THE BLOG
12/31/2014 11:04 am ET Updated Mar 02, 2015

Making a Difference: The World of Giving -- Making 2015 the Year of Giving

At the start of every New Year, many make resolutions and most having every intention of keeping them. However, as the days and weeks pass they often are forgotten or set aside, replaced with the activities of everyday life! I have an idea. Instead of resolutions let's make a plan of action for giving.

Americans have a long history of generosity. Even in tough economic times, neighbor helping neighbor is our way of life. We don't need a natural or economic disaster to occur in order to respond, Americans only need to see the need and how our help can resolve it. What are you doing to be Making A Difference in your community?

Here are a few easy steps to developing your plan of action for giving:

First, think about what you did last year. Did you give to your house of worship? Your alma mater? Your child's school?

Second, look over your finances and decide how much you would like to donate this year. Set a budget and determine if you want to give a certain amount each month? Each quarter? Annually?

Third, determine how you will give. Will you make a monthly gift by credit card? Will you hold an event to raise money? Will you bid on silent auction items at all charitable benefits you attend? Will you have a payroll deduction taken and given to charity?

Fourth, remember that all of your donations don't need to be made at once! Many causes are celebrated with designated months. A few examples include:

February is Black History Month

March is Women's History Month and National Girl Scouts Day is March 12th

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Autism Awareness Month

November is National Alzheimer's Awareness Month

November is also National Epilepsy Awareness Month

Finally and perhaps most important, don't let guilt guide your giving! Be a smart donor!

Some might ask for how this can be done. Here are ideas about what you can do both financially and non-financially to be Making A Difference.

Financial
Set money aside for those unexpected requests and events such as a niece selling Girl Scout Cookies, disasters like Hurricane Sandy or Typhoon Haiyan and tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting or the opportunity that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge presented this year.

Try skipping a restaurant meal or fancy coffee once a week or month and using that extra cash to give back.

Involve your children by encouraging them to collect donations for their birthday instead of presents; instead of gifts for Father's or Mother's Day, have your children donate to a charity in your name

Non-financial
Volunteer your time: local food pantries, hospitals and senior centers are in need of people to help or even just visit.

Donate blood

Serve as an aide at your child's school

Advice and Caution When Making Your Charitable Plan for 2015
There are an estimated 1.6 million charities in the US. You should give to nonprofits that make the most sense to you and possibly have an emotional connection. Remember to do your homework and research the charities before you donate, making sure they are a registered 501(c)(3).

The following are good resources to use when examining charities and nonprofit organizations:
o BBB Wise Giving Alliance
o Charity Navigator
o Guidestar

I strongly recommend donating more money to fewer charities. Narrow down the number of nonprofits to which you will give and make a bigger impact by donating more money to a smaller number. Always be safe when donating online. After Hurricane Katrina, the FBI estimated over 4,000 fraudulent websites were trying to raise money for "charity." Many of the websites were off by one number or letter from the actual website. Be conscious of the websites you are visiting and where you are entering your personal information.

Here are my top five (5) tips for you to consider as you make your giving plan of action in 2015:

1. Remember that donations come in many forms, but both cash and appreciated securities are tax deductible if given to a nonprofit organization immediately

2. As a donor you should have received an acknowledgement of your donation via a receipt and/or thank you note from the nonprofit organization; if you did not receive one for donations made in 2013 call and request one -- and you will need one if the donation is over $250 in order for it to be deductible

3. If your financial resources are "tight," you can donate gifts-in-kind (i.e., food, clothing, furniture, etc.) which can be of great assistance to those in need and can also be counted as a charitable donation, although the IRS rules are a bit stricter (i.e., you need to list the items, the condition they are in, etc.)

4. If you receive a tax refund from the government, consider donating all or a portion of it to charity

5. Another option if your funds are limited, when you go to the post office to buy stamps, purchase an extra book and donate it to your favorite charity/cause; if you are a small business owner, when you order a box of reams of paper have one sent to your favorite nonprofit

Bonus Tip: Think about products that are needed on a daily basis by nonprofit organizations such as paper towels, Kleenex, toilet paper, coffee, reams of paper, etc. The next time you are shopping or placing an order, consider purchasing an extra can of coffee, roll of paper towels, box of copy paper, etc. and donating it to your favorite cause.

By doing any of these, you will be Making A Difference (M.A.D.)! Happy New Year wishes and may 2015 be the best year for charitable giving!!