Bell ringer Carolyn Harper points to two ways to donate by smartphone to the Salvation Army’s annual holiday Red Kettle campaign on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, on Nov. 15. Cashless shoppers have a new option to give to the fundraising campaign this year using their smartphones. Leaders hope adding Apple and Google payment options will boost fundraising, which makes up 10 percent of The Salvation Army’s annual budget. Those donations fund programs providing housing, food and other support to people in poverty. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Bell ringer Carolyn Harper points to two ways to donate by smartphone to the Salvation Army’s annual holiday Red Kettle campaign on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, on Nov. 15. Cashless shoppers have a new option to give to the fundraising campaign this year using their smartphones. Leaders hope adding Apple and Google payment options will boost fundraising, which makes up 10 percent of The Salvation Army’s annual budget. Those donations fund programs providing housing, food and other support to people in poverty. (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Editorial: Extend gift-giving to charities that do good work

Charitable giving is down slightly, so Giving Tuesday is a timely reminder of what we can do.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Following the post-Thanksgiving shopping binge of Black Friday through Cyber Monday, maybe we need something like Giving Tuesday as a palate cleanser — or maybe more accurately — a loosening of our belts.

Certainly, the act of donating our money or time can bring positive benefits for our communities and the larger world; and make us feel good, too.

Giving Tuesday, a coordinated effort now in its seventh year, serves as a reminder of the good that our charitable giving can do with some suggestions of worthy organizations and efforts that take those gifts and use them to make a difference.

A reminder may be needed.

Total charitable giving increased by less than 1 percent in 2018 to a total of $427.71 billion, but adjusted for inflation, that amount represents a 1.7 percent decline from 2017, according to Giving USA’s annual report on philanthropy, released earlier this year. Contributions from individuals — which comprise about 68 percent of all giving — declined by a little more than 1 percent from the year prior. At the same time, contributions from charitable foundations — the second-largest source of gifts at 18 percent — increased by 4.7 percent to $75.86 billion in 2018, while gifts from corporations — the smallest source at 5 percent and $20 billion of the total — increased by 2.3 percent. The remaining 9 percent of giving — $39.8 billion from bequests — was down 2.3 percent, adjusted for inflation.

While one year’s data shouldn’t be mistaken for a trend, the consensus in media accounts, including Forbes, was that a factor in the lagging growth in donations — in particular from individuals — was a result of federal tax reforms adopted in 2017, which doubled the standard deduction for most Americans but reduced the incentive to itemize deductions and declare donations to charity on tax returns.

There is legislation in Congress that would restore the charitable tax break. The Charitable Giving Tax Deduction Act would allow those filing taxes to reduce their gross income by the amount they donate to charity. But the bill hasn’t advanced past a referral to committee back in January.

But a tax break isn’t the main reason most of us give to charity; it’s only one of five factors noted by two researchers who wrote about their analysis regarding charity in a commentary published Sunday in The Herald. Just as important — if not more so than the tax break — the pair wrote that our decisions to donate comes from trust in the organization receiving the gift; altruism and a concern for others; out of a feeling of social responsibility among friends and family; and because it can make us feel good about ourselves.

Just as we decide on how to spend our money — and our time — on the gifts that we buy for loved ones, we also have to spend some time in deciding where our donations and volunteer hours will go. Much of that is guided by our personal preferences for what’s important in our lives, including church, youth activities, community foundations, service clubs, environmental groups and other interests among numerous charities.

The Giving Tuesday website offers help in that search.

But closer to home:

Among the local groups that have organized a related drive, SCGive.org, a fundraising drive for the Stanwood-Camano Island communities has set a goal of raising $65,600 during the 24 hours of Giving Tuesday, with several groups benefiting from the drive.

A full list of charitable organizations and efforts in Snohomish County, with online links and contact information, is available at tinyurl.com/HeraldWays2Give.

And many employers offer payroll deductions — commitments to which are often renewed or begun at the end of the year — to groups such as United Way of Snohomish County, which aids a number of organizations and groups in the county.

But charity also requires some care, especially when some look to take advantage of our generosity. People should be especially wary of phone calls and emails requesting donations, as those often are used in scams. A donation to a charity that you contact is often safer, as it allows you more control and an opportunity to review where your money is going.

The Secretary of State’s website offers links on a number of charity watchdogs, that rate and review charities.

Among the most useful are:

The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, www.give.org, which accredits charities and offers reports to donors on hundreds of charities, rating them on governance, effectiveness, finances and fundraising practices; and

Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org, which also offers ratings and information on charities, scoring most on the percentage of donations that go toward programs instead of overhead and also on the charity’s accountability and transparency. It also offers tips on smart giving.

Nearly everyone enjoys having found and given the “perfect gift” to a loved one; that same feeling results when giving to a charity or organization we know will make the most of that donation.

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