Making the Most of Your Charitable Donations

by Nicole Johnson-Scales


Nicole Johnson-Scales is senior vice president of community development, at Fifth Third Bank Chicago.

‘Tis the season for giving! The holidays are a time for giving thanks and an important time to remember those less fortunate in your community.

With so many good causes and organizations out there, how do you pick the right one? Here are some tips on how to make the most out of charitable donations during the holidays and throughout the year:


1) Follow your heart. Pick a charity or non-profit organization you are passionate about. Not only will your donation help that organization, but choosing a cause you deeply care about will make the gift more meaningful to you.

2) Try to have impact. You probably get requests all the time from neighbors, colleagues and even at the grocery store to support local causes and fundraisers. Five dollars or $20 here and there to support your friends and family and their activities is totally fine as long as it fits your budget. But if you really want to make an impact through charitable giving, pick the top two or three charities you care about the most and divide your donation amounts among them. By focusing your donations on a few causes, your money will go further to help those in need. 

3) It is okay to say no. No one likes to say no, but it is impossible to support every request you may receive.  Be respectful to the organizations you cannot support and let them know honestly that you are contributing to other causes. This will help you prioritize your giving, and it actually will help the non-profit focus its fundraising efforts on other potential donors. Remember, wasting an organization’s time can be worse than saying no.

4) Do your homework. Besides picking a charity you are passionate about, research the organization. Review its annual report to see how the organization is doing financially and how donations are being used. You also can review financial information for charities through your local Better Business Bureau.

5) Don’t wait until the end of the year.  The holiday season is a popular time to donate, but non-profits need support year-round. Consider donating earlier in the year to help organizations offset costs and to help manage your budget before holiday expenses start rolling in.

6) Get the whole family involved. Be an example for your children. Kids learn how to be charitable by watching their parents, and you can help pass on philanthropic behavior by involving your kids in the giving process. Let them pick the charity or encourage them to donate toys or clothing to a local non-profit to get more involved. 

7) Volunteer. Non-profit organizations always need volunteers for programs, services and events. Donating your time will help you gain exposure to the organization you support, and you also can see in action how your donations are being used.

8) Be creative in your holiday gift giving. Depending on the individual, a donation to a valued charity may be the perfect gift. Many organizations enable you to gift a donation on behalf of a family member or friend. 

9) Consider non-cash assets as donations. Beyond traditional cash or check donations, some organizations can accept publicly traded stocks, appreciated real estate and even valuable art or collectibles in the form of donations. Your tax professional or financial advisor can help you understand your options, potential tax advantages and requirements associated with these types of donations.

Above all else, any way you can support those in need is an important part of helping your community to grow and succeed.

Nicole Johnson-Scales is senior vice president of Community Development at Fifth Third Bank Chicago.

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