The holiday season is also the time for charitable giving. The average person makes 24 percent of their annual donations between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to the Center on Philanthropy.
Here are a few tips, statistics, and anecdotes from a variety of sources on charitable giving as we move ever closer to Christmas.
The business of giving: Despite the recent economic ups and downs, charitable giving among Americans remains relatively steady. Households contributed an average of 1.9 percent of their income after taxes in 2012, according to Giving USA, an annual report conducted by the Lily Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Individuals donated some $229 billion in 2012, 72 percent of all the gifts that were made.
Where to donate: Approximately 50 percent of all charitable giving goes to religious, education and arts organizations, according to Charity Navigator. A growing trend among fundraisers is to look for donors in countries where new business growth is surging, such as Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia and South Africa.
On the flip side, nearly all social service groups have been under strain for the past five years because of the economic recession, according to the Chronicle for Philanthropy. Among charities with revenues of $50,000 or more, nonprofits fared somewhat worse during the recession years (2008-12) than between 2004 and 2008, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Where to make a difference: According to Charity Navigator, donors can make a more significant impact by contributing directly to a well-researched charity rather than buying a charity-affiliated product.
How to give: If you're looking for a guide, Princeton University professor Peter Singer came up with a graduated scale that resembles progressive income tax rates in his book "The Life You Can Save" as a way to determine the amount financially stable individuals would need to donate from their incomes to give the world's poorest residents a chance for a decent life.
According to Singer's calculations, those who earn between $105,000 to $148,000 per year would contribute 5 percent of their annual gross income. Those making between $148,001 and $383,000 should donate 5 percent of the first $148,000 then 10 percent of the next $235,000. The percentage of giving gradually increases with the rise in the amount of annual compensation.
According to Singer's calculations, if the top 10 percent of Americans followed his suggestion, donations would bring in $471 billion annually as of 2008, the year before his book was published.
Who gives: Middle class Americans give a much higher percentage of their discretionary income to charity than the rich do. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, households that earn between $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, while those who earn more than $100,000 give 4.2 percent.
Women of the baby boomer and older generations give 89 percent more than their male counterparts, according to the Women's Philantrophy Institute. The biggest tips Americans give during the holiday season, an average of $50, go to house cleaners.
Giving by corporations is estimated to have increased 12.2 percent in 2012.
Where the money goes: Donations sometimes don't go where they're intended, but there are forms of checks and balances involved in charitable giving to make sure the money you donate goes where it's supposed to go. Charity Navigator, for instance, will evaluate more than 500 charities on their results reporting by the end of this year. And, only a small number of charities pay the people who run them enormous salaries. Of the 3,929 charities included in Charity Navigator's 2013 CEO Compensation Study, just 9 paid their CEOs more than $1 million.
Of the 6,800 plus organizations evaluated by Charity Navigator, the overwhelming majority spend at least 75 percent of their budget on the programs and services that they exist to provide, 10 percent or less on fundraising fees, and 15 percent or less on administrative costs.
Where the money is needed: More than half a million people die from malaria every year, and most of them are younger than five years old. But when insecticide-treated nets are used properly by three-quarters of the people in a community, malaria transmission is cut by 50 percent, child deaths drop by 20 percent, and 90 percent of the mosquito population is eliminated, according to Charity Navigator. In most developing countries, public school is not free.
Sobering statistics: In 2012, 46.5 million people (15 percent) in the United States lived in poverty. One in 45 children (1.6 million) experience homelessness in America each year. One in every 28 children will have a parent in either jail or prison during the holidays.
Give well, give smart, give wisely.
Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of The Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at (413) 496-6224.