Budgeting for donations

How do y’all budget for donations? How much is recurring & planned vs. ad hoc? I would like to be a bit more organized in how I do this.

A friend sets aside 5% of their household income which seems so adult and #goals.

Currently I think about 1/4 is recurring donations to 4-5 non-profits, 1/2 is 2 orgs that I’m deeply involved with, and 1/4 for smaller one-off stuff like community gofundmes or (mostly local) political campaigns or other rage-donating. A quick look at YNAB shows me totals have about doubled in the past 6 months, which is in the direction I want to go.

Also, has anyone created or is familiar with a donor-advised fund?

This topic seems so verboten in hardcore FIRE circles so thanks in advance for being a nice place to ask.


I donate very little regularly:

  • $11 monthly to Patreon
  • $10 monthly to WWF

The donations to WWF are taken out of my paycheck, and I budget monthly the Patreon contributions. I do put more in my “Giving” budget line for YNAB either when I have extra left over from funding all other budget lines, or by reallocating money if I feel strongly enough the need to assist.


I convinced Mr Darling that we should each set aside a percentage of our paycheck for giving. We’ve been using YNAB, putting our paychecks in a slush fund category for the next month, and then at the beginning of the month budget everything at once and put the percentage into giving categories. I have a combination of subscription-type donations, and then theoretically the rest could go wherever I want that month (in reality it almost always goes to a person I have a direct giving relationship with).


My goal has been to slowly up my charity as a percentage of spending as time goes on, which has worked well so far. Every so often – usually every 8 to 12 months – I just increase my charity budget and it turns out it’s fine and I haven’t donated myself into destitution. The goal is to have it up to 5% by the end of this year. It’s not a lot but it’s better than nada.

In terms of method: About 70% of my donations are monthly auto-donations to a small spread of organizations (health, food, shelter, civil rights orgs). The other 30 percent is unallocated so that I can drop it on things that pop up that need attention but which are more one-offs – so far this year that’s included everything from a strike fund to COVID mutual aid for a local cafe that’s near and dear to my heart. I found I really need to have a budget for a charity and I need to make that budget larger than monthly donations. If I don’t allocate the money, I won’t donate it. If I do allocate it… I donate it, and I feel good about it instead of ~mildly panicky.


We budget $100/month and have about $75 in recurring, $25 in “random good”. I’m on the “let’s slowly build that up” side and my partner doesn’t think about it/ thinks we need to be more secure first, so it’s probably gonna stay there for a while.


I donate regularly every month to two charities and I have $50 to donate each month to a random charity (usually a friends cause or something for a month)


I have two monthly recurring donations

$70 to Women for Women
$10 to MSPCA

I budget $80 a month for this. There are random times throughout the year that I will make a donation because something specific comes up like a co-fund me page or a kids fundraising event. Those months I just go over budget in donations and try to get under budget in some other area. It probably only amounts to an extra $200 a year in random donations though.

I have been thinking about adding a third monthly donation to Smile Train I just haven’t gotten around to it.


I do mostly monthly donations (to a few different orgs) and like @diapasoun I up our donation level about once or twice a year. I also always up our donations after a raise, and I also do one off donations any time we get a windfall, usually 50%.

I started out by donating just $25 a month to one organization. Then I started upping it by $25 at a time until we were giving $100 a month to that org. After that I adopted another org, did the same thing, then another, etc. I like doing it this way because it adds up so quickly and it allows us to give to lots of things we care about.


My first step was setting up regular donations on my oldest credit card and then setting that credit card to autopay as a way to keep it open long term without actually doing anything with it. I think I did $35/month (10 to Planned Parenthood, 10 to local NPR affiliate, 15 to another place) because that was the minimum for autopay.

Last year I started doing $20-$25/month as a donation/mental sanity thing each month. By having it already allocated mentally, when something in the news was taking over my brain I had a sort of pressure release-valve.

Spoilering list

Referring to my tracking sheet - Migrant crisis at the boarder? Donate to a news org that was covering it well. Notre Dame burned down and rich people won’t shut up about it? Donate to a Go Fund Me for some black churches that were burned down by a racist arsonist. Hurricane Dorian? Donate to a larger, well-reviewed organization helping the Bahamas. Nothing really crazy going on? Local food bank, family homeless shelter, school supply drive, etc.

I did allocate half of my stimulus money to charity (increased monthly PP and NPR donations for the rest of the year along with some one-time donations) and part to local businesses specifically, and half to myself for fun stuff I wouldn’t have spent money on anyway. I’m currently tracking this in a spreadsheet so I can keep track of what happens when, since we already had one round of state-mandated business closures and who knows when I’ll be back in the office or feel comfortable getting a massage again.

I like the idea of increasing charitable contributions after a raise. I had done +1% to my 401k with a raise, it makes sense to do something similar with charity.


This thread has made me realize that my budget and goals have been mismatched, and that I’ve been going over budget and sort of ignoring it. Time to fix that. @diapasoun’s method of gradual racheting sounds promising!


My workplace has a donation matching system where they match dollar for dollar donated by employees to 501c3s (up to a certain amount per quarter, meeting nondiscrimination standards, etc) so I make a plan at the beginning of every year how get the full match from them with donations split between local/national/international organizations. Occasionally something will happen (usually natural disasters; for the record it’s kind of pathetic that I hear more about emergencies in other countries on the welcome page at work than I ever do in US news) where they’ll call out specific relief organizations that you can donate to that won’t count towards your match limit…I try to donate extra when that happens, but given the nature of natural disasters it’s obviously not planned.

Anyway, those donations either go on a credit card (paid off at due date) or come out of a donor advised fund at Fidelity that I’m slowly building up so when I finally get annoyed and retire I have money that’s earmarked specifically for giving. If you want details about the DAF feel free to ask either here or in a DM, but I can’t claim that I did a whole lot of research as far as what choices are available…Fidelity is where most of my other accounts are and the terms seemed reasonable so that’s where I opened one, and so far I haven’t had any major issues with them that would cause me to look elsewhere.

There are some other things I’ll give money to over the course of a year, Patreons/GoFundMes/etc…when I’m paying attention I lump them into a non-501 category and when I’m not they’re just gifts to friends, but from what I have tracked that kind of thing averages out to less than $25 a month so it’s not something I work very hard at nailing down.


My work has its own charity so I donate to that each pay ( they do an annual fundraising drive and you can pick what you want to donate). It kind of annoys me because it is tracked - I have had people who chose not to donate get emails from their senior leaders to “remind them”. This year I will increase my donation because due to covid many charities are suffering, and ours is no different. Our annual campaign has been pushed back until later this year because now is not the right time to be asking for donations.

I used to be involved with the Local 100 Women Group, where I would send cheque’s in once a quarter for $100 to help support local groups that need support. When I was able to attend the quarterly meetings it was very interesting learning about the nominee groups for awareness.


I updated my YNAB budgets and this no longer feels murky! I made two categories (one for recurring donations, and a separate category for one-offs since the recurring ones hit at various times of the month and make it hard to see how much is left). Also, increased the budgets on both to better match reality/desires.