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Guide to Informed Giving
Since the monetary requirements for organizations relying on the generosity of donors are no greater during the holidays, why is there a big push for your cash at Christmas?

Appeals for your financial support that sound like this seem to triple over the Christmas season. Since the monetary requirements for organizations relying on the generosity of donors are no greater during the holidays, why is there a big push for your cash at Christmas?

According to Dickens' A Christmas Carol, "Christmas is a time when want is most keenly felt and abundance rejoices." Charities understand that if they present needs during this time of giving and thinking of others, people's hearts will more likely be moved to respond. Christians especially honour the birth of Christ by giving to others.

Many families take food and gifts to local community centres as part of their Christmas traditions. A few exchange only homemade gifts and give the cash they would have spent to charity. Some people add up their Christmas expenses and earmark 10 percent for the poor. Others just treat December's donations as part of their yearly tithing.

In the Bible one sees that tithing goes beyond giving back a tenth to the Lord. Throughout Deuteronomy it is separately labelled as provision for the Levites (priests who look after the church), offering to God the first fruits of the harvest in a banquet or an offering taken to the temple, a charitable tithe, and an annual levy collected by the government. On top of these are sacrifices, special gifts and freewill offerings. With the cancellation of debts every seven years and the Year of Jubilee every 50 years, God clearly instructed his people to distribute their wealth so that provision is made for all.

As well as how much is to be given, the Bible describes recipients of our tithes. Scattered in Deuteronomy are instructions to give to Levites, strangers, orphans, widows, the poor and the needy. This responsibility is made even wider when Jesus talks about the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and those in prison in Matthew 25. Again in Matthew Jesus tells us to make all of our possessions available to anyone in need, saying, "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."

How can you be sure … if your money will be well used?

This pretty much opens the field to any of the 74,000-plus registered charities in Canada, and thousands more non-registered causes competing for your support. Yet it would be impossible to respond to each appeal that reaches your home. So decide which ministries you are drawn to support. Do not feel pressured about leaving support of other causes for people with different interests.

How can you be sure the organization is authentic, or if your money will be well used?

"I'm continually puzzled by how certain individuals get the urge to give without making further inquiries," says Frank Luellau, executive director of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC).

"Some of the scandals we have survived in the last decade—the misuse of funds and moral misconduct—would not have been possible if the people who supported them had been a little bit more wary and careful before making a donation," Luellau says. Never give over the phone to an organization that is new to you. "There should be carefulness and some discrete inquiries."

He suggests that donors ask for a copy of the organization's most recent annual report. How did it spend its budget? Did it carry a large surplus? Are administrative costs more than 20 percent of total expenses? He said that one sure way to guarantee an organization is a responsible steward is to check for the CCCC seal of financial responsibility.

"Make fewer and larger donations instead of many small ones,"

"Don't wait to be asked," advises Gordon Floyd of the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy. "Plan your giving." Floyd recommends creating a yearly donation budget—decide how much you intend to give and where. You can help reduce the costs of fundraising and administration for both the organizations you decide to give to and those you don't. "Make fewer and larger donations instead of many small ones," says Floyd.

Every donation involves several dollars of fixed costs for such things as postage, printing, preparing receipts and bookkeeping.

"When you decide to support a charity, let them know right away," Floyd continues. By doing so, the charity doesn't waste money on unnecessary mailings and telephone calls. Conversely, phone or write and ask to have your name removed from its fund-raising list.

"Consider using the monthly giving plans with convenient automatic withdrawals," suggests Floyd. This saves the cost and bother of repeated appeals as well as spreading donations throughout the year.

Never feel pressured to send money. "You are not obliged to pay for cards, key chains or anything else sent to you as part of a fund-raising appeal," Floyd concludes. "You don't have to return them if you choose not to donate."

"If you give only in order to cash in on the tax credit, you've lost some of the blessing … "

Coming at the end of the fiscal year, Christmas brings an opportunity to ensure that you give in a tax-smart manner. Registered Canadian charities can issue official receipts that will reduce your federal and provincial income taxes. "

"If you give only in order to cash in on the tax credit, you've lost some of the blessing," says Luellau. "If you give only because you feel guilty, you've lost some of the blessing. Generous, selfless and cheerful giving is the blessing," he continues. "It is an act of obedience and worship."




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