An important part of our job as wealth managers is helping people achieve their most heartfelt goals. Often, that process involves a legacy of charitable giving. To make philanthropy satisfying means an examination of one’s values, interests, and view of success. Below are some tips we’ve collected over the years for achieving effective giving.Align giving with your values & interests

Deciding to embrace philanthropy is exciting, but the process can be overwhelming. Most people have many things they feel passionate about. Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:

 Why do I want to give? Understanding the why can help you target your giving in a meaningful way. What do you care about the most? Consider Problems, Places, People and Philosophies as broad categories. Then consider how much you want to spend and how involved you want to be. Develop a flexible strategy because your views may change over time with more experience.

What are my aspirations? Often, it’s something deeply personal that motivates people to give. Perhaps you have a family member struggling with a disabled child or an acquaintance who struggles to overcome social or educational limitations. The more you relate to the cause, the easier it is to focus your charitable efforts and achieve meaningful results.Get the most mileage & satisfaction from your contributions

 Giving is easy. But getting the desired results requires careful thought and planning. Be clear about your expectations and diligent as you prioritize. 

 How do I define success? In order to achieve high levels of personal satisfaction from donor activities, it is essential to define success. You want to decide ahead of time what measures indicate results. Donating is a learning experience but one you can improve upon with thoughtful planning and by regularly soliciting feedback from grantees, the community and fellow donors.

 What is the best way to get started? One technique some philanthropists use is investing in several “pilot” grants often focused in a particular area. This gives you more time to decide what you care about while still getting results. It also provides flexibility in decision-making as your charitable efforts and attendant needs grow and evolve.Implement your charitable giving in a practical, efficient way

 An easy way to implement a grant strategy is a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF). Although Donor-Advised Funds have been around since the 1930’s, they have only recently grown in popularity. Now they are philanthropy’s fastest growing vehicle.

 What is a Donor-Advised Fund? A DAF is similar to a savings account, but used for charitable purposes. You, as the donor, initially fund the account and receive an immediate tax benefit. The donation grants themselves, however, can be made over time. It is an easy-to-establish, low cost, flexible alternative to direct giving or a private foundation. Other advantages are the ability to make many smaller donations, the ability to donate appreciated assets and the possibility that temporarily unused investment dollars can grow.

 What are Community Foundations? Community Foundations are independent philanthropic organizations that pool donations into a coordinated investment and grant making facility dedicated primarily to the social improvement of a specific geographic area. Both Marin and Sonoma have highly regarded programs. Community Foundation Sonoma County states the mission particularly well: “We are the hub of philanthropy for the county, connecting people, ideas and resources to benefit all who live here”. A Community Foundation is a good way to give utilizing Donor-Advised Funds (DAF).

 According to a 2013 U.S. Trust survey, half of wealthy Americans said giving to good causes is the most satisfying part of life. We can all benefit from creating a positive impact on our favorite cause, setting a good example for family and friends, and defining our own living legacy. The key is to choose and plan carefully, taking advantage of the tools that are the most suited to your philanthropic aspirations....

Teresa Mitchell, CFP, is a certified financial planner with Willow Creek Wealth Management, Inc. (707-829-1146, willowcreekwealth.com), in Sebastopol, one of the leading wealth management firms in California. Wealth Matters is a monthly column from the firm’s advisers.