Fundraisers call it the “giver’s high”.  Whether you give $50 or $5,000 to charity each year, it should give you a proud, warm feeling of ‘doing good’. However, almost all of us have experienced the opposite: the feeling of being guilted into giving. In the past my family and I were constantly being solicited by charities – by mail, by phone, by email, at work, on the street and at our own front door. While I didn’t often say “No” I felt guilty when I did. As a result we ended up giving donations to almost every organization that asked. Ironically it didn’t feel great. Why? I felt like we weren’t in control and weren’t necessarily giving to the causes we cared about most deeply.

Speaking with friends and family over the years, I’ve noticed that lots of people felt the same way I did. So here is the solution I have found to make charitable giving a personally rewarding experience: make a giving plan!

I was skeptical at first. Why do we need a plan? Are we big enough donors to need one? Then, when we finally got around to it, it was really easy. Our plan took less than an hour one evening at the family dinner table. And it was fun and interesting to explore what causes my family members personally care about! Having a plan ensures we are able to make a meaningful impact on the organizations most important to us.

The main considerations in developing a charitable plan? How much to give and to which causes and organizations.

First, decide how much you can afford to donate. When people ask me about this I like to quote an independent Ipsos poll of 1,000 everyday Canadians in which participants were asked how much they felt was a reasonable amount to give. As you might expect, the answers differed depending on personal income. On average, for the median household income level, the answer was 3% of pre-tax household income.  And this increased as income increased – to more than 5% for those earning over $150,000. Now, what about you? How much should you give? Well, you might ask yourself this: could you and your family live on 97% of annual income? If the answer is “Yes” that should help you decide how much you can afford to donate. Remember, the collective giving by millions of Canadians adds up. Individuals donate almost $8 billion to the non-profit sector each year – funds the sector depends on to sustain the work they do in our communities. Yes, Canadian charities heavily rely on our individual support.

Next, identify the causes that are most important to you. This step may sound obvious, but it helps to make specific choices so you can focus on the causes that you are most passionate about. When our family did this we discussed our values and where we felt we most wanted to get involved. Your choice may stem from a friend or family member with cancer, a school you attended that had a particular impact, or an experience you had helping at a local shelter or food bank. Our choices may change over time, but it helps to start with a good idea of what we each want to personally accomplish.

Finally, pick the individual charities that serve your causes. With 86,000 charities in Canada you might want to start by looking close to home. Which local community organizations do you care about, use, or benefit from? In Canada, you can find information on specific charities on the Canada Revenue Agency website.  While the information on the site is useful, it is the impact a charity makes in our own communities that should count the most for your decision. And remember, even if you don’t have any donation dollars to spare, you can also ‘give’ by volunteering.