How to Start Contributing to Charity

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Automatic Millionaire" by David Bach. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to start contributing to charities? What charity causes do you want to support?

While it certainly feels good to spend your wealth on new gadgets and luxuries, the real value of money comes from how you use it to help others. Consider donating a portion of your income to a cause you care about. Not only will you feel good about yourself, but you’ll also actually feel wealthier and your pursuit of money will feel more meaningful. 

Let’s explore how you can share your good fortune with others and contribute to a better world.

Choosing Your Recipient

The first step in starting to contribute to charity is to research and identify charities that are meaningful to you. Once you’ve chosen your cause, your recipient should be able to contact your bank to set up an automatic payment plan on your behalf (with your permission) so that you can make regular monthly contributions. 

Bach urges you to keep track of your donations—many charitable donations are tax-deductible so you may save taxes on your contributions (if you donate $100, you can claim back the tax you’ve paid for that $100 on your tax return). You can check with the IRS and request #526 (Charitable Contributions) to confirm whether your chosen charity is tax-exempt. 

Should Charitable Donations Benefit From Tax Deductions?

Some politicians are calling for an end to tax deductions on charitable contributions. They argue that these deductions:

Only benefit wealthy donors (they can already afford to give without the tax break)

Generally don’t increase donor contributions (compassion, not financial incentive, leads to giving)

Definitely harms the economy (the government subsidizes charities every time they offer a rebate).

In addition, unless you itemize your tax return and provide proof of your charitable donations, you won’t get the rebate. This additional paperwork means that millions of Americans already contribute without applying for a rebate, and strengthens the argument that these tax deductions should come to an end.

Invest in Charitable Funds

If you have money to contribute but aren’t able to decide on a charity, Bach suggests you consider investing in a charitable fund—this type of fund allows you to set aside money to donate even if you haven’t decided on a specific cause. This way, you receive instant tax deductions based on your annual IRS limit and the money you invest continues to grow tax-free until you decide to contribute it. However, once you’ve invested the money, you can’t get it back—the money has to stay in the fund until you send it to a charitable cause.

(Shortform note: If you’ve already decided on a charity and would like to invest your contribution, receive tax deductions, and earn an income on your contribution before you send it to your cause, consider investing in a Charitable Remainder Trust. This type of trust pays you a share of the profits for a set period of time, and then contributes the remaining amount to your designated charity.)

Remember That Your Time Is Just as Valuable as Your Money

If you can’t yet afford to donate your money, consider donating your time instead—this will make you feel just as good as donating your money would. Bach suggests that you research opportunities to volunteer your time to a cause that you care about.

(Shortform note: Volunteering your time may create more value than your monetary donations. This is because volunteering allows you to contribute your knowledge and skills to help non-profit organizations effectively deliver their services. Your time has a direct impact on their operation costs—without your help, they would need to use donor contributions to pay people to do the valuable work you’re doing.)

How to Start Contributing to Charity

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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