≡ Menu

Charitable Contributions: Deciding Where to Give

I’ve noticed recently that more and more stores are raising money for different organizations, one dollar at a time. They also seem to be asking for more personal information.

Inevitably after making a transaction at the checkout counter, the questions begin:

“Would you like to give us your mailing address?”

“Your e-mail address?”

“A sample of your DNA?”

“Would you like to make a one dollar donation to the poor and starving children’s fund?”

Now, at this point I don’t want to either look like a Scrooge or act like one. Nor do I want to give away any personal information or give my charitable donations one dollar at a time.

“Mom, why don’t you want to give any money to the poor and starving children’s fund?”, my nine year old asks me. “Don’t you care about children that don’t have anything to eat”, she wonders, her sad puppy eyes looking up to her Mom. The same Mom who is trying to instill values and compassion in her daughter.

I also find at this time of year our mail box is filled with letters from different organizations soliciting funds. There are many worthy causes out there. It’s sometimes difficult to know where to donate.

These are our personal rules for charitable giving.

1) Confirm the organization is a registered Canadian charity.

You can confirm that a charity is a registered Canadian charity on the CRA website. The CRA has stringent guidelines for registered charities and non-profits. Every year more there are more applications for charitable status and every year there are organizations whose charitable status is revoked. Be sure to check regularly. One other issue to watch out for is the specific name of the charity. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation is a legitimate registered charity. The Canadian Women’s Breast Cancer Foundation has had their chartable status revoked and can no longer issue receipts.

2) Research how the funding is allocated.

You can do specific searches for charities on the CRA website. There you can see funding budgets and what percentage of funds goes towards specific areas. You can also find out how they raise funds, how much money is coming in and what percentage goes towards fundraising and salaries. It’s a great way to find out where your charitable giving goes.

3) Give in a way that aligns with your values.

There are thousands of worthy charities and non-profits in Canada. Give where your values are and in ways that you support where the money is being spent. Not particularly religious? You may not want to donate to an organization that spends a lot of it funding on missions. Have cancer or heart disease in your family? You may want to support something that supports research in a specific area.

4) Have a plan for how much you want to give and who you’ll give to.

If you have a plan and a budget for your charitable giving, it’s a lot easier to turn down other requests. It’s one of the other reasons I don’t like to donate a dollar at a time. We track our spending and if I added a dollar every time I shopped, it would appear I spend nothing on charitable giving and my grocery budget increased. This way we have a plan and can track how much is left if our budget for charitable giving.

5) Get an official tax receipt.

I’ve heard people argue that it’s not true giving if you’re doing it for the tax write-off. Regardless of whether you claim your receipt or not, the charitable organization needs to give you a receipt. This keeps the charity or non-profit accountable to the CRA. It also ensures your money is going where you want it to go.

Final Thoughts

We don’t give to organizations who solicit door to door or by phone. We also don’t give at stores that would like to add a dollar to our purchase. Sure, they may be doing great work but I like to budget for our charitable giving, claim the deduction and I’d rather not give the credit for giving to a corporation.

Later I explain to my daughter that we do give to many different organizations. I tell her a little about each so she’ll understand that we making donating our time and resources a priority and we give in a way that aligns with our values.

This is not about whether you should be giving to charity. It’s for those who’d like to give but want to make sure their funds are being used wisely.

For more on the tax implications and deductions of charitable giving, check out these posts.

Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

If you would like to read more articles like this, you can sign up for my free newsletter service below (we will not spam you).

About the author: Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.

{ 34 comments… add one }
  • cannon_fodder December 15, 2009, 9:41 am

    If I remember correctly, you need to contribute at least $20 on a lump sum in order to get a receipt. Hence, contributing a dollar here or there doesn’t net you the “reward” from the government.

    I convinced my wife to stop throwing an item into the food drive box every time she went shopping. My reasoning was that a monetary contribution would be better for all concerned. The food bank would receive money so that it could buy what it needed most and at a prearranged discount rate thus netting it more. And, we would now receive a tax credit meaning we could donate more. Our local food bank accepts a monthly preauthorized withdrawal and sends us a tax receipt at the end of the year.

    Personally, I prefer supporting charities that save rather than “just” help lives. Then, I prefer helping those that are unlikely to get much help from others – the most neglected sorts. Children are especially important to me.

  • Connie December 15, 2009, 9:49 am

    I have stopped giving unless I have pre thought it out. The exception is when I see a homeless person, I will buy them lunch.

    We give a regular amount to certain charities. And a regular amount at our church. I give to people I know going through a difficult time regularly.

