Three dollars can go a long way.
Moviegoers 65 and older who bought tickets at the Bainbridge Cinemas or the Bainbridge Performing Arts center in Bainbridge Island, Wash., could pay full price for their ticket and have the $3 senior discount redirected to a local charity that provides child care to low-income families.
The program, called the Boomerang Giving project, raised $630 in a two-month trial this year.
“It was a good start,” said David S. Harrison, who cofounded the group with his wife, Cindy, and five friends. Last week, the concept went national with the nonprofit’s official start, and a number of organizations are working on Boomerang Giving projects.
“We think the idea of providing baby boomers and older Americans the chance to ‘give back’ through donating discounts will become commonplace,” said Harrison, 66, former director of the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs.
The intent of the charity is to encourage older people in a financial position to forgo discounts they receive on public transportation, movies, restaurants, and other outlets to invest in their community by donating, or redirecting, some or all of the savings to charities of their choice. “Many seniors do need their discounts, but not all do,” Harrison said. “Why not let someone else benefit from that ‘found’ money?”
For now, the Boomerang Giving website allows consumers to track how much they save from their discounts over the course of a month or so. Then, they can select a nonprofit organization from the GuideStar database on the site and make a donation via the charity’s partner, Network for Good.
Boomerang Giving is one of the myriad ways charitable giving is getting up a head of steam. Charitable giving has rebounded in recent years, according to the 2014 Giving USA annual report from the Giving USA Foundation and its research partner, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
The $335.17 billion that Americans gave to charity in 2013 was up 4.4 percent from 2012, coming close to 2007’s prerecession peak of $349.50 billion (adjusted for inflation).
According to a 2013 survey by Blackbaud, a software provider for nonprofits, baby boomers — those ages 49 to 67 — make up roughly one-third of adults who gave; they contributed 43 percent of all the dollars donated in the United States, an average of $1,212 a year across 4.5 charities. But it is people 68 and older who give away more in cold cash: $1,367 was the average donated annually across 6.2 charities, making up roughly one-fourth of givers. By comparison, Generation X — people 33 to 48 — report giving an average of $732 across 3.9 charities.
Regardless of the amount, though, giving to charity can be a win all around, not only for the recipient but also for the donor.
“If you’re living on a fixed income in retirement, the urge to give may be strong, but it’s critical to approach it as you would any investment,” said Judith Ward, a certified financial planner at T. Rowe Price.
Contributions to a majority of public charities are deductible as long as the donation doesn’t exceed 50 percent of adjusted gross income.
Retirees might even be able to bump up their contributions with some help from their former employers. For example, Johnson & Johnson donates $1 for every $1 retirees donate to qualified nonprofit organizations, up to a maximum $10,000 company contribution per year. IBM retirees can make donations directly from their IBM pensions. “Retirees like the ease and automation of having their donations directly transferred from their pension,” said Ari Fishkind, an IBM spokesman.
Before deciding how much to give to charity, make sure your retirement accounts are solid and you have enough money to avoid outliving your savings, Ward said. Several Web-based retirement calculators including T. Rowe Price’s Retirement Income Calculator, Fidelity’s Retirement Income Planner, and Vanguard’s Retirement Expenses Worksheet, can give you a feel for how much room there is in your budget for giving.
Because there is very little regulation of the 1.1 million charities in this country, said Ken Stern, author of “With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give,” it is important no matter what your age to choose carefully.
Stern’s advice: First, consider charities that are working for your values. Then make time to seek out the ones that can prove they’re having the effect they say they are. By scribbling checks to the charity that has sent the most requests or bombarded you with phone calls, you’re only rewarding the best marketers.
For help reviewing a charity, check out organizations such as GiveWell or The Life You Can Save Foundation, which have spent thousands of hours researching the best charities, he said. Go to a charity’s website and review its reports. “The best charities will publish specific goals, research, and evidence-based assessments on their websites and elsewhere,” Stern said.
The free watchdog websites Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau’s National Charity Report Index, and GuideStar also evaluate charities on what percentage of their revenues go to concrete programs and what is earmarked for administrative and fund-raising costs.
If you want to learn more about large American charities than these sites provide, you can donate $50 to CharityWatch and you’ll receive its Charity Rating Guide of roughly 600 groups.
Another way to fund charitable contributions that have been vetted to some degree is through a donor-advised fund. This is a charitable account — the minimum contribution typically starts at $5,000 — set up through a charity, some of which are affiliated with financial services firms, like a mutual fund or brokerage. Account holders can recommend grants to charities of their choice.
At Fidelity Charitable, for example, more than 50 percent of accounts are less than $25,000, and you can grant as little as $50 to a charity, said Amy N. Danforth, president of Fidelity Charitable.
Some people who want to give, but not right now, opt to name a charity as the beneficiary of their IRA, Ward said. “This is often good strategy for single retirees,” she said. “For married couples, you only do this if you’re certain your surviving spouse or other dependents won’t need the funds.” The charity receives the funds tax-free, and your estate will be eligible for a charitable deduction.
You can also split your IRA into separate accounts and earmark a portion for charity and the rest to your spouse or children.
A parting note: “Whether you’re an individual donor or a small-business owner, you can do more than just write a check. Ask, ‘What more can I do?,’” said Jenny Lawson, vice president for corporate strategies at Points of Light, a national volunteering group.