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NerdWallet: How to give more and give better—all year round

This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet

2020 asked a lot from us. We faced new challenges and reckoned with old ones, and often the world’s problems collided with our own individual needs. Help — whether in donations or even just attention — might’ve been hard to give when you required some yourself.

If your finances are in better shape this giving season, you can be more strategic with your dollars. The same issues you felt strongly about last year may not be on your priority list now. Perhaps the reverse is true — you’re more determined than ever to support the causes you care about.

Here are tips on prioritizing causes, supporting them effectively and making room in your wallet for sustained giving.

Related: How to do good for others while helping your finances, too—a year-end guide to charitable giving

Your priorities can shape your plan

Write down the two or three causes that matter most to you, whether it’s a global issue like slowing down climate change or something closer to home, like supporting your local animal shelter. This is the start of your giving plan. If you’re anything like me, a giving plan may serve as a guidepost for your dollars when tragic news events clamor for your attention or injured puppy photos on your social media feed play on your emotions. I end up making impulsive donations, which are helpful and feel good at the moment, but they’re easy to forget and don’t make a lasting impact.

You might also go bigger and really focus on your values in the giving plan, using them as fuel to be more intentional and proactive with your efforts beyond the holidays.

Think about the kind of philanthropist you want to be in 2022 and then plan for it, says Holly Belkot, manager of strategic giving at GlobalGiving, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that supports other nonprofits by connecting them to donors and companies.

Planning doesn’t just apply to monetary donations or time spent volunteering. Say you care about climate change. Belkot suggests setting yourself a goal of learning something new about the effects of environmental damage in January, watching a documentary about deforestation in February and so on.

A small, regular donation can make a big impact

One powerful way to champion your favorite cause is through small, recurring donations.

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“Recurring donations are the lifeblood of nonprofits,” says Soraya Alexander, chief operating officer at Classy, a digital fundraising platform for nonprofits based in San Diego, California. Alexander says the majority of one-time donors do not come back to support a nonprofit, and it’s a resource-intensive process for the organization to find new ones.

For millennials, she says, who are both passionate about sustained giving and already used to Netflix-style NFLX, -0.03% subscription payments, recurring donations are an easy way to make a big impact. “Ten dollars a month is going to have higher payoff for the organization and should make it easier for you to give a greater amount than you might normally feel comfortable with.”

Just as a monthly budget allows you to plan your spending, these donations allow nonprofits to plan operations for the year. Since many organizations automatically sign up regular donors to receive newsletters or project updates, recurring donations also allow you to stay engaged with the group.

Also see: Some ETFs mix investing with charities — should you?

How to choose which organization to support

You’ve got your giving plan in hand and know the importance of recurring donations. Now how do you actually choose where to send your money?

“It can be really overwhelming when you care about something but you don’t know what the ‘right’ nonprofit is to support,” Belkot says.

Also see: ‘Hunger isn’t a scarcity issue’: This startup diverts excess food from executive dining rooms to hungry people

To solve this conundrum, GlobalGiving selects a handful of nonprofits working on the same issue and groups them together into a “fund” that individuals can donate to. Examples include a Girl Fund, aimed at improving the lives of girls around the world, or a Climate Action Fund. Donations are divided equally among the nonprofits, she says.

Another way to stay engaged and support causes you care about is through socially responsible investing, where you back companies making an impact on your chosen issue.

Technology can also play a role in helping you decide where to donate, says Wale Mafolasire, CEO of Givelify, a mobile app that facilitates donations to churches and nonprofits, based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Givelify’s approach is similar to GlobalGiving’s funds. The company uses artificial intelligence to group nonprofit organizations into causes within the app, says Mafolasire. Givelify also highlights “trending causes” for users to choose from.

Resources like Charity Navigator, Candid (formerly GuideStar) and your local Community Foundation website also are good ways to vet nonprofits and pick ones that resonate with you.

Don’t miss: Reddit asks, ‘What’s surprised you the most about the pandemic?’ People have plenty to say

Don’t overthink it and stress yourself out looking for the “right” organization, Alexander says. “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Your dollars will do good.”

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Amrita Jayakumar writes for NerdWallet. Email: ajayakumar@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ajbombay.

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