How Much Should I Give? (12/4/15)

A client recently asked if there was a standard amount that people should give to charity each year. She donates throughout the year but wondered if she should be giving more or if her amounts would even make a difference. I offered to do a little research and present my findings.

Although traditionally, churches recommend giving a 10 percent tithe to charity, the average American gives at the level of 3.2 percent of his or her income (pre-tax). The average household donates $1,620 a year, which translates into less than five dollars a day, according to Some organizations ask Americans to consider donating 1 percent of their net worth each year to charity. The 3.2% or 1% formulas would translate as follows:


Income $______ x Average Donated (.032) = $_________


Net Worth $_______ x One percent donated (.05) = $__________


While you could use either of the above for a guideline, my feeling is that you give what you feel you are able to, without causing financial distress to your family and/or budget. You could start small, with organizations or causes that you would like to help, and then slowly increase the amount as you incorporate charitable donations into your budget. Much like a 401(k) or savings plan, setting up a small monthly deduction is helpful to begin a routine. Once you are accustomed to the deduction, it becomes easier to see if adjusting up or down is needed or possible.

Do not ever feel that a donation is too small. Habitat for Humanity reports that a $10 donation will buy a box of nails to help build a home for a needy family. According to UNICEF, $17 can immunize a child against the top six childhood diseases. The American Red Cross reports that $115 will buy a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four.

As mentioned in a previous blog, another way to help charities of your choice is by volunteering. If you feel charitable donations don’t fit into your household budget, volunteer your time with a nonprofit organization. Finally, do not discount charity starting at home. Volunteering your time may be most needed at home or with family and friends. A formula or percentage is not always the answer.

Lisa A. Dugan

December 4, 2015