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What, where, how: Your 3-step philanthropic plan

While charitable giving offers a multitude of advantages – both for organizations and donors – it is best approached with a disciplined plan. Most of us aren’t that strategic. But not doing so is like spending without a budget: You may benefit from temporary feelings of satisfaction, but at the end of the year when you weigh your income against your outlays – you wonder where all of your money went.

With charitable giving, we receive the most emotional benefit when we feel that our donations make a difference. And, we get the most financial benefit by aligning our charitable goals with a tax and estate planning strategy.

With this in mind, consider this 3-step strategy for developing your philanthropic plan:

  1. What do you want to achieve?
    Some people are mainly looking for a tax break, while others care more about how their money can make a difference in other people’s lives. For most donors, the goal is a combination of both. But philanthropy can mean more than just writing a check. Do you have a valuable skill that would be of great service to a charitable organization? Would volunteering your time give you a greater sense of satisfaction than simply giving money? Are you committed to ensuring that your and other donors’ contributions do more than just pay overhead expenses? The first step to creating a strategic philanthropic plan is to examine exactly what it is you hope to achieve.
  2. Where do you want to focus your philanthropy?
    You may have one or more specific causes that tug at your heart strings, or just know that you want to give back to help others less fortunate. It’s important during this step to seek out information from professionals and organizations that support your charitable efforts. In fact, the more money you wish to give, the better the due diligence you should conduct to ensure your assets are used most effectively. Research organizations that pique your interest and the management structures that run them. Even after you have made your selection(s), periodically review the charitable organization’s goals and procedures to ensure they remain aligned with your own.
  3. How do you want to accomplish your goals?
    The “how” question is very important, because it is the key to maximizing your financial contribution both for you and your chosen beneficiaries. It’s important to work with a financial advisor in concert with tax and estate planning professionals with extensive philanthropic planning experience. Your strategy should not only meet your philanthropic goals, but maximize your financial situation – integrating both tax and estate plans with investment growth opportunities. Furthermore, your plan should comply with federal and state laws, and address all income, estate and gift-tax consequences.


A philanthropic plan goes further than an estate plan. It’s a representation of who you are and what you believe in, so take the time to think it through with specific goals to create a lasting legacy.

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