfgreateratlanta.org), often can provide incredible insights into local charities.

3. Perfection is the enemy of good. Remember a charity doesn't have to be run perfectly to do a lot of good in the world. Many people who run nonprofits are passionate about their causes, but might not be as trained in the business side of running an organization. Try to focus on what good they are doing because of their devotion to the cause and accept that some inefficiencies are inevitable.

4. You can't take it with you. Never forget you are going to lose control over all your money eventually. Since you can't take it with you, it makes sense to give money away now, when you can see some of the impact it makes.

It took time to make your money. And it takes time to give it away in the manner you'd like. To quote another wise man, Aristotle: "To give away money is an easy matter, and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power -- nor an easy matter. Hence it is that such excellence is rare, praiseworthy and noble."

For more information on how you can give to charities that mean the most to you, visit www.give.org, www.CharityWatch.org and www.CharityNavigator.org.

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DOFU 6/2013

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