Q&A: Planning philanthropy

Dear Liz: You recently explained to a reader why it was better to make one donation of $1,000 rather than 10 donations of $100. I understand why you gave the response you did and you made some good points, especially about the importance of researching charities before you give. You also mentioned the costs each organization would incur in processing the smaller donations. As a longtime nonprofit executive, I think the social capital enjoyed by those organizations outweighs the costs. It often is helpful to the organization to be able to count that donor among their ranks to demonstrate that they have widespread support, for example, or to include that donor in future efforts to serve the community. My experience is that it’s not always just about the dollars and cents.

Answer: Thanks for adding your perspective. It’s understandable that a charity would prefer a small donation to no donation. The charity still gets some money, even after processing fees, and the opportunity to add another donor to their mailing lists.

Savvy givers, however, want as much of their money to benefit their favorite causes as possible. Giving larger donations to fewer charities is a good way to do that, since that approach minimizes processing costs as well as the volume of appeals for more donations. Also, adequately researching and monitoring 10 different charities is a tall order for most busy people. Winnowing the choices can help ensure we’re rewarding the best-run charities, rather than those that spend the bulk of their donations on fundraising and overhead.


  1. Dear Liz,

    This nonprofit executive just identified the thing that drives me crazy when it comes to charities – – – I am subsequently inundated with requests for additional donations! Some of my donations are one-time gifts based on a memorial to a deceased friend, or an article in the newspaper or a magazine. I feel like I’ve wasted my money when I receive repeated mailings that request additional donations. I’ve tried calling the charities, emailing them, and marking the mail “return to sender” but nothing seems to work. I want the ability to opt-out of future mailings. I think that’s a reasonable request. How can we make that happen?