By Greg Doepke

You have come to that point in your life when you realize that giving to others or to a cause greater than yourself is becoming more important and meaningful to you. You realize that your giving will bring meaning and purpose to your life, and it will make you happier. And you also find it liberating and exhilarating to realize you are on the precipice of an uncharted cliff — and what you do next is up to you!

Many individuals would like to learn more about giving of themselves and their resources whether that is giving to their family, charities, or by giving in ways that they may not even know about. They aren’t quite sure where to begin. They want to be smarter with their generosity and ensure what they are giving — be it time, talent, treasure, or trust — has the greatest impact possible on the causes that are important to them.

Realizing your desire to do more for others, embracing your giving heart, and listening to your practical head are the means to an end when it comes to bringing giving to fruition. To begin the process, a certain amount of self-reflection will be required. Aristotle may have said it best:

“To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”

In considering your own situation, below are seven questions to think about and perhaps discuss in collaboration with a philanthropy coach as you nurture your growing desire to do more and aspire to learn the ways, tools, and techniques of giving. At Aspire to Give, we apply these seven essential questions in our proprietary process as part of the philanthropic conversation.

Why Give?

So much in life circles back to the fundamental question of “why?” In the end, the answer to the question why, is our motivation — our reason — for doing something and when it comes to our giving — whether that be to family, to charity, or through social impact investing — each giver has a personal reason fueling the need to give.

Often it takes conversation and reflection to figure out your “why give” answer. In some cases, it may be the desire to make a difference, to give back, to lend a helping hand to those in need, or to perpetuate personal and family values. In other cases, it could be your life was affected by a certain situation or event and you want to help others going through similar experiences. Understanding and articulating your “why give” is the emotional connection and motivation for giving. It’s the first and most important step to smart giving and the answer serves as the springboard in addressing the other six questions.

Who to Give to?

This is a question that is in direct correlation with your answer to “why give?” What is important with this question is to assure that your answers to the why and the who are intentionally aligned to be emotionally satisfying, meaningful, and mutually beneficial for all involved.

If your motivation for giving stems from a specific personal experience, the who might be a certain organization or passion that addresses what is important to you. If you want to give back simply because you can afford to do so, the answer of who to give to may be more complicated. In this instance, this will require some personal reflection followed by research.

As a good steward of your resources, you want to identify and screen the nonprofits that receive your gifts. What are your personal and family mission and the anticipated social return on investment (SROI) of your financial giving? What do you know about the nonprofit’s board leadership, infrastructure, and composition? How much of your financial gift is used for social impact vs. organizational overhead? These are just a few of the questions to consider as you make your giving plan.

Where to Give?

Before deciding where to give, ask questions. Do the leg work required to ensure that the answer to where you give brings about your desired result and maximum impact.

Do you want to give within your local community? Or do you prefer to give regionally, nationally, or even overseas? If you give locally, is the nonprofit a local nonprofit or a community branch of a national nonprofit? If you give to a local branch, how much stays local and how much goes to the national affiliation?

When to Give?

Oftentimes, the bequest at death is the by-default option for when to give. There are other options such as “giving while living,” which provides more control on directed giving and gives you the joy of seeing your generosity used during your lifetime. Another option for when to give may be anticipating the sale of real estate or a business. Sometimes, tax consequences may be a factor for considering the timing of your giving.

If you are giving your time and talents to a specific cause or organization, when to get involved may depend on your family situation, your health, and your availability. Are you retired, still working but have flexibility within your schedule, or is your time limited to weekends only? Is this something you will do on your own or will you invite your children or grandchildren to participate and use it as a teaching moment instilling the values that matter to you?

What to Give?

For some, the choice is simple. For others with higher incomes or net worth, what to give becomes more challenging. Cash, securities, real estate, closely held business stock, life insurance, retirement assets, or even collectibles can be given. Each giver should assess their situation to determine what makes the most sense to give.

It’s also a good time to broaden your horizons and think beyond money or material gifts. Maybe when you begin your giving journey, the first step is to offer your time. Getting involved in a local charity or church organization that is doing work that is close to your heart may be a good option as you consider what to give in the long-term. Think about your specific talents and check within your community to see if you could contribute in a different way that is just as valuable as a monetary donation—perhaps more so through the relationships that will be established through volunteering.

How to Give?

Again, expanding your typical understanding of giving is a good place to start. Is it best for you to start out by offering your time and talents or making a financial gift? Would it benefit your hometown more to start with a combination of these? Should you give directly, or through some other means such as a donor advised fund, private foundation, charitable gift annuity, or a specific type of charitable trust? What is the tax impact? Should you give as an incentive, as an impact investment, or to facilitate community development? Do you want to engage your children or grandchildren in your giving?

How to give is a layered question with answers coming in many forms. There is not a cookie-cutter answer that can be applied to all. That is why working with a trusted, professional advisor may help provide a clear sense and understanding of how you give impacts the overall giving aspirations you have defined for yourself.

How Much to Give?

This may be one of the more complex and difficult questions to answers as many factors come into play. It is common for individuals who want to give to ask: How much can I give and still ensure my family’s financial security and personal financial independence? If you have enough money for your own lifetime and for your family’s financial security, you may be able to experience the joys of “giving while living” or, if you prefer, leaving donations as a bequest at death. At this point, consulting with a trusted advisor may be a good way to determine exactly what can be allocated for personal needs, family obligations, and the greater good.

Your Next Step

There you have it — the seven essential questions for smart giving. Our hope is that these questions help raise your awareness on the process behind giving. For it is through the giving of ourselves and our resources, including financial resources, that we can make a difference, give back, and help those in need. It is through intentional and aligned giving that we can feel really good while finding a true sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.

When you think about it, intentional, meaningful, and impactful giving is not that easy. It requires some soul-searching thought of who we are, our values, and what is really important to us. We have what we refer to as our giving wheelhouse — our time, our talents, our treasures (financial resources), and our trusted relationships (personal network) — all available as giving means. We have choices to make as to where we give — our family, charity, a special cause, or social impact investing within our communities. We integrate the seven essential questions within the giving process to discover and align our purpose with our passion, design our giving plan, and then deliver our own unique giving gifts. Using our philanthropic giving process, we can then give in a way that is smart, effective and impactful to create both a lasting and a living legacy for ourselves and our families.

Our hope — our aspiration — is that we may serve you, those with a “giving heart,” and equip you with the resources and knowledge to become an even better version of your giving self. Aspire to Give® will continue to share with you our leading-edge thinking through our blogs, articles, books, and other resources. In fact, a more in-depth look at these seven essential questions is explored in my new book, Aspire to Give® How to Create a More Meaningful Life through Your Giving, is now available as both a digital Kindle book and a print-on-demand version may be purchased at

We want you to consider Aspire to Give as your personal resource and as a trusted source to help you become the best you can be on your life’s journey of aspirational giving!

Let’s do some good!

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Greg Doepke is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® and a Certified Financial Planner®.  Greg serves as the Philanthropist in Residence at Auburn University’s Cary Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies; as well as on the Board of Directors for the International Association for Advisors in Philanthropy. As the founder of Aspire to Give℠, a social enterprise dedicated to advancing philanthropy, Greg educates and equips individuals, business owners, professional advisors, and nonprofits with the knowledge and philanthropic tools and techniques for smart, meaningful, and impactful giving.[/column]