Giving Back Where (and When) You’d Least Expect It Skip to main content

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Giving Back Where (and When) You’d Least Expect It


While it is well known that the United States is a nation of givers—with an estimated $227.41 billion sent to charitable organizations in 2009—what might be surprising is what groups are actually giving the most.

According to a recent New York Times article entitled The Charitable Giving Divide, “For decades, surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous. A number of other studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.”

The fact that Americans are still giving, especially the poorest of our citizenry, is striking given the nation’s continuing economic malaise, high unemployment rates and ever-increasing number of bankruptcy filings. But, as the NYT reports, “Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum.”

As long as those facing the toughest financial times and feeling it the most, are also feeling the most empathetic and giving the most, it’s important to understand how declaring bankruptcy can affect your ability to give to your favorite charities. While, bankruptcy courts can find fraud in charitable donations if a debtor is perceived to be deliberately avoiding paying their  creditors, courts will also take into account the timing of the gift, the payment amounts, and the circumstances surrounding these gifts. For example, if you’re a lifelong devout Catholic who has given an annual 5% donation to your local Catholic church, your donation will likely not be strenuously judged following a bankruptcy filing. Instead, bankruptcy will allow you to free up the savings to support your favorite charity in the near, and distant future.

Some simple tips for keeping track of your charitable donations before and during your bankruptcy filing, include:

Staying Informed About Charitable Organizations

Before giving money or time to any charitable organizations, it’s important to obtain written details, including the organization’s financial report, the amount of your donation that will go to overhead costs and the specific project your gift will support. This will give you the peace of mind that your piece of the financial pie is being eaten up by the right initiatives. Click here to find charities registered with the Better Business Bureau and meet their Wise Giving Alliance Standards.

Avoiding Cash Donations
To avoid being taken for a ride by a charitable solicitor, always make your donation by check: payable directly to the appropriate organization.

Protecting Your Personal Information
Avoid solicitor scams by resisting the urge to give credit card or other personal information directly to that person. Always request official organizational confirmation and materials for submitting individual donations.

Keeping Track When You Give Back
Like your mortgage payment or utility bills, it’s best to always budget for charitable giving in your monthly payment plan. In terms of keeping the right records, for gifts of less than $250, a cancelled check or credit card statement will meet IRS documentation requirements. For larger gifts, you will need to obtain a properly worded receipt from the charitable organization as proof of your tax-deductible contribution.
In these uncertain economic circumstances, it’s important to realize that you can decline a donation and give at a later time.

When in Doubt, Just Say “No.”

Want to find out more about how bankruptcy protects charitable givers—givers who may end up needing help themselves? Check it out with the Law Offices of John T. Orcutt. In North Carolina, call for a totally FREE consultation at +1-919-646-2654 or visit their website at

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