    The one thing I do that makes me feel good and helps the charity greatly. Is that I collect points on various programs. I must admit I work the system pretty hard. The manager of one store knows when there is a bonus event I will be there getting all the best deals. I then buy what the charity needs with the points, drop it off with my receipts and in January I get a tax receipt on the value of the goods.

  • The Reverend December 15, 2009, 10:25 am

    I had a co-worker once who would do his taxes every year to find out what his tax refund would be. Then he’d do them again assuming he didn’t make any of the charitable contributions. Whatever the difference was, he’d take that amount out of his refund and add it on to his donations in the next year.

    He put his money where his mouth is when it comes to giving for the sake of giving, not for the sake of a tax deduction.

  • Michael James December 15, 2009, 10:35 am

    I’m always amazed at how consistently people give the information store clerks ask for. When asked for my postal code or some other piece of information, I usually just say cheerfully, “I don’t think you need that.” But almost everyone in line ahead of me just gives the information to the clerk.

  • saveING.ca This is why I signed up with ING Direct December 15, 2009, 11:17 am

    No time to research charities? With 83,000 charities in Canada and 40 auditors, it’s tough for auditors to police the entire sector. No background checks are done on people who set up new charities, or on those running existing charities.

    cheers,
    MG

  • Ramona December 15, 2009, 11:28 am

    And the dollar at the cash is starting to become 2 dollars. It amazes me how programmed the cashiers are. I literally ran into an office supply place, purchased stick pins worth $2.37, only to have the cashier say “and would you like to make a $2 donation to blah, blah.” Really? Did I look like I had the time or inclination to do so? I find it super irritating. My husband was asked for his postal code at the grocery store, and when he politely declined, the cashier did not know how to proceed with the transaction. Don’t we have the privacy legislation in Canada? How come these practices are allowed?

  • Scott December 15, 2009, 11:48 am

    @ Ramona: um…let’s see…oh, right — it is YOU who is entering their place of business, YOU are coming to THEM, not the other way around. They can conduct their business in what ever fashion they want — that includes asking for any and all your personal information. Don’t want to divulge? Politely decline. Easy. Has nothing to do with privacy legislation.

    And for those who do give to charities (keeping on topic)…do you require some form of “validation” to know your money is being used? Example being a monthly newsletter or a photo of the charity recipient etc.? Or do you simply give on ‘good faith’?

    I give to multiple charities annually but it’s kind of weird that many of us would do hours of research if we were going to buy $100 in stock of company ABC but do extremely little, if any, research on spending the same amount on charities.

  • Big Cajun Man December 15, 2009, 11:54 am

    Excuse me sir, you just spent $178.32 on your groceries, surely you can spare $2 to support the Disabled Left Handed Cheese Straighteners Benevolant Fund, couldn’ t you?

    No thank you….

    I give to charities that I know a lot about, and I support, and I have taken some off my list (a Rehab Program suddenly turned into a Phone Marketing firm, so they went away).

    You want to do something really whacky, instead of giving $5 to someone door to door? If you are at a Drive Thru Coffee place, pay for the person behind you in line as well!

  • Direct response December 15, 2009, 1:25 pm

    Since I used to be one of those volunteers who went door to door asking for money for charity ( cancer, MS, kidney),I know how difficult it is to find time to do this and moreso to actually ask a stranger to help a charity. It is not easy. So please consider the people who take the time and effort to do this. I always give at the door even though it may only be $20. It is the least we can do for those that make that huge effort to help a charity as well as the charity itself

  • Brendan December 15, 2009, 2:08 pm

    I never give to any solicited charities. I have a couple that I contribute to.
    I agree with Ramona it is irritating to be hit up for a donation in a store, and I am not sure what Scotts issues are but if it is the same Scott who posts comments , I find them usually pointless, and not usually being very useful.

    The only exception to solicited charity is when the neighbors kid knocks on the door selling overpriced chocolate. I usually buy because I have a weakness for chocolate, and the kid is making an effort.

    But any charity related to homeless, or food banks, i decline. It’s called get off your ass and get a job. There is LOTS of work out there.

  • cannon_fodder December 15, 2009, 2:13 pm

    Direct response,

    One of the issues with the door-to-door people is that we may literally get hit 3 or 4 times by the same charity during the same drive. Think about if you and your spouse work – usually someone is on a ride or walkathon to help secure funds. Or, someone’s child is working with their school to raise funds.

    That’s why its an unintended benefit of the poppies around the time of Remembrance Day. Wearing the poppy not only shows you that you’ve taken even a little time to think about those who have sacrificed the utmost, but it also acts as a sign stating that you’ve contributed.

  • mp December 15, 2009, 2:23 pm

    I’ve run into clerks who don’t know how to override the “must get postal code” before proceeding. So I just make up a postal code. KIA 0A6 is the Parliament Hill postal code so I give that. Then there’s the CBC postal code, so sometimes I give that.

