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The Gift of Effective Giving: Learning how to donate wisely

Aristotle, perhaps the first philosophizing philanthropist once said, “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 power nor an easy matter.” Then came the Internet. Today it’s certainly easier than ever to donate money, but sharing the wealth isn’t always safe and sound. When one can donate in an instant, across the world, without even talking to a human being, the risk to donors of being taken advantage of is constant.

While many people opt to donate online, via text and over the phone, it’s important to make sure the money you donate is going as far as it can. With so many options at your fingers tips, budding philanthropists can benefit from these tips on effective giving that will ensure your donations will go far and leave you confident with your contribution to community.

Do your research. Feel passionate about a cause? Check it out online and in person. There are over 1 million ­– yes, million – charitable organizations in the world, so making sure you’re familiar with an organization’s mission, finances and positive impact on the community is a must. A nonprofit should have transparent financial documents, so you can see where your money will potentially be going to, what their major expenses are and if it’s the right fit for you. While it seems obvious, making sure your donation is tax deductible before donating is imperative to giving effectively. Volunteer for an organization as a hands-on approach to determine if you like and respect it.

Don’t go it alone. Working with a local financial institution, such as iBERIABANK (multiple local locations, IberiaBank.com), will give you the option of consulting with a financial advisor and experts who already have solid contacts and partnerships in the charitable field.

Relying on an advisor’s recommendations and evidence of successful, reputable nonprofits will give you the reassurance that your money is being used as best as it can be. While lawyers would suit best, those wishing to make bequests, for instance leaving a lump sum or estate to a historic foundation, banks can also play a large part in the support of nonprofits. iBERIABANK is known for reinvesting in the community by supporting charitable, educational, cultural and business development efforts, as well as encouraging volunteerism among their associates, so they’re well versed in the art of philanthropy. They are an economic accelerator of the Idea Village, a nonprofit that helps new businesses start from the ground up. While many people wait until retirement to donate, that isn’t necessary. If you trust a bank enough to handle your money and investments, why not approach them about the best way to donate to charity too?

Go Local. Established in 1923 as the New Orleans Community Chest, today The Greater New Orleans Foundation (1055 St. Charles Ave., 598-4663, gnof.org) promotes responsible philanthropy by connecting like-minded donors to each other and to community needs. The foundation makes it easy to donate wisely by identifying and supporting organizationally effective nonprofits and designing and executing initiatives to help the New Orleans metropolitan area. The best way to give is by supporting nonprofits with “a clear sense of identity – it must know who it is and what it does in relationship to the community,” explains GNOF president, Joann Ricci. Together with her professional team, GNOF relies on years of experience, research and financial and ethical principles to form respectful partnerships with nonprofits that fulfill their missions “through good management, strong governance and programs that make a difference.”

Write a Mission Statement. Still, with so many different ways to give and so many organizations in search of funds, donating can still seem a daunting task. One way to eliminate such stress is by writing a personal mission statement. Whether you’re creating a donor-advised fund or simply donating to an existing fund, writing a document that states what you want to accomplish with your donation and how will ultimately guide you to a more valuable contribution. With a slew of professional advisors, grant making, corporate partnerships and expertise, the Greater New Orleans Foundation makes it easy to set up a fund or donate with an impact. They even have the IMPACT program, which makes grants to organizations serving the New Orleans area in six areas: Arts & Culture, Youth Development, Civic Engagement, Education, Health and Human & Social Services. Feel passionately about the environment? GNOF also supports giving in this area through The Gulf Oil Spill Fund and the Environmental Fund, among others. The experienced professionals at GNOF are imperative resources for those wishing to maximize financial opportunities while also contributing to charities about which they feel passionately. One look at all that GNOF has to offer and you may certainly feel overwhelmed. There are, after all, so many ways to give – from donor advised funds to estate planning – but the GNOF professional team tailors financial plans for every donor, offers maximum tax advantages and pools donor funds overlooked by financial managers so they can be used more effectively in the community. All investments are overlooked by a Board of Trustees and Financial Committee, and the investment performance is available online, so you can be certain where donations are going.

Choose Your Path. How do you want to give? It is important to ask yourself what your philanthropic goals are and consult an advisor, lawyer and family members before selecting a means of giving. Gifts of cash, life insurance, securities and real estate can benefit your family for years to come, but deciding which is a matter of what’s right for your family’s livelihood. Planned Giving, or bequesting an estate, has benefits such as reducing your income tax and federal estate tax, not to mention increasing income, bypassing capital gains taxes and conserving assets for your heirs in years to come. Gift Annuity Programs, contracts that allow you to receive payments from an entity in exchange for a donation of money or other assets, can be quite beneficial to your family and to the organizations you wish to support. You can make discussing your options fun for the family with GNOF’s book, Giving While Living: Lafayette the French Quarter Cat, a fun New Orleans tale of two friends and planned giving. An effective organization should always offer documents and resources about such giving options. For material donations, always make sure to have your assets valued by a professional before giving for maximum tax benefits. When working with a foundation, donors should also understand the difference in types of funds. For instance, Donor-Advised Funds allow you to be involved in active grantmaking, while Unrestricted Funds allow a foundation to do the grantmaking. Field of Interest Funds allow you to donate to a general cause, be it education or the environment. Scholarship Funds may benefit a single school or set up as you see fit. You can also give directly to a nonprofit or an endowment fund, which secures the future of a nonprofit. Once a fund is set up you can give to it anytime, any amount.

