COLUMBIA, Mo. – Give with your heart and a plan.

Valentine’s Day is a good time to make or review charitable giving plans, says Cynthia Crawford, family financial education specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

It’s also a good time to consider a yearlong gift-giving plan. This helps you avoid impulsive giving that breaks your financial plan. Be deliberate, not impulsive. “Once you make a plan, you can be on autopilot the remaining 364 days of the year,” Crawford says.

Choose your highest priorities for charitable giving, decide on a meaningful amount to give to each and stick to it. Gift-giving should be part of a larger personal financial plan that reflects your values of spending, saving and sharing, she says.

Crawford recommends that givers make meaningful contributions to a few charities rather than small gifts to many. Well-intentioned small gifts may cost the charity more to process than their actual dollar value.

Take some time as a family and decide put a dollar value on “meaningful giving” for the coming year. Circumstances, income and personal values are not the same for all givers.

Don’t be pressured into giving more than you can afford, Crawford says. Set priorities so you are self-reliant first. There may be circumstances that temporarily limit your gift-giving, such as when your children are in college. “Gifts can be given on your timetable,” she says. “Decide if the time is right now, a few years from now or upon your death.”

Giving is not always about money. Consider volunteering your time and talents instead. “When we can’t give money, we always have other gifts to offer,” she says.

Choose charities that reflect your values. Many philanthropists volunteer in inconspicuous ways at charities prior to giving. If you don’t have firsthand knowledge of a charity, solicit suggestions from friends, family and other professionals you respect.

Keep potential heirs informed of your choices. Announce, but don’t negotiate, your plans. Your giving plans are only wishes until the check is written or your plans are signed, sealed and delivered in appropriate documents.

Don’t be afraid to say no or ask questions when solicited, Crawford says. Once you make your plan for the year, stick to it just like you would stick to a budget. It is easier to say no to a charity doing work you appreciate when you’ve already identified charities that are an even higher priority for you.

Don’t worry that the charity will forget you, she says. They’ll ask again. That’s the perfect time to ask what your previous gifts have accomplished that the charity would not have been able to do without your support.

Competition among large number of charities means that they are becoming more aggressive in their solicitations. That’s another reason to move from impulsive to more deliberate giving plans, Crawford says.

Finally, remember that it is your money, your choice and your timetable.

For more information about incorporating giving into family financial plans, call 573-882-5115 or contact Crawford at [email protected].

For more personal finance information from MU Extension, including features, answers to frequently asked questions and learning opportunities, go to

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