    That being said, I have pre-authorized debits for select charities that I have decided to give to on a monthly basis spreading it out over the year, I set aside $ for the children in my extended family who need sponsors for this read-a-thon or that bowl-a-thon that comes up in the school year. And I set aside money for those charities at Christmas time who are helping people in my local community.
    And to Brendan, there are a lot of people out there working their butts off at minimum wage or low wage jobs who are having a tough time making ends meet and end up using food banks. So you may wish to stop generalizing or making assumptions and stereotypes.

  • Colin Aikman December 15, 2009, 2:29 pm

    I read this blog quite often, and thought I would mention a different way to give. Call it self-serving, but I think it’s relevant to this article.

    In early 2009, we started a new Canadian company called Aura Collective (www.auracollective.com) which sells handmade Canadian art and fine craft online. We support Canadian artists and charities by donating 15% of the purchase price to the charity of the customer’s choice. The customer can nominate any of the registered charities in Canada (from 85,000) during checkout so the donation can be as “local” as you wish.

    So the customer nominates the charity, and the customer supports Canadian artists at the same time by purchasing handmade items created in Canada. This is quite different than other retailers because the donation goes to your preferred charity – not the retailers. Yes, Aura makes the donation (not the customer) but it comes out of Aura’s margin and not the artists. This is the reason artists join Aura.

    The charity receives the entire donation as stated during checkout and Aura donates through CanadaHelps.org so the donations are made by a reputable 3rd party. And the customer receives an email confirming the donation has been made within 21 days of making the purchase.

    We do have a few partner charities like Habitat For Humanity (we offer discounts to supporters) but you can donate to whichever charity you wish.

    My apologies for sounding self-serving, but we seek to encourage greater uptake of Canadian fine craft by Canadians as well as thinking about charitable donation as a daily endeavour. It is incumbent on retailers to make a difference every day.

  • Brendan December 15, 2009, 2:32 pm

    MP, dont go there tough guy.

    My “main” job doesnt provide enough income for my needs, so guess what, I work a second job, for a combined total of 58-72 hours per week on average. Food bank not required.

    My main job affords me the opportunity to actually see how these people having a tough time making ends meet live.

    I notice a common list of things:

    1. beer
    2. Cigarettes
    3. Large HDTV in living room
    4. Guitar hero, and RockBand

    Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.

    So, MP, go fish, and merry x mas

  • Dana December 15, 2009, 2:40 pm

    We also don’t donate to door-to-door canvassers. We have specific charities that we support with our time and with our money and we give a designated amount to them each year. That being said, we give money to the legion for poppies each year and to our children (and friend’s kids) who are fundraising for school. We do donate to food drives through our local school as our local food bank is our daughter’s favourite cause.

    When I am asked for personal information in the check-out line, I politely decline. Sometimes, the clerk can’t figure out how to proceed with the transaction or starts explaining the reasoning behind requesting my personal information, so I make up a postal code so I don’t hold up the line. I usually say K1M 1M4 as a friend of mine told me it is the postal code to Sussex drive.

  • Ms Save Money December 15, 2009, 2:50 pm

    hmmm. Curious – so how’d you explain why you weren’t donating money to the poor starving children to your daughter, Kathyrn?

  • Kathryn December 15, 2009, 2:50 pm

    I love the idea of using the postal code for parliament or Sussex Drive. I usually provide my postal code if asked but never any other information. It drives me crazy when the cashier reads my name on my credit card then thanks me by name. It makes me want to pay in cash just to keep my privacy!

    We stopped participating in the fund raisers at school too. I do not need more chocolate in this house. Instead we write a cheque every year directly to the school. It’s win win. They get some money, we get a tax deduction and I can avoid the temptation!

  • Kathryn December 15, 2009, 2:52 pm

    Ms Save Money: When we got home I showed her a photo of the little girl we support through Compassion Canada. She was so excited about it that now she is the one who writes the sponsor letters. My daughter now has a penpal in India. I also shared with her a little about all the other charities we support and why we choose to give to each one.

  • Pat December 15, 2009, 2:55 pm

    What really gets me about the store donation questions is the fact that the store is going to turn around and publicize themselves for having raised all this money for (insert good cause here). Maybe they throw some money of their own in, maybe not, but the publicity is most certainly entirely on them and how great they are.

    Sorry, I’m just very skeptical of the need to publicize donations. Seems as though anymore it’s more about the person/entity giving than whoever it is intended to benefit.

  • Brendan December 15, 2009, 3:10 pm

    Further to school donations, my neighbor had a good idea I think.