Let faith be your guide. Incorporated in 1938, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (523-3755, ccano.org) offers life-giving programs, advocates for the voiceless and empowers the most vulnerable to foster a more just society. Honoring the legacy of the Ursuline Nuns, who first came to Louisiana in 1727 to care for those in need, Catholic charities carries on the tradition of serving the New Orleans community as a 501(c)3 umbrella agency with over 48 programs – like the incredibly successful Café Hope – that serve the homeless, hungry, the elderly, at-risk youth, pregnant women, individuals with developmental delays and many more. There are various effective ways you can give to Catholic Charities, by donating to their The Archbishop’s Community Appeal (ACA), an annual, volunteer-driven fundraising campaign which supports the work of Catholic Charities, or even offering the gift of prayer. One of the loveliest ways to give is by making a gift in honor or in memory of a loved one. Tribute and Memorial gifts also make nice birthday, wedding and holiday presents. Catholic Charities also supports matching gifts, which allow your donation go twice as far by seeking a matching donation from your company. They also accept in-kind gifts (charitable donations like clothes and appliances), monthly giving and planned giving (for those with authority over an estate).

Give Like a lady. If funding a woman-centric organization that builds a better New Orleans sounds good to you, the Junior League of New Orleans (4319 Carondelet St., 891-5845, jlno.org) is the right fit for you. The Junior League is a nonprofit run and supported by women who are committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable. JLNO programs – like the Edible School Yard and Freret Neighborhood Outreach – serve the at-risk population of New Orleans through charter school outreach, nutritional programming, children’s health services and youth development. They commit over $500,000 each year to their community programs and membership training, with over 2,200 trained women members who commit over 50,000 volunteer hours of community service each year.

the JLNO’s thrift store, Bloomin’ Deals, accepts rummage donations the first Saturday of each month. The JLNO’s savvy variety of fundraising also includes the Buy, Save and Serve coupon book, Fleur de League online Marketplace, cookbooks, 5Ks and more. You can also make a gift to their endowment and find out more about becoming a member online.

Be True to Your School. Alumni, parents and students can make a true difference in the future of higher education by supporting our local universities. Tulane University is the first national research institute to incorporate public service into its undergrad curriculum through a program called Tulane Empowers (865-5000, tulane.edu/empowers), which plays a great part in improving New Orleans with initiatives focused on public education, urban renewal, disaster response and public health. They accept matching contributions from your company, and donations can easily be made online. Contribute to The University of New Orleans Foundation (280-2586, UNOAlumni.com/donate) as a means of private support for the lakefront university known for excellence in research, higher education and community leadership.

You can support the foundation online and also through a tribute or memorial donation. Loyola Loyal Annual Giving Campaign (861-5840, giving.loyola.edu) sponsors a springtime Phonathon, which allows you to give to any specific college or school of study or even a specific program. Over 50 percent of donations given to the Loyola Fund go toward scholarships and student aid. The university even supports a senior-class giving campaign and the Loyola Legacy for leaders with significant investment in Jesuit higher education.

You can also give online, by mail or in person.

Foster a great idea. Formed in 2002 as a nonprofit, The Idea Village (515 Girod St., 304-3284, IdeaVillage.org) implements a long-range plan to build a vibrant entrepreneur ecosystem that fuels economic development through entrepreneurship. The Idea Village achieves its mission to identify, support and retain entrepreneurial talent in New Orleans by supporting the start-up of new entrepreneurial ventures through programs such as The Water Challenge, a collaborative initiative with GNOF focused on nurturing entrepreneurs with high-growth ventures in the water industry and the Tulane Challenge, supporting startups led by those staff and students who are developing technologies in conjunction with Tulane’s Technology Transfer Department.

Volunteer. Undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to give is volunteering your time to a charity and cause you support. One way to give effectively that also works wonders for your health is raising money to run or walk in a 5K, 10K or marathon. Whether you choose to participate in ongoing volunteerism, such as tutoring and reading to an at-risk student with STAIRnola or working one of the days of Jazz Fest, you are contributing to your community and improving not only your own but your city’s well-being, too. Now that’s a philosophy by which to live.

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