Moviegoers 65 and older who bought tickets at the Bainbridge Cinemas or the Bainbridge Performing Arts center in Bainbridge Island, Wash., could pay full price for their ticket and have the $3 senior discount redirected to a local charity that provides child care to low-income families.
The program, called the Boomerang Giving project, raised $630 in a two-month trial this year.
“It was a good start,” said David S. Harrison, who co-founded the group with his wife, Cindy, and five friends. Last week, the concept went national with the nonprofit’s official start, and a number of organizations are already working on Boomerang Giving projects.
“We think the idea of providing baby boomers and older Americans the chance to ‘give back’ through donating discounts will become commonplace,” said Mr. Harrison, 66, former director of the Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs.
The intent of the charity is to encourage older people in a financial position to forgo discounts they receive on public transportation, movies, restaurants and other outlets to invest in their community by donating, or redirecting, some or all of the savings to charities of their choice. “Many seniors do need their discounts, but not all do,” said Mr. Harrison. “Why not let someone else benefit from that ‘found’ money?”
For now, the Boomerang Giving website allows consumers to track how much they save from their discounts over the course of a month or so. Then, they can select a nonprofit organization from the GuideStar database on the site and make a donation via the charity’s partner, Network for Good.
Boomerang Giving is one of myriad ways charitable giving is getting up a head of steam. Charitable giving has rebounded in recent years, according to the 2014 Giving USA annual report from the Giving USA Foundation and its research partner, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
The $335.17 billion Americans gave to charity in 2013 was up 4.4 percent from 2012, coming close to 2007’s prerecession peak of $349.50 billion (adjusted for inflation).
According to a 2013 survey by Blackbaud, a software provider for nonprofits, baby boomers — those between the ages of 49 and 67 — make up roughly one-third of adults who gave, and contributed 43 percent of all the dollars donated in the United States, an average of $1,212 a year across 4.5 charities. But it is people 68 and older who give away more in cold cash: $1,367 was the average donated annually across 6.2 charities, making up roughly one-fourth of givers. By comparison, Generation X — people 33 to 48 — report giving an average of $732 across 3.9 charities.
Regardless of the amount of the donation, though, giving to charity can be a victory not just for the recipient but also for the donor. A crucial conclusion from a study published last year in the International Journal of Happiness and Development by Lara B. Aknin of Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia and colleagues at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and Harvard Business School, concluded that people feel good when they make a charitable donation — especially through a friend, relative or social connection.
And Harvard researchers found in an experiment that donating to charity can increase physical strength. After giving $1 to Unicef, participants were able to squeeze a handgrip more than 20 seconds longer than nondonors, according to the lead researcher, Kurt Gray, now of the University of Maryland, College Park.
An increasingly popular way for retirees to stay active mentally and socially is to join a local giving circle.
For Claudie Williams, 64, of Washington Crossing, Pa., it was retiring seven years ago from a three-decade career in marketing and business development with health care companies that spurred her to join Impact100 Philadelphia, a giving circle whose members pool their money to make grants to local organizations.
“I got involved because a friend of mine was joining and I was at a point when I was thinking about what am I going to do beyond my career,” Mrs. Williams said.
The circle consists of women whose ages range mostly from 45 to 80. Each donates $1,000 and their contributions are pooled to make one or more $100,000 grants annually to nonprofit groups.
To date, the circle has awarded grants totaling more than $1.2 million to 24 groups. Membership is expected to top 300 this year.
“If you’re living on a fixed income in retirement, the urge to give may be strong, but it’s critical to approach it as you would any investment,” said Judith Ward, a certified financial planner at T. Rowe Price.
Contributions to a majority of public charities are deductible as long as the donation doesn’t exceed 50 percent of adjusted gross income.
Retirees might even be able to bump up their contributions with some help from their former employers. For example, Johnson & Johnson donates $1 for every $1 retirees donate to qualified nonprofit organizations, up to a maximum $10,000 company contribution per year. IBM retirees can make donations directly from their IBM pensions. “Retirees like the ease and automation of having their donations directly transferred from their pension,” said Ari Fishkind, an IBM spokesman.
Before deciding how much to give to charity, make sure your retirement accounts are solid and you have enough money to avoid outliving your savings, Ms. Ward said. Several web-based retirement calculators includingT. Rowe Price’s Retirement Income Calculator, Fidelity’s Retirement Income Planner, and Vanguard’s Retirement Expenses Worksheet, can give you a feel for how much room there is in your budget for giving.
Since there is very little regulation of the 1.1 million charities in this country, says Ken Stern, author of “With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give,” it is important no matter what your age to choose carefully.
Mr. Stern’s advice: First, consider charities that are working for your values. Then make time to seek out the ones that can prove they’re having the impact they say they are. By scribbling checks to the charity that has sent the most requests or bombarded you with phone calls, you’re only rewarding the best marketers.
The free watchdog websites Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau’sNational Charity Report Index and Guidestar also evaluate charities on what percentage of their revenues go to concrete programs and what is earmarked for administrative and fund-raising costs. If you want to learn more about large American charities than these sites provide, you can donate $50 toCharityWatch, and you’ll receive its Charity Rating Guide of roughly 600 groups.
Another way to fund charitable contributions that have been vetted to some degree is through a donor-advised fund. This is a charitable account — the minimum contribution typically starts at $5,000 — set up through a charity, some of which are affiliated with financial services firms, like a mutual fundor brokerage. Account holders can recommend grants to charities of their choice.
At Fidelity Charitable, for example, over 50 percent of accounts are under $25,000, and you can grant as little as $50 to a charity, said Amy N. Danforth, president of Fidelity Charitable.
Some people who want to give, but not right now, opt to name a charity as the beneficiary of their I.R.A., according to Ms. Ward. “This is often good strategy for single retirees,” she said. “For married couples, you only do this if you’re certain your surviving spouse or other dependents won’t need the funds.” The charity receives the funds tax-free, and your estate will also be eligible for a charitable deduction.
You can also split your I.R.A. into separate accounts and earmark a portion for charity and the rest to your spouse or children.
A parting note: “Whether you’re an individual donor, or a small-business owner, you can do more than just write a check. Ask, ‘What more can I do?,’ ” said Jenny Lawson, vice president for corporate strategies at Points of Light, a national volunteering group.
“The question opens doors for volunteering on all levels — from office support to strategic planning to serving on a board,” Ms. Lawson said. “You and the charity will get more out of your donation when you give your time and talent, too.”