    When he landscaped his yard he approached a local high school to “hire” kids from the sports teams to help with his yard.

    He paid them in the 12-15 dollar an hour range for their work.

    At the end of the day he saved money and the school teams got a nice check that went directly to the teams that put in the labour.
    They purchased new uniforms, and equipment.

    Capitalism they way it should work. Those that didn’t want to work, didn’t eat fish.
    Those that were willing to work were rewarded.

  • Ramona December 15, 2009, 3:12 pm

    Hey guys, thanks for the idea about the postal code – I’ll share that with my husband so he has an answer going forward.

  • sco December 15, 2009, 3:17 pm

    I think charity is something that the government should do. The charities should be managed by government. I would agree with a charity tax (let’s say 5% of income) and each individual deciding where the money should go.
    Until then, my charity donations are zero and I ignore all requests.

  • Brendan December 15, 2009, 5:25 pm

    SCO I hope you are kidding?
    You WANT another 5% off your pay check?

    No thanks, i’ll pass, and please never consider running for politics.

    I prefer to spend my own money.

  • Laptop Briefcases December 15, 2009, 6:22 pm

    This is a timely post for me as my mom has offered to donate some money on our behalf as part of our Christmas present. So I have been looking into various charities to see who could most benefit from this donation.

    As for sco’s comment….I don’t think governments should have anything to do with charities. There is too much corruption in government to properly distribute such donations. Most people would be quite against a forced charity donation.

  • CanDad December 15, 2009, 7:02 pm

    Just thought I’d share this: http://www.bestbuy.ca/marketing/charityvote/en/default.asp

    Vote for your favourite charity and Best Buy will donate $20,000 to them.

  • cannon_fodder December 15, 2009, 8:37 pm

    Laptop,

    On 2 different Christmases our family “bought” livestock through World Vision Canada. Much like Brendan’s statement of feeding them for life rather than a day.

  • PG December 16, 2009, 2:24 am

    I have a standard answer to those who ask for $1 or $2 at the cash register, to telemarketers asking for funds, and for those who solicit door to door. My response is, “I budgetted my charitable donations at the beginning of the year. If you would like me to consider you for next year, you can contact me on January 1.”

    Likewise, I say to those trying to sell me $100 lotto tickets that if I wanted to give a financial donation, (heart/cancer,hospital) I would do so without helping to fund the winning prizes.

    I give significant amounts to charities that I value – to me, it is a significant sacrifice and a significant percentage of my income. I research those charities and reject those who have high management expense ratios. Most of my charities are smaller organizations, including my church, the local food bank, and foreign relief aid and development. I also budget for overpriced food from school fundraisers (meat, cheese, chocolate), and for friends/family members/church members who are raising funds for a charity. I also encourage people to act in compassion towards others, but to do so as they are able.

  • Anom December 16, 2009, 11:28 am

    Couple of my personal beefs with World Vision

    We donate via a foster child

    my questions

    1. Are there any studies that shows these plans help thenext generation of kids without support?

    2. More of a beef, but despite politely asking them not to continue sending glossy ads asking for more money they still do

    On the tims and grocery store front. –> who gets the write off fromy $1 donation? If it is the store then I guess I will start my own charity

  • Ms Save Money December 16, 2009, 11:25 pm

    @ Kathyrn – how cute – that’s a great way to teach kids :)

  • mp December 17, 2009, 1:11 am

    Poor Brendan. Someone challenges his stereotypes and assumptions and he has to get his arms up.

    I’ve worked with people who are having tough times. There’s no more greater proportion of lazy people among those having tough times and need a helping hand than there are in any income stream.

    BTW Brendan, I ain’t no guy.

  • Doctor Stock December 20, 2009, 2:17 am

    Nice.. I was just discussing what I’m going to do for 2010 – some good principles here, thanks!

  • steve December 20, 2009, 2:43 pm

    thanks for this tips. everybody is out to get a buck these days so you never know what’s legit or not

  • FinanciallySmart December 31, 2009, 10:20 pm

    Yes we should always make sure that these Charitable Organizations are legitimate. Over the past year there have been an upsurge of these organizations and we don’t want to give our money to persons who are defrauding us in the name of Charity. Thank you for a wonderful article.

  • Brenda Pike January 6, 2010, 4:04 pm

    Peter Singer gives some good advice in his book The Life You Can Save. I recently followed it to bump my charitable contributions to 5%. I’m giving my money to charities in the developing world and my time to local ones. That feels like a nice balance. I also researched the actual effectiveness of charities through Givewell.org and the Jamal Poverty Action Lab at MIT, to make sure my money goes as far as possible. It’s nice to see some scientific thinking brought to bear on this topic.

Leave a